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27 February 2019

22 things we learned from Michael Cohen’s jaw-dropping Congressional testimony

Here’s what we from the House Oversight Committee’s grilling of the president’s former attorney and fixer.

By Sophie McBain

America has been transfixed by the bombshell public grilling by the House Oversight Committee of Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen. It was a day filled with drama, and we learned a lot of new information from Cohen, who worked as Trump’s personal attorney and right-hand man for ten years. 

Here are the 22 biggest things things we learned:

1) Trump viewed his presidential campaign, according to Cohen, as “the greatest infomercial in history”

“The sad fact is I never heard the president say anything in private that led me to believe he loved our nation or wanted to make it any better,” Cohen said.

Donald Trump’s business transactions are currently under investigation by the Southern District of New York

We don’t know exactly what aspects of the Trump’s finances are under investigation, but Cohen said several times that he could not discuss certain subjects because of ongoing investigations in New York. That’s huge, and potentially means more legal peril for the president.

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Donald Trump’s business transactions are currently under investigation by the Southern District of New York

We don’t know exactly what aspects of the Trump’s finances are under investigation, but Cohen said several times that he could not discuss certain subjects because of ongoing investigations in New York. That’s huge, and potentially means more legal peril for the president.

2) Donald Trump’s business transactions are currently under investigation by the Southern District of New York

We don’t know exactly what aspects of the Trump’s finances are under investigation, but Cohen said several times that he could not discuss certain subjects because ongoing investigations by prosecutors in New York. We don’t know exactly what that means, but if there are more investigations into the president that we didn’t know about then that’s huge.

3) Trump knew ahead of time that the Democratic National Committee’s emails were going to be leaked

According to Cohen, Trump spoke to political operative Roger Stone and knew he was talking to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange about the coming dump of hacked DNC emails. Cohen said Stone was a “free agent” who wasn’t paid by Trump, but they spoke regularly. Cohen said Stone frequently “reached out to Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trump was very happy to take his calls, it was free service”.

He said he did not know if Trump was aware of when the emails would be dumped or had influence over when it would happen. Trump never indicated to Cohen that he had any intention of asking the FBI.

Cohen believes the Special Counsel has evidence that Trump knew about the DNC email dump.

4) Trump did not explicitly tell Cohen to lie about Trump Tower, but he made it clear that’s what he wanted him to do

Cohen said that while Trump never came said it in so many words, Trump “has a way” of making it clear what he wants you to do.

Critically, Cohen also said he got his lawyer to review and edit Cohen’s earlier Congressional testimony in which he lied, in order to have him say the project ended in January 2016. Cohen said that “several changes” were made by Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow, including on how long the Trump Tower project continued for. This could be legally very difficult for the president.

“Lying for Mr. Trump was normalized, and no one around him questioned it. In fairness, no one around him today questions it, either,” Cohen said.

5) Between January 2016 and June 2016, Cohen and Trump discussed the Moscow tower project “around 10 times”

After each conversation Cohen had with Russian officials on the project, he reported back to Trump. He said that Felix Sater, a convicted fraudster who was also working on the project, was the one who suggested at one point that Russian president Vladimir Putin should be given a free penthouse.

6) Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump also knew about these Moscow Trump tower negotiations

Asked whether Trump’s family were “conflicted and compromised” by their business dealings with a foreign power, Cohen replied simply “yes”.

7) Cohen cannot prove that Trump knew about the June 2016 Trump tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, but believes he did

Cohen said that in June 2016 “something peculiar happened”: Don Jr. came into Trump’s office and whispered to him “the meeting is all set”, to which Trump replied, “OK good, let me know”. It was unusual for Don Jr. to come directly behind Trump’s desk in that way. Cohen said that the president believes his son Don Jr. “has the worst judgement of anyone in the world” and “would never set up a meeting of any significance” without his father’s sign-off.

8) Cohen said he “wouldn’t use the word ‘colluding’” and can’t prove anything – but did drop lots of heavy hints

“There as there something odd about the back and forth praise with President Putin, yes, but I’m not sure I can answer that question in terms of collusion, I was not part of the campaign…. There’s just so many dots that all seem to lead to the same direction,” Cohen said. “Mr Trump’s desire to win would have him work with anyone,” he added later.

9) Trump routinely relies on his staff to threaten people

Did Trump ever personally threaten people, Cohen was asked. “No, he would use others,” he replied. Did he hire people for that purpose? “I’m not sure he’d have to hire them, he already had them working there. Everyone’s job at the Trump Org is to protect Mr Trump,” Cohen replied.

10) In March 2017, the president signed a cheque from his personal account for Cohen as reimbursement for his hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels

In the days leading up to the election, Trump, Cohen and his CFO Alan Weisselberg discussed in detail how to arrange the payment to avoid detection. Cohen said he can provide eleven cheques he received from Trump to reimburse him for these payments.

11) As well as inflating his net worth to boost his place on the Forbes magazine Rich List, Trump also deflated his assets for tax purposes or to access loans

Trump “wanted each year to have net worth rise on the Forbes wealthiest individual list” so he’d inflate his assets. Cohen says he has provided documents that Trump did so in order to obtain a loan from Deutsche Bank. All of this was done “was done with the knowledge of and at the direction of President Trump”.

12) Trump used money from the Trump Foundation (supposedly his charitable arm) to pay someone back for bidding on his portrait at auction

The portrait now hangs in one of his country clubs. The Trump Foundation has already been dissolved by court order and is currently under investigation in New York.

13) Trump asked Cohen to threaten his previous schools, colleges and the college board not to release his grades

Here you can view one of these letters, addressed to Fordham University. The university has confirmed it received such a letter.

14) According to Cohen, Trump is an even bigger racist in private than he is in public

Cohen said: “I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.” He once told Cohen, for example, that “black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid”

15) Cohen believes “Trump is becoming an autocrat,” and said the president brought up Cohen’s family on Twitter in the hope that his followers would harm them

Cohen said the president tried to “intimidate” him into not testifying by tweeting about his family. He says that when Trump said he could shoot someone on fifth avenue and not lose voters, “he’s not joking, he’s telling the truth”.

“I don’t walk with my wife if we go to a restaurant if we go somewhere, I don’t walk with my children, I make them go before me,” Cohen says, because he is so fearful. He says that after Trump tweeted about him, he had to hand over Tweets and Facebook messages he had received from strangers to the secret services, because they were “vile disgusting statements that anyone can ever receive”.

He said when Trump called him a “rat” on Twitter it was “much like a mobster would do when one of his men tries to cooperate with the government.”

16) Trump routinely brokered catch-and-kill style deals with David Pecker of AMI, which owns the National Enquirer

Cohen says Trump and Pecker negotiated similar deals before he joined the Trump Organization in 2007, and since then. “Not all of them had to do with women,” Cohen said. Though it seems that one of them relates to the allegation that Trump had a “love child” with an employee. (Cohen says “to his knowledge” that the love child did not exist, but nevertheless the story was silenced with about $15,000 dollars.)

He also said that Pecker was “very angry” because Trump had not paid him for the Karen McDougal agreement, and because he “never got reimbursed” for “other monies” Pecker had “expended on his behalf”.

17) Cohen says he’s never been to Prague

This relates to an allegation in the Steele dossier that Cohen travelled there to meet with senior Kremlin officials.

18) Quite apart from violating campaign finance laws, Trump, his accountant Alan Weisselberg and his son Don Jr. could be found guilty of “garden variety financial fraud”

According to Cohen’s testimony, at Trump’s direction Weisselberg and Don Trump Jr. signed cheques that were disguised as payment for legal services but were in fact repayment for the hush money advanced to porn star Stormy Daniels. Eric Trump may also have signed some of the cheques. Did Trump’s sons know that the payments were false and illegal, Democrat Ro Khanna asked Cohen. “I can’t answer that,” he replied. Would he agree, Khanna continued, with the statement that: “The president directed transactions in conspiracy with Alan Weisselberg and his son Donald Trump Jr as part of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud”. “Yes,” Cohen replied. He said he could not discuss whether this was currently under investigation in the Southern District of New York.

19) The Trump Foundation was paid $150,000 by a Ukrainian oligarch

Asked for further examples in which Trump used his charity to benefit his family, Cohen said that he had drawn up a contract under which the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk paid Trump $150,000 to give a 15-minute talk via Skype to a Ukrainian-American business forum. The check was paid into the Trump Foundation.

21) As well as lying to banks and the IRS, Trump deflated his assets for insurance purposes

Quizzed by New York Democrat Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Cohen said that Trump had deflated his assets for insurance purposes. He also said that Trump deflated his assets in order to reduce his real estate tax bill.

22) The Committee may be considering subpoenaing Trump Organization CFO Weisselberg next

His name came up several times during the hearing, as someone with first-hand knowledge of the hush-money payments as well as of Trump’s attempts to deflate his assets to reduce his tax and insurance liabilities, and to inflate them when approaching banks.

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