Donald Trump is ‘a racist, conman and cheat’ former lawyer Michael Cohen claims to Congress
- Trump was "racist", a "conman" and a "cheat", president’s former lawyer claims
- Cohen says Trump had prior knowledge of WikiLeaks email dump
- Congress shown cheque signed by Don Jr signed ‘for hush-money payments to women’
- ‘Lying to First Lady about affairs is one of my biggest regrets’
- Trump ‘knew’ about infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer
- Who is Michael Cohen? Donald Trump’s former fixer whose loyalty melted away under legal heat
Michael Cohen produced a $35,000 cheque showing that, while in office, Donald Trump personally reimbursed him for paying off porn star Stormy Daniels in the days before the 2016 election.
The president’s former "fixer" has already pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations over hush payments to Ms Daniels, and it raised the possibility that Mr Trump had taken part in a criminal enterprise while president.
In explosive testimony to Congress, Cohen said: "The president of the United States thus wrote a personal cheque for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws."
The cheque, dated Aug 1, 2017, was "pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea," he said. He received a total of 11 cheques from Mr Trump over a year after making a $130,000 payment to Ms Daniels, Cohen said.
Cohen also claimed that Mr Trump instructed him to lie to Melania Trump about the alleged affair. He said: "Mr Trump asked me to pay off an adult film star, with whom he had an affair and to lie to his wife about it, which I did. "Lying to the First Lady is one of my biggest regrets. She is a kind, good person. I respect her greatly and she did not deserve that."
Cohen also claimed Mr Trump knew in advance that Wikileaks was going to release emails hacked from the Democratic Party during the 2016 election.
He also claimed the president implicitly instructed him to lie to Congress over a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, and suggested that Mr Trump had advance knowledge of a controversial meeting between his son, Donald Jr., and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in New York during the campaign.
Cohen, who once said he would "take a bullet" for Mr Trump went on to deliver a character assassination of his former boss, saying: "I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat." He called Mr Trump a "liar" who was "fundamentally disloyal," didn’t care about the American people, and had campaigned on a "platform of hate and intolerance".
Cohen added: "Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation, only to market himself. "Mr Trump would often say this campaign was going to be the ‘greatest infomercial in political history’. He never expected to win."
The former lawyer, who has been disbarred, has previously also been convicted of lying to Congress and financial crimes and starts a three-year jail term in May, but said he was seeking redemption by telling the full truth. He added: "I am no longer your fixer, Mr Trump."
The president, tweeting from Vietnam, accused Cohen of "lying in order to reduce his prison time" and Republicans on the House oversight committee furiously accused him of "trashing" the president because he didn’t get a job in the White House.
Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 27, 2019
Cohen told them how he had been in Mr Trump’s office in July 2016 when Roger Stone, a self-described "dirty trickster", called the then Republican presidential nominee. Mr Trump put the conversation on speakerphone.
Mr Stone told Mr Trump he had been speaking with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and that there would be, within days, a release of emails damaging to Hillary Clinton. According to Cohen, Mr Trump replied: "Wouldn’t that be great." Mr Trump has previously denied knowing in advance about the Wikileaks release.
Cohen said he did not have "specific" evidence that Mr Trump "colluded" with Russia. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is investigating whether there was collusion.
What have we learnt from Cohen's testimony?
He also detailed how negotiations for a Trump Tower in Moscow continued well after Mr Trump was the Republican nominee Mr Trump then implied to him that he should lied to Congress about it, Cohen alleged. "He speaks in code. I know the code," Cohen said.
He said Mr Trump himself publicly lied during the election when he said he had no business interests in Russia. "He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars," Cohen said. Donald Trump Jr, rejected the accusations. He said: "Cohen just wants to be famous. He always wanted his own TV show."
Roger Stone responded to Cohen’s allegation that he tipped Mr Trump off about the Wikileaks release. Mr Stone said: "Mr. Cohen’s statement is not true." Cohen said that, over a decade as Mr Trump’s lawyer, he had been instructed to threaten people or companies with "litigation or intimidation" around 500 times.
'I hope it helps America to heal'
As he left the chamber, Cohen told the gaggle of reporters outside: "First of all I want to say thank you all for being here today. I’m humbled, I am thankful to chairman Cummings for giving me the opportunity today to tell my truth and I hope that, as chairman Cummings said, it helps in order to heal America."
'I'm paying heavy price for loyalty to Trump'
In his closing remarks before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, Cohen said:
"My loyalty to Mr Trump has cost me everything — my family’s happiness, my law licence, my company, my livelihood, my honor, my reputation and soon my freedom".
He said fears Mr Trump will not allow his successor to peacefully take control of the White House if he loses the 2020 presidential election.
"Given my experience working for Mr Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power," he said.
He then addressed the president directly, attacking his recent policy decisions.
"You don’t shut down the government before Christmas and New Years just to appease your base. This behavior is churlish, it denigrates the office of the president and it simply is un-American. And it’s not you. So to those that support the President and his rhetoric as I once did, I pray the country doesn’t make the same mistakes that I have made or pay the heavy price that my family and I are paying," Cohen said.
In-fighting disrupts the chamber
As Democrat Rashida Tlaib begins her questioning, she attacks the Republican congress Mark Meadows for bringing along Lynne Patton, a black Department of Housing and Urban development official, to the hearing as a way to dispute claims Mr Trump is a racist.
Ms Patton has been a long defender of Mr Trump. “As the daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, there is no amount of money in the world that would make me work for a man who I thought harbored bigoted or racist ideologies,” she wrote.
Ms Tlaib says that as a woman of colour, bringing a black woman into the chamber to act as a "prop" appeared to be a racist gesture in itself.
Mr Meadows, who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, called for the comments to be stricken from the record.
Elijah Cummings, the chair of the committee, was forced to intervene – asking Ms Tlaib to clarify her remarks.
“No Mr Chairman, I did not mean to call Mr. Meadows a racist,” Tlaib says
Trump inflated assets to insurance companies, Cohen claims
Freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has now taken over questioning. She asked Cohen if he inflated his assets to insurance companies. "Yes," Cohen replies.
The congresswoman went on to ask about Mr Trump’s tax returns, in response to which Cohen suggested the president did not want to release them because he feared public scrutiny would lead to an audit and penalties.
"What he didn’t want is to have an entire group of think tanks that are tax experts run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces, and then he’ll end up in an audit and he’ll ultimately have taxable consequences, penalties and so on," he said.
Cohen's testimony resumes
The committee has returned to the chamber for questioning.
Trump campaign rebukes Cohen
Donald Trump’s campaign has released an email describing Cohen as “a felon, a disbarred lawyer and a convicted perjurer.”
"As noted by the Southern District of New York, Cohen’s wide array of crimes were ‘marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life’ and his ‘instinct to blame others is strong.’ Prosecutors said his actions were to ensure that he would ‘profit personally, build his own power, and enhance his level of influence.’ This is the same Michael Cohen who has admitted that he lied to Congress previously. Why did they even bother to swear him in this time?," campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany.
Cohen testimony pauses for lunch
After a lengthy back and forth between Republican and Democrat lawmakers, the hearing is taking an hour break for lunch. We’ll be back with the latest from Capitol Hill shortly.
Cohen says is aware of other possible illegal acts involving Trump
Cohen told lawmakers on Wednesday he was aware of other possible illegal acts involving Mr Trump that he could not discuss because they were under investigation.
Asked by congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi whether he was aware of other wrongdoing or illegal acts regarding the president, Cohen replied: "Yes and again those are part of the investigation that is currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York".
Don Jr suggests Cohen testimony may impact Trump's summit with Kim
Only Democrats could hate someone so much that they would try to disrupt nuclear peace talks with testimony from a convicted felon.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 27, 2019
What is the main takeaway so far?
Today’s proceedings have produced the extraordinary spectacle that was anticipated. We haven’t learnt much from Cohen’s testimony so far that wasn’t in the prepared testimony leaked to the press. But seeing the president’s longtime lawyer repeatedly smear him in Congress, under penalty of perjury, is quite something.
What is a surprise is the poor questioning from both sides of the political spectrum. The antagonistic questioning has led down rabbit holes that have not produced new information.
Republicans have put attacking Cohen’s reputation at the forefront of their strategy. But as some have pointed out, repeatedly bashing the man who served at the president’s side for a decade may not have the desired outcome.
Meanwhile Democrats have focused on what the president’s children knew about the claims Cohen is making. It paves the way for the House to haul them before Congress for questioning next.
'There's not much you won't lie about'
Republican Virginia Foxx notes that Cohen lied to banks and Congress. "It seems to me that there's not much you won't lie about when you stand to gain from it," she says, suggesting he's here to rehabilitate his image, stay in the spotlight and maybe get a book deal.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) February 27, 2019
Have Fun in Prison! https://t.co/Z35KKU4OSf via @YouTube
— Eric Trump (@EricTrump) February 27, 2019
Cohen warns Republicans: 'don't protect Trump'
Cohen warned Republican lawmakers attacking his integrity not to make the same mistake he did in protecting Trump.
"I did the same thing as you’re doing now, for 10 years. I protected Mr Trump for 10 years," he said.
Trump racism claims disputed
Congressman Mark Meadows, a strong ally of Mr Trump, questions Cohen’s claims that the president is a racist. He has invited along Lynne Patton, from the Department of Housing and Urban development, who is African American.
Mr Meadows claimed that Ms Patton disputes Cohen’s testimony that Mr Trump is a racist, since she was hired to work for him.
Cohen responded that — by that logic — he also should not work for the President.
Mr Meadows: "I asked Lynn to come today in her personal capacity to shed some light. How long have you known Ms. Patton?"
Cohen: "I’m responsible for Ms Patton joining the Trump Organization in the job that she currently holds.
Meadows: "Well, I’m glad you acknowledge that because you made some very demeaning comments about the President that Ms Patton doesn’t agree with. In fact, it has to do with your claim of racism. She says that as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there is no way that she would work for an individual who was racist. How do you reconcile the two of those?
Cohen: "And neither should I as the son of a Holocaust survivor."
Republicans hit back
Throughout today’s hearings, Republicans have kept the focus on the string of crimes the president’s former lawyer has been convicted on.
Mark Green, representative for Tennessee, used his allotted time to expound on this. “We’re asking a guy going to jail for lying about his debts to comment on the president’s debts,” he said.
Mr Green also speculates on Cohen’s motivations for appearing before Congress today, asking what his future source of income will be. Is there a book deal coming, Mr Green asks?
"No", says Cohen, claiming he has turned down dozens of offers for books and films.
Ranking member Jim Jordan, who is leading the Republican charge, frames Cohen as a man who is bitter he wasn’t offered a White House job. "That’s the point isn’t it?…You didn’t get brought to the dance," Mr Jordan tells him. Cohen claims he has never wanted a job in the administration – and turned down several offers.
Hahahaha Michael Cohen begged to work at the White House and everyone knows it.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 27, 2019
Michael was lobbying EVERYONE to be “Chief of Staff.” It was the biggest joke in the campaign and around the office. Did he just perjure himself again?
— Eric Trump (@EricTrump) February 27, 2019
Don Jr signed cheques to women claiming affairs
In the first round of questions from lawmakers, Cohen is asked about hush-money payments he arranged for two women alleging affairs with Mr Trump during the 2016 election. Cohen paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 and was involved in a $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal. The payments have been the subject of intense scrutiny by investigators and led to Cohen pleading guilty to campaign finance violations.
Cohen told lawmakers that Mr Trump directed him to use his own funds to pay Ms Daniels in order to avoid the money being traced back to him.
Cohen told Congress on Wednesday that Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer signed cheques to him by way of repayment. He said Mr Trump himself signed a $35,000 check repaying him for "hush money I paid on his behalf" while Mr Trump was president.
"Other checks to reimburse me for the hush money payments were signed by Don Jr. and Allen Weisselberg," he said.
It raises the possibility that Donald Trump Jr. could be prosecuted for violating campaign finance laws, depending on what he knew about what the payments were intended for, said lawyer Andy Wright, who served as associate counsel to President Barack Obama.
Cohen says Mr Trump also instructed him to lie about the affair to Melania Trump, stating: “Lying to the first lady is one of my biggest regrets because she is a kind, good person.”
Cohen: 'I have lied but I am not a liar'
Cohen concludes his prepared testimony by saying:“I am sorry for my lies and for lying to Congress. And to our nation, I am sorry for working to actively hide from you the truth about Mr Trump when you needed it.
“I have lied but am not a liar. I have done bad thing but am not a bad man. I have fixed things but I am no longer your fixer Mr. Trump. And I am going to prison.”
GOP Rep. Comer: “What would you call yourself?” Michael Cohen: “A fool.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 27, 2019
Trump knew his campaign met with Russians
The former lawyer says Mr Trump was aware that members of his inner circle – including Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort – met with a Russian figure offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
“I remember being in the room with Mr Trump, probably in early June 2016, when something peculiar happened. Don Jr. came into the room and walked behind his father’s desk – which in itself was unusual,” Cohen says.
“I recalled Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying: ‘The meeting is all set.’ I remember Mr. Trump saying, ‘Ok good…let me know.’”
He adds: “What struck me as I looked back and thought about that exchange between Don Jr. and his father was, first, that Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world. And also, that Don Jr. would never set up any meeting of any significance alone – and certainly not without checking with his father.”
'I don't know if Trump colluded with Russia – but I have my suspicions'
Cohen says he has no evidence that the president or the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
"Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not, and I want to be clear."
However he added: "But I have my suspicions."
Trump knew about WikiLeaks hack ahead of time
Cohen’s claims that Mr Trump had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ planned dump of hacked Democrats’ emails.
Cohen says he was in Mr Trump’s office in July 2016 when longtime adviser Roger Stone called. Mr Trump put him on speakerphone and Mr Stone told him that he had communicated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that "within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign".
Mr Trump responded by saying "wouldn’t that be great," according to Cohen.
That month, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee’s server.
"A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time," Cohen said in the prepared testimony. "The answer is yes."
There is no suggestion that being aware of WikiLeaks’ plans constituted a crime in itself. Mr Stone has also denied the claims.
'Trump told me: "You think I'm stupid? I wasn't going to Vietnam"'
Cohen claims the US president had no medical reason for his military deferment during the Vietnam War.
Mr Trump, who is in Hanoi for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, received a medical deferment from serving because of bone spurs in his heels.
"Mr. Trump tasked me to handle the negative press surrounding his medical deferment from the Vietnam draft," Cohen says.
"Mr Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur, but when I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery…He told me not to answer the specific questions by reporters but rather offer simply the fact that he received a medical deferment."
He claims Mr Trump then added: "You think I’m stupid? I wasn’t going to Vietnam."
Looking straight into the camera, Cohen said: "I find it ironic, Mr President, that you are in Vietnam right now. "
Cohen, who served as the president’s lawyer and "fixer" for a decade, added: "For those who question my motives for being here today: I have fixed things, but I am no longer your fixer, Mr Trump. "
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Trump is a 'racist,' 'conman' and 'cheat'
"Mr Trump is a racist. The country has seen Mr Trump court white supremacists and bigots. You have heard him call foreign countries sh–holes," he said. "In private, he is even worse."
The lawyer then recalled some of the private comments Mr Trump made to him:
"He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black wasn’t that wasn’t a sh–hole. This was when Barack Obama was President of the United States.
"And while we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. And he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid."
I am honored to be the special guest of @RepMarkMeadows today. I am here in support of @POTUS and in support of the truth, as Michael Cohen (knows that I know) it to be. And the truth is that it doesn’t take you 15 years to call someone a racist. Unless they’re not one. pic.twitter.com/jPxeYTbTYT
— 🇺🇸 Lynne Patton (@LynnePatton) February 27, 2019
'I am here to tell the truth'
Mr Trump’s longtime lawyer’s appearance today comes just weeks before he begins a three-year prison sentence. His crimes include lying to Congress in 2017 – something he is unable to skirt around as he begins his testimony. "The last time I appeared before Congress, I came to protect Mr Trump," Cohen says. "Today, I am here to tell the truth about Mr Trump".
Trump directed negotiations on Trump Tower Moscow, Cohen claims
Cohen, who has admitted to misleading Congress over how far into the 2016 election the Russian real estate talks continued, claimed Mr Trump was heavily involved.
He said: "So to be clear, Mr Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.
"There were at least a half a dozen times between the Iowa caucus in January of 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me, how’s it going in Russia, referring to the Moscow tower project. You need to know that Mr Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow tower negotiations before I gave it."
'I regret the day I said yes to Mr Trump' – Cohen
In his opening remarks, Cohen said: "Never in a million years did I imagine when I accepted a job in 2007 to work for Donald Trump that he would one day run for the presidency, to launch a campaign on a platform of hate and intolerance and actively win. I regret the day I said yes to Mr Trump."
"I am ashamed of my weakness and my misplaced loyalty, of the things I did for Mr Trump in an effort to protect and promote him. I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr Trump’s elicit acts, rather than listening to my own conscience. I am ashamed because I know what Mr Trump is. He is a racist, he is a conman, and he is a cheat."
Republicans slam 'convicted perjurer' and 'Clinton operative'
Representative Jim Jordan, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, criticised Chairman Elijah Cummings for calling Michael Cohen to testify:
"This might be the first time someone convicted of lying to Congress has appeared again so quickly in front of Congress. Certainly it’s the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness in a hearing," he said.
Mr Jordan also claimed the hearing was orchestrated by Cohen’s legal consultant and spokesman, Lanny Davis.
"So now Clinton loyalist, Clinton operative Lanny Davis has persuaded the chairman of the oversight committee to give a convicted felon a forum to tell stories and lie about the president of the United States so they can all start their impeachment process. Mr. Chairman, we are better than this. We are better than this," be said.
Restrictions on questions about Russia lifted
A Democratic member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee says that restrictions on questions about Russia have been lifted.
Just before the hearing began, Rep. Gerry Connolly said he’d discussed the issue with the committee’s leadership. The Virginia congressman said previous limits on questions about Russia were "null and void" because Cohen mentioned the issue in his opening statement.
The committee chairman had issued a memo outlining the scope of the hearing, and it didn’t include questions about Russia. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings had said that he didn’t want to interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Republicans fail in bid to delay hearing
As soon as the House hearing got underway, a key Republican lawmaker claimed that the committee was violating its own rules.
Mark Meadows, a top Trump ally, said Cohen was showing "disdain" for the committee process by failing to submit his prepared remarks ahead of time.
Mr Meadows claimed it was an intentional "violation of the rules."
Cohen’s much-anticipated testimony was received by the committee the night before Wednesday’s session, according to the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland.
Meadows made a motion to postpone the hearing. Lawmakers quickly voted to reject the motion and the hearing resumed.
Is this a 'John Dean moment'?
Nick Allen writes: Michael Cohen believes his appearance could be comparable to the testimony of John Dean, which helped bring down Richard Nixon. Dean was Nixon’s White House counsel. Last year, Dean told The Telegraph there were "echoes of Watergate" in the Trump administration. Read his comments in full here
Michael Cohen takes his seat
Mr Trump’s former lawyer arrives at the House Oversight Committee. Cohen, who was the president’s longtime fixer, is the first high-profile witness called before the committee as newly empowered Democrats pursue an aggressive effort to investigate the president.
And before questioning can get underway, Republican lawmakers have begun kicking up a fuss over the time they have had to examine the evidence. Congressman Mark Meadows has called for a vote on whether the questioning should be delayed, complaining that lawmakers have not had 24 hours to review Cohen’s prepared testimony. "CNN had it before we did," Mr Meadows said.
Washington bars open for Cohen watch parties
Several bars in the capital have opened at 10am to show Cohen’s testimony on large screens, Nick Allen reports. Duffy’s Irish Pub will be showing the event on eight large TV screens and offering a "Flipper" cocktail. The cocktail is a recipe specifically for the occasion and is described as "Russian influenced".