Cohen says Trump knew in advance about WikiLeaks email dump
Shaking off criticism from House Republicans, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer declared under oath Wednesday that Trump knew ahead of time and embraced the news when told that WikiLeaks had emails damaging to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Michael Cohen also testified that Trump is a “racist,” a “conman” and a “cheat.”
Cohen, called to testify by Democrats over the objections of Republicans, suggested that Trump also implicitly told him to lie about a Moscow real estate project. Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the project, which he says Trump knew about, as Cohen was negotiating with Russia during the 2016 election campaign.
The hearing was producing the most damning depiction to date of Trump’s campaign and business operations from a one-time member of his inner circle. It was the latest step in Cohen’s evolution from legal fixer for the president — he once boasted he would “take a bullet” for Trump — to a foe who has implicated him in federal campaign finance violations.
“I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty, of the things I did for Mr Trump in an effort to protect and promote him,” Cohen said. “I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. I am ashamed because I know what Mr Trump is.”
Democrats asked Cohen about details of his accusations against Trump, while Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee focused on assailing him and his credibility.
Accused at length by one GOP lawmaker of being a pathological liar, Cohen responded, “Sir, are you referring to me or the president?”
Cohen’s claims that Trump had advance knowledge of the emails contradict the president’s assertions that he was in the dark, but it was not clear what evidence Cohen had to support the allegation, or even how legally problematic it would be for Trump. Special counsel Robert Mueller has not suggested that mere awareness of WikiLeaks’ plans, as Trump confidant Roger Stone is purported to have had, is by itself a crime.
Underscoring the deeply partisan nature of the proceedings, Democrats on the committee lifted an earlier restriction that the hearing not delve into Russia, while Republicans tried unsuccessfully to block the hearing as it got under way, on the grounds that Cohen had not provided his opening statement long enough in advance.
The committee’s top Republican, Jim Jordan of Ohio, sought early on to undermine Cohen’s credibility by calling him a “fraudster, cheat” and “a convicted felon.
“Certainly it’s the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness at a hearing,” Jordan said.
Cohen said Trump did not directly tell him to lie, but “he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing”.
Cohen said that “in his way, he was telling me to lie.” He added that lawyers for Trump had “reviewed and edited” the statement in which Cohen falsely said a proposal for a Trump Tower in Moscow had been abandoned in January 2016. Cohen has since said he continued pursuing the project for Trump for months after that.
Trump, at a Vietnam hotel before a planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and unable to ignore the drama playing out thousands of miles away, lashed out at Cohen on Twitter, saying his lawyer “did bad things unrelated to Trump” and “is lying in order to reduce his prison time”.
A judge has already set Cohen’s sentence, and Cohen’s cooperation will have no bearing on that term. Cohen, ahead of his appearance, said Tuesday that the American people could decide “exactly who is telling the truth” when he testified before the House committee.