Last week while President Trump was attending the failed negotiations with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, his former lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, gave damning testimony in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. His testimony comes after his conviction and sentencing to three years in prison for what the judge called a “veritable smorgasbord of criminal conduct” that included tax fraud and lying. In the past, Cohen has also acknowledged lying in his previous Congressional testimony. He was originally scheduled to report to prison on March 6, but the judge delayed the date by two months, in part, to allow Cohen to prepare for his Congressional testimony.
In last week’s testimony Cohen expressed remorse and apologized for his past conduct by saying, “I am ashamed of my own failings, and I publicly accepted responsibility for them by pleading guilty…” He then began laying out his allegations against Trump who he called a “racist,” “conman,” and “a cheat.” Cohen testified that Trump knew Roger Stone, who was arrested last month as part of the Mueller investigation, was communicating with Julian Assange about WikiLeaks’s upcoming release of thousands of hacked Democratic National Committee emails. Trump denied having advanced knowledge of the release of the hacked emails. This is problematic because there are reports that Trump denied advanced knowledge in his written statements to the Mueller investigation. Roger Stone, who has described himself as a “dirty trickster,” and despite being under a gag order, wasted no time to say Michael Cohen’s statement was not true.
Cohen said in his testimony’s opening statement, “In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
Light was shed on January’s explosive BuzzFeed report that President Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress over questions pertaining to the Trump Tower in Moscow project. The report earned an extremely rare public denial by Mueller’s office. “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate,” a spokesman for Mueller said.
During last week’s testimony, Cohen stated that Trump, while not directly, implied that Cohen should lie. “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates… In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, 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. In his way, he was telling me to lie.” Cohen added, “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 the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.” Cohen also stated that the president’s personal lawyers at the time had reviewed and edited his false statement to Congress.
In more testimony about dealing with Russia, Cohen testified he believed Trump knew of the Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Russian nationals set up over gaining damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Cohen recounted an unusual incident between Donald Trump and his son:
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. People didn’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.”
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 also knew that nothing went on in Trump world, especially the campaign, without Mr. Trump’s knowledge and approval. So, I concluded that Don Jr. was referring to that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting about dirt on Hillary with the Russian representative when he walked behind his dad’s desk that day — and that Mr. Trump knew that was the meeting Don Jr. was talking about when he said, “That’s good…let me know.”
Also, in Cohen’s testimony last week he provided more details of the hush-money payoff of former porn star Stormy Daniels who Trump had an affair with. The hush-money was designed to buy Daniel’s silence during the election campaign in what was an illegal campaign finance violation Cohen plead guilty too as part of his sentencing. Cohen provided checks written by Trump and his organization to reimburse him in installments for fronting the $130,000 payment through a shell company. One check was signed by Donald Trump himself after he became president and provides direct evidence that as president Trump continued to conspire in a criminal scheme.
Other aspects of Cohen’s testimony touched on are Trump lying about bone spurs to get out of the Vietnam draft, abuse of Trump’s charitable foundation spending, and artificially inflating and deflating his personal net worth with falsified tax and insurance claim implications. In all, Michael Cohen’s testimony paints not only a political damaging picture of Donald Trump, it exposes Trump to more legal exposure. Already, less than a week after Cohen’s testimony, New York State regulators have subpoenaed the Trump Organization’s longtime insurance brokerage.
There are several large takeaways from Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. First, there is more to the story than Cohen was able to discuss in open testimony. He was unable to discuss in public matters that are currently being actively investigated by Robert Mueller or the Southern District of New York prosecutor’s office. However, Cohen has been testifying behind closed doors, and it is only a matter of speculation of what he has been discussion.
Secondly, Cohen is a known liar, something Republicans made sure to point out at every step in their questioning of Cohen last week. His testimony, by itself, would not be enough to build a solid prosecution. There has to be corroborating evidence provided with Cohen’s testimony to begin to form a successful prosecution of any type.
Lastly, Cohen’s testimony was extremely useful for Congressional investigators. His testimony was a boondoggle on potential witnesses to question. This means the Congressional investigations are a long way from being over.
The public now has a better understanding of what “Trump world” is really like, and it is not a flattering image. For many, Cohen provided proof of what they suspected all along, that Trump is someone who cannot be trusted and never should have become president in the first place. For Trump’s most ardent supporters, the testimony did nothing to change their mind because Cohen has lied in the past and therefor his testimony is invalid. Meanwhile, the public awaits Mueller’s report, which seems to be in the final stages and could come any week now. The next battle, is to make sure the report becomes public, as many fear President Trump’s Justice Department will fight to keep it from public eyes.