Michael Cohen, President Trump’s onetime fixer, detailed to Congress on Wednesday a life of dirty tricks and crimes that he said he carried out at the order of his former boss, including lying to lawmakers, cheating small businesses, and illegally paying off a porn actress and lying about it to the first lady.
Cohen, however, could not deliver the ultimate prize to the Democrats. He said he didn’t know whether Mr. Trump colluded with Russia to subvert the 2016 presidential election. But he did substantiate a number of claims by providing check stubs and financial records, as well as dates to back up his allegation that Mr. Trump orchestrated the payment to the pornography actress.
He accused the president of knowing ahead of time that WikiLeaks would release emails stolen from Democratic campaign officials in 2016, and he suggested that Mr. Trump faces other investigations by federal prosecutors in New York, signaling that the president’s legal jeopardy may extend beyond the allegations of campaign finance shenanigans that Cohen has pleaded guilty to.
Cohen also said he knows the president better than most others and that Americans should be disgusted.
“He has both good and bad, as do we all. But the bad far outweighs the good, and since taking office, he has become the worst version of himself,” Cohen told the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
“He is capable of behaving kindly, but he is not kind. He is capable of committing acts of generosity, but he is not generous. He is capable of being loyal, but he is fundamentally disloyal.”
SEE ALSO: Michael Cohen has no evidence Trump colluded with Russians, ‘but I have my suspicions’
Republicans assailed Mr. Cohen’s credibility. They portrayed him as jilted when he didn’t get a White House position after Mr. Trump won the 2016 election and pointed out repeatedly that he had pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, among other crimes. Cohen is scheduled to start a three-year prison sentence in May.
“You wanted to work in the White House. You didn’t get brought to the dance,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee.
Mr. Trump, who is in Vietnam for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, posted a message on Twitter saying the man who served as his attorney for 10 years is lying to reduce his prison time.
“He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court [in New York] for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump,” the president said.
The hearing before the oversight committee is the second in three days of testimony on Capitol Hill. It was the only public appearance for the former lawyer, giving him a platform to slam Mr. Trump.
“Sitting here today, it seems unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that were absolutely wrong.”
Among his most damning allegations was the suggestion that Mr. Trump committed financial fraud by submitting phony financial documents to a bank so he could get a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills. The financial fraud was so pervasive, Cohen said, that Trump would routinely inflate or decrease his personal wealth depending on how it would benefit him.
Cohen also said federal prosecutors in New York are investigating a conversation he had with Mr. Trump, implying that there may be other illegal acts that he couldn’t discuss.
But the smoking gun the Democrats wanted on Russia never materialized. Cohen acknowledged that he had no direct evidence that Mr. Trump colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
“I do not, and want to be clear,” he said — though he added, “I have my suspicions.”
Cohen said he was an eyewitness to a 2016 phone call in which adviser Roger Stone told Mr. Trump about WikiLeaks’ upcoming release of stolen emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump has insisted he was unaware of the effort to hack his campaign rival.
Cohen did not suggest that Mr. Trump directed those efforts, however. Instead, he portrayed Mr. Stone as a “free agent” working at arm’s length from the campaign.
In statements Wednesday, both Mr. Stone and WikiLeaks dismissed Cohen’s claims as “not true.”
Cohen also claimed to have witnessed Donald Trump Jr. telling his father about scheduling a meeting that Cohen took to be a June 2016 Trump Tower face-to-face with a Russian lawyer who was offering dirt on Mrs. Clinton. Cohen conceded, though, that he didn’t hear either man say what meeting they were talking about.
That Trump Tower gathering has drawn scrutiny from investigators, including special counsel Robert Mueller. The president’s critics say it is evidence of attempts to work with Russia to defeat Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Trump has insisted he was unaware of that meeting. Mr. Cohen said that was unlikely.
“Nothing went on in Trump world, especially the campaign, without Mr. Trump’s knowledge and approval,” he said.
Cohen stopped short of saying Mr. Trump ordered him to lie to Congress about an abandoned plan to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow. The lie is one of the crimes that will send Cohen to prison.
“Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates,” Cohen said.
Instead, Mr. Trump would look him in the eye and tell him, “There’s no business in Russia,” Cohen recalled.
“To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it,” Cohen said. “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 detailed a $130,000 hush payment he made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who said she had an affair with the president. Cohen gave the committee a copy of a check he said Mr. Trump signed, after becoming president, to reimburse Cohen for some of the money.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied the affair, but at first said he was unaware of the payment. He later said he was aware and that it was legal — and if it did violate the law, it was because Cohen made a mistake.
Cohen, who has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations stemming from the payment to the actress, said Mr. Trump was also involved in the “criminal scheme.”
Cohen became emotional while recalling the payments. He said he lied to first lady Melania Trump about the alleged affair.
“Lying to the first lady is one of my biggest regrets,” he said. “She is a kind, good person. I respect her greatly — and she did not deserve that.”
Cohen said his actions for the president ranged from criminal to petty, including an order by Mr. Trump to strong-arm schools to keep his grades and SAT scores secret.
He also said the president is a racist. Recalling a conversation he said he had during the campaign, he claimed Mr. Trump said “black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
Republicans dismissed any potential legal peril from Cohen’s testimony.
Kayleigh McEnany, a spokeswoman for the president’s re-election campaign, called Cohen “a felon, a disbarred lawyer and a convicted perjurer.”
“Now he offers what he says is evidence, but the only support for that is his own testimony, which was proven before to be worthless.”