Michael Cohen unfurled a series of accusations against his former boss Donald Trump in a day of testimony before Congress, including assertions that may pose additional legal peril for the president.
Trump’s former lawyer and fixer also told the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday that he witnessed a conversation during the 2016 campaign between Trump and Roger Stone, who disclosed in advance that WikiLeaks would soon release stolen emails damaging to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and that, as president, Trump personally repaid Cohen for payments that he’d directed Cohen to pay a porn star as hush money.
Cohen tore into Trump, saying “he is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat.” At the same time, he rebuffed some of the more explosive allegations about Trump’s behaviour over the years, saying he had no knowledge of embarrassing videotapes or payoffs for a “love child” — and that he didn’t believe either story.
Cohen said he had only “my suspicions” that Trump colluded with Russians who sought to help him win the election, the central question in the investigation that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is close to completing.
Some of the most damaging disclosures may relate to Trump’s financial information.
Cohen testified that Trump provided different information to different entities depending on his objectives. Inflating one’s holdings to obtain a bank loan or deflating them when dealing with the Internal Revenue Service could be federal crimes.
Some experts believe a sitting president could be charged with crimes committed before taking office — and it’s certain all the issues raised by Cohen will be pursued by Democrats, whose control of the House gives them tools from subpoena power to impeachment.
Cohen is to report to prison May 6 after pleading guilty to nine felonies — including lying to Congress previously in closed-door testimony.
“You have a history of lying over and over and over again,” Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Oversight panel’s top Republican, told Cohen. He suggested Cohen had grown bitter because Trump didn’t give him a White House job after the election, an assertion Cohen denied. Other Republicans suggested he was angling for a book deal. Cohen acknowledged he’d welcome an offer.
Cohen also said he’s in regular contact with the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York about ongoing investigations, and he said the president is under investigation for issues that haven’t yet become public.
Ronald Fischetti, a veteran criminal defence lawyer in New York, said Cohen could get a reduced prison term if prosecutors deem he has provided substantial help in their investigations.
“The fact that Cohen is still actively cooperating with federal prosecutors — even after he’s been sentenced — about other investigations is significant,” Fischetti said. “Cohen has been with Trump for more than a decade and knows of all these deals he’s done and all of his financial dealings. He’s in a prime position to … have access to documents of a criminal nature.”
Cohen testified that Trump — who has refused to make public his tax returns — kept a close eye on financial information in his business career.
He testified the Trump Organization inflated valuations on company assets in part to burnish his public image as a billionaire and also for insurance on his properties.
“We would provide them with these copies so they would understand that the premium, which is based sometimes upon the individual’s capabilities to pay, would be reduced,” Cohen said.
Maria Vullo, former New York Department of Financial Services superintendent, said making false statements to an insurance company can be a basis to void the policy for fraud.
Democrats called Wednesday’s hearing to set up a potential impeachment effort in the House, Republican Jordan said. Democrats have kept a lid on impeachment talk, at least until Mueller soon makes his final report, but they appeared to be laying the groundwork for expanded investigations.
Among those they may call next is Trump Organization official Allen Weisselberg, who Cohen said was present when Trump directed hush money be paid to Stephanie Clifford, the porn star known as Stormy Daniels, in the days before the election. Weisselberg earlier struck a limited cooperation agreement with prosecutors in Cohen’s case.
Cohen gave the committee a copy of a cheque he said Trump signed after he became president as reimbursement for hush money paid to silence Clifford, who alleged she had an affair with Trump.
Cohen provided a second cheque, saying he believed its signatures were Donald Trump Jr.’s and Weisselberg’s.
Cohen has pleaded guilty to charges of illegal campaign contributions related to the payments.
Separately, Cohen’s claim he was present for a phone call Stone held with the president on WikiLeaks’ plans could implicate Trump as part of a conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election by hacking his opponents, a criminal plot for which he would have been an intended beneficiary.
— With assistance from Shahien Nasiripour, Patricia Hurtado and Shannon Pettypiece