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Michael Cohen reportedly plans to accuse Trump of crimes in House testimony

Cohen’s lawyer says Trump’s longtime fixer has the receipts to back up his claims.

Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at the Hart Senate Office Building for his first day of testimony.
Cohen arrives at the Hart Senate Office Building for his first day of testimony on Tuesday, February 26, 2019.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On Wednesday, February 27, Michael Cohen — President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer — is scheduled to publicly testify before the House Oversight Committee. The hearing begins at 10 am ET and can be watched live online on the committee’s website.

The hearing promises to be explosive. While questions specifically about Russia will be off the table due to special counsel Robert Mueller’s continuing investigation, Cohen will be questioned about Trump’s business practices and hush money payments to women who alleged affairs with Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Cohen spent about a decade as Trump’s lawyer and as a Trump Organization executive. But last year, he fell under FBI investigation and had a bitter falling-out with the president. Eventually, he pleaded guilty to financial crimes, campaign finance violations regarding the hush money payments, and lying to Congress about his efforts to strike a Russian business deal for Trump. He’s set to begin a three-year prison sentence for those crimes on May 6.

Cohen was originally scheduled to testify to the Oversight Committee earlier this month, but he refused to appear, citing “threats against his family” from President Trump and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who have both made innuendos about potential criminality from Cohen’s father-in-law.

According to a memo distributed last week by House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the scope of Cohen’s public testimony will include many topics related to Trump’s business (such as his debts, compliance with tax laws, and his Washington, DC, hotel) as well as “payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election.”

And a source told the Wall Street Journal that Cohen will use the testimony to “publicly accuse the president of criminal conduct while in office” in connection with the Stormy Daniels hush money payment.

Michael Cohen testifies before the House Oversight Committee

Michael Cohen – former attorney to President Trump – will answer key questions about Trump's business practices and hush money payments. The hearing promises to be explosive.

Posted by Vox on Wednesday, February 27, 2019

What Cohen might say about Trump’s hush payments to women

The aforementioned $130,000 “hush money payment to a porn star” — Daniels — wasn’t the only hush payment Cohen orchestrated on Trump’s behalf to a woman who claimed to have had an affair with him. Cohen also arranged a “catch and kill” deal between Playboy playmate Karen McDougal and American Media Inc. that resulted in McDougal receiving $150,000 in exchange for not speaking publicly during the campaign about the affair she says she had with Trump.

Both payments far exceeded the $2,700 maximum for an unreported contribution to a candidate in a general election, and last August, Cohen pleaded guilty to “causing an unlawful corporate contribution” in connection with the AMI deal and “excessive campaign contribution” in connection with Daniels.

Four months before Cohen entered his plea, Trump claimed to have no knowledge of the payments to Daniels and referred questions about the matter to Cohen. But in court filings connected with the guilty plea, Cohen and prosectors affirmed that both of the payments were made at the direction of “Individual-1” — a.k.a. Trump.

According to the New York Times, during his testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen will accuse Trump of committing crimes during his presidency in connection with the hush payments — and he says he has the receipts to back it up:

Mr. Cohen will describe in what was called “granular detail” the plan to pay Ms. Daniels, which he will say was initiated by Mr. Trump, the person familiar with the testimony plans said. Mr. Cohen has pleaded guilty to a federal campaign finance-related charge in connection with that payment. Prosecutors have implicated Mr. Trump, identifying him as “Individual 1,” in connection with that charge in documents filed in the case...

While the payment to Daniels was made during the presidential campaign, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has said Cohen was reimbursed for it during a period of time extending into Trump’s presidency through a $35,000-a-month retainer agreement.

Cohen “is planning to bring documents that will illustrate his claims” about Trump’s alleged criminal conduct, according to the Times.

What Cohen might say about the Trump Organization

Russia won’t be a subject of Wednesday’s hearing, but according to the Times, Cohen — who worked for Trump for more than a decade — does plan to tell the Oversight Committee about exactly how deep into the presidential campaign Trump continued to discuss a possible Trump Tower Moscow real estate deal.

During his closed-door 2017 testimony to Congress, Cohen said that discussions for Trump Tower Moscow ended in January 2016. But Mueller’s team ultimately determined that those talks continued until at least June 2016, which resulted in Cohen pleading guilty to perjury. Giuliani has since suggested that the talks may have extended all the way until November 2016 — until the very end of a campaign in which Trump raised eyebrows by repeatedly praising Putin and pushing for a normalization of US-Russia relations.

Beyond Trump Tower Moscow, the Wall Street Journal reports that Cohen “also will make public some of Mr. Trump’s private financial statements and allege that Mr. Trump at times inflated or deflated his net worth for business and personal purposes, including avoiding paying property taxes.”

Cohen’s statements could be corroborated by Trump’s tax returns, so Cohen’s testimony will be useful for House Democrats seeking to develop a blueprint about how best to go about compelling Trump to turn them over.

Beyond Trump’s shady financial dealings, Cohen also reportedly plans to testify about racist comments he heard Trump make while he was working for him. In a November interview with Vanity Fair, Cohen recalled hearing Trump say things like, “black people are too stupid to vote for me,” and, “name one country run by a black person that’s not a shithole.”

The White House is already trying to discredit Cohen as a liar

On Tuesday, the White House sought to get ahead of Cohen’s testimony with a statement preemptively discrediting him as a “disgraced felon” and a “convicted liar.”

But Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, told the Times that his client — perhaps anticipating the White House’s strategy — “worked very hard on this moment to not only tell the truth, but to back it up with documents.”

Davis also told the Times that Cohen’s response to pushback about his previous false statements will be, “I take full responsibility, I lied in the past; now you have to decide if I’m telling the truth.”

According to Cummings’s memo, other topics that are fair game for Wednesday’s hearing include “potentially fraudulent or inappropriate practices by the Trump Foundation” and “public efforts by the President and his attorney to intimidate Mr. Cohen or others not to testify.”

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.

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