Michael Cohen’s testimony Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee contained no shortage of explosive charges, many of which could spell trouble for Cohen’s former boss Donald Trump.
As Republicans on the committee repeatedly reminded Americans watching the proceedings, Cohen had already lied to Congress in 2017 when he testified about the duration of negotiations with Russian officials to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The testimony by Cohen, who is scheduled to begin a three-year prison term in May on campaign finance charges in relation to hush money payments made on behalf of Trump, lying to Congress, and bank and tax fraud related to his personal business interests, nevertheless poses threats to the president, especially since Cohen backed up of some of his claims with physical evidence.
While not every revelation detailed by Cohen pointed to criminal activity by Trump, here are the biggest bombshell allegations from the hearing so far.
Ongoing investigations of Trump
In an exchange with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., Cohen said federal prosecutors are investigating the president over criminal allegations not yet made public.
“Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you’re aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven’t yet discussed today?” Krishnamoorthi asked
“Yes,” Cohen responded, “and those are part of the investigations that is currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.”
Why it matters: Trump is hoping that after special counsel Robert Mueller wraps his investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential election, he will be out of legal jeopardy. Cohen’s cooperation with investigations not yet disclosed indicates this may not be the case.
Trump Tower Moscow testimony
While Cohen has admitted lying to Congress about the scope of Trump’s effort to build a skyscraper in Moscow leading up to and during the 2016 presidential campaign, he said Wednesday that he had help in doing so. Cohen said Jay Sekulow was among those on Trump’s legal team who made changes to Cohen’s statement to Congress to make it seem as though the negotiations did not extend as long as they did.
“There were changes made, additions, Jay Sekulow, for one—”
Were there changes about the timing?
“There were several changes that were made, including how we were going to handle that message. The message of course being the length of time that Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive,” Cohen acknowledged.
Cohen also testified that Trump had personally spoken to him about his first 2017 appearance before Congress.
“He wanted me to cooperate. He also wanted to ensure, by making the statement, as I said it in my testimony, there is no Russia, there is no collusion, there is no — there is no deal,” Cohen said.
Cohen specified that Trump did not directly instruct him to lie, noting, “That’s not how he operates,” but that Trump made his wishes clear indirectly.
Why it matters: Cohen faces jail time after pleading guilty to lying to Congress. Anyone who helped craft his lies is also in potential legal jeopardy.
Hush money reimbursements from Trump
In his opening statement and throughout his testimony, Cohen made clear that hush money payments made to porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal came at the direction of Trump himself.
“Mr. Trump directed me to use my own personal funds from a home equity line of credit to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign,” Cohen testified, adding, “I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on Aug. 1, 2017 — when he was president of the United States — pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me — the word used by Mr. Trump’s TV lawyer — for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf. This $35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year — while he was president.”
Furthermore, Cohen testified that a year after being elected president Trump told Cohen to mislead the public about his knowledge of the payments.
Why it matters: Cohen is going to jail over the payments to Daniels and McDougal. If Trump told him to make those payments, he’s guilty, too.
Trump told him to lie to Melania about hush money
Cohen testified that he was especially disturbed that the president told him to lie about Trump’s alleged affairs with Daniels and McDougal.
“He 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,” Cohen said, adding, “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.”
During questioning, Cohen was asked repeatedly about the lies he had told about his work for the president, and he again brought up the first lady.
“Not only did I lie to the American people, I lied to the first lady. When the president called me I was sitting in a car with a friend of mine, and he had me speak to her and explain to the first lady,” Cohen testified.
Why it matters: Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s current lawyer, said in December that Trump’s hush money payments didn’t violate campaign finance laws if there was “a strong personal component to a payment — like protecting your wife, children and family from scandal.” That line of thinking would not explain why Trump asked Cohen to lie to his wife about the alleged affairs.
Trump may have known about his son’s meeting with Russians
For years, President Trump has insisted that he knew nothing of his son Don Jr.’s June 9, 2016, meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer in order to obtain damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
In his prepared statement, Cohen implied that Trump had advance knowledge of the meeting, and approved of it.
“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 itself was unusual,” Cohen said in his statement. “People don’t just walk behind Mr. Trump’s desk to talk to him. 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.”
Why it matters: Meeting with a foreign national to solicit help in a U.S. election is a violation of U.S. law.
Penthouse for Putin
Former mobster and real estate developer Felix Sater spoke with Cohen about securing a $50 million penthouse apartment in the proposed Trump Tower Moscow skyscraper for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Cohen testified during an exchange with Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.
“So Felix Sater had suggested to you that Mr. Trump offer a penthouse to Mr. Putin?” Speier asked.
“Yes, because it would certainly drive up the price per square foot, no different than in any condo where they start listing celebrities that live in that property,” Cohen responded.
Why it matters: Offering Putin a penthouse could violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it a crime to bribe foreign officials.
Trump and Roger Stone discussed WikiLeaks release of DNC emails
Cohen recounted a phone meeting between Trump and Roger Stone during which the latter announced over speakerphone that he “just got off the phone with Julian Assange, and in a couple of days there’s going to be a massive dump of emails that’s going to significantly hurt the Clinton campaign.”
Those emails are believed to have been stolen by Russian hackers and leaked via WikiLeaks a few days after the call between Trump and Stone.
WikiLeaks denied Wednesday that Assange had ever talked with Stone.
STATEMENT on Michael Cohen testimony to Congress: WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange has never had a telephone call with Roger Stone. WikiLeaks publicly teased its pending publications on Hillary Clinton and published > 30k of her emails on 16 March 2016. https://t.co/XcH75u3kbu— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) February 27, 2019
Why it matters: Stone has been indicted on charges brought by Mueller that allege he sought stolen DNC emails from WikiLeaks so as to boost Trump’s presidential campaign.
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