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Cohen declares Trump a ‘racist,’ ‘conman’ and ‘cheat’

By Chris Megerian, Del Quentin Wilber and Jennifer Haberkorn • Feb 27, 2019 at 5:36 PM

WASHINGTON — Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, told the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday that he had not seen proof of collusion between Trump and Russia or other foreign governments and knocked down several accusations of misconduct surrounding his former boss, but said he was aware of other possible criminal conduct involving the president.

“Was there something odd about his back-and-forth praise with President Putin? Yes. But I’m not really sure I can answer that question on collusion,” Cohen, the president’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, said of Trump during Wednesday’s hearing. “There’s just so many dots that all seem to lead in the same direction.”

Among the rumors Cohen disputed: He said he investigated but found no evidence that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock. He knocked down a persistent rumor about a videotape that purportedly showed Trump hitting first lady Melania Trump in an elevator. He also said he did not believe a tape exists showing Trump engaged in sexual activities with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel, a report that first surfaced in the widely circulated Michael Steele dossier of reports about Trump.

Cohen said he had chased down rumors of all three. Cohen also said Trump never directly told him to lie to Congress. But he said the president clearly indicated to him that he should do so.

Facing hostile questions from the president’s Republican allies, Cohen alluded to other possible criminal conduct involving Trump, but said he could not talk about because it’s under investigation by the Southern District of New York. Specifically, he wouldn’t answer a question about the last time he spoke with Trump or one of his representatives.

“Unfortunately this topic is something that’s currently being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York,” Cohen said when Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., asked about his last conversation with Trump.

Cohen said he hopes his assistance to federal prosecutors will eventually allow him to apply for a reduction in his three-year prison sentence, which he is scheduled to begin on May 6.

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Cohen says his previous prepared testimony was altered by Trump’s lawyers

Cohen said Trump’s lawyers made “several changes” to testimony that he prepared for congressional hearings in August 2017.

Among the changes was “the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive.”

It’s a key issue because Cohen later pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about how long the proposal for a luxury skyscraper in Moscow was in play. He originally said it ended before the Iowa caucuses in January 2016, but it had continued until after Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination months later.

Cohen’s comments implicate the president’s lawyers in altering his testimony to make it less accurate.

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Trump made his expectations known subtly

Cohen said that Trump never overtly asked him to lie to Congress. His communications were more subtle than that, Cohen said, and the longtime Trump lawyer knew exactly what his boss wanted him to say.

“He wanted me to cooperate,” Cohen said, describing a meeting he had with Trump and one of his lawyers, Jay Sekulow. “He wanted to make sure, ‘There is no Russia. There is no collusion. There is no deal.’ He goes, ‘It’s all a witch hunt. This stuff has to end.’”

“He’d been saying that to them for many, many months. At the end of the day, I knew exactly what he wanted me to say … He doesn’t tell you what he wants. ‘Again, Michael, there is no Russia, no collusion.’ I know what it means because I’ve been around him so long. Stay on point, the party line that he created.”

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Trump often “inflated his total assets”

Cohen provided a glimpse of what could become a significant area of legal liability for Trump with some of the internal records he brought to the House committee.

Among the documents were financial statements that Cohen said were provided to Forbes magazine in an effort to show that Trump should be listed higher in the magazine’s annual feature on the nation’s wealthiest people.

Cohen said those same statements were provided to Deutsche Bank when Trump was interested in buying the Buffalo Bills football team.

Cohen said Trump often “inflated his total assets when it served his purposes.” The implication was that Trump might have misstated his assets when trying to obtain loans, the kind of action that potentially could constitute fraud.

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A former Trump event planner defends the president against racism claims

Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican and close Trump ally, sought to defend the president against Cohen’s accusation of racism, introducing a character witness of his own — Lynne Patton, a former Trump family event planner who is now an official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Patton, who is African-American, did not testify but stood up, just over Meadows’ shoulder, as the lawmaker said she disagreed with Cohen’s statements and pressed Cohen for proof of his assertion that Trump was a racist who had made derogatory comments about African-Americans.

“She says that as the daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Ala., that she would never work for an individual who was a racist,” Meadows asserted.

“As neither should I have, as a son of a Holocaust survivor,” Cohen replied.

Meadows said he had talked to Trump more than 300 times and had never heard him make a racist comment. He asked if Cohen had documentation or tape recordings that would back up his allegations. Cohen said he didn’t but pointed out that the Trump Organization did not have any high-level black employees.

“Ask Ms. Patton how many people who are black are executives at the Trump Organization, and the answer is zero,” he said.

Patton had at least some previous experience of allegations that Trump made racist statements. In August, CBS published a tape recording released by Trump’s former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman in which she, Katrina Pierson and Patton discussed Trump’s use of the N-word.

In Cohen’s hearing, Republicans have pursued a repeated line of attack on Cohen: Blast his credibility. Again and again, they raised his convictions on bank and tax fraud charges and lying to Congress. And they pressed him to admit that some of his crimes were not committed on behalf of Trump.

“Mr. Cohen, you called Donald Trump a cheat in your opening testimony. What would you call yourself?” asked Rep. James Comer, a Republican from Kentucky.

“A fool,” Cohen said.

“No comment on that,” the lawmaker replied, before adding that he didn’t think “Michael Cohen is capable of telling the truth.”

“If we have the opportunity to subpoena witnesses, we should subpoena witnesses who are not recently disbarred, not a convicted felon and witnesses who have not committed bank fraud and tax fraud,” he said.

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Cohen declines to say Trump colluded to win presidency

Cohen was pushed by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., but declined to say whether Trump colluded with Russia to win the presidency.

“I wouldn’t use the word colluding,” Cohen said, adding that he didn’t have enough information to know whether there was concerted cooperation between the campaign and a foreign country.

“Was there something odd about his back and forth praise with President Putin? Yes. But I’m not really sure I can answer that question on collusion,” Cohen said. “There’s just so many dots that all seem to lead in the same direction.”

Cohen did say he believed Trump would be willing to work with a foreign adversary: “Mr. Trump is all about winning. He will do what is necessary.”

—Republicans suggest Cohen bitter over White House job snub

The senior Republican on the Oversight Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, used his opening round of questions to outline a line of attack on Cohen, suggesting the witness had turned on Trump because he didn’t get a job in the White House.

“That’s the point isn’t it? You didn’t get brought to the dance,” Jordan said.

Cohen denied that.

“I did not want to go to the White House,” Cohen said, noting that the president needs a personal lawyer who is not on the White House staff because government employees cannot assert attorney-client privilege the way a private lawyer can. He said Trump wanted him to take a job at the White House and had complained to Reince Priebus, his first chief of staff, that Cohen didn’t join the administration.

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A very important witness comes to light

Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, is likely to be a very important witness in future proceedings, Cohen’s testimony made clear.

Cohen testified that Weisselberg was in a meeting in 2016 where they hashed out how to pay $130,000 in hush money to an adult film actress who was alleging she had an affair with Trump. Those payments to Cohen, including a $35,000 check from Trump’s personal account when he was president, took a year.

Weisselberg is reportedly cooperating with federal prosecutors who are investigating violations of campaign finance laws in connection with payments to Daniels and to a former Playboy model who also alleged an affair with Trump.

Trump might have known in advance about Trump Tower meeting, Cohen claims

“I do not” know of “direct evidence” that Trump colluded with Russia, Cohen testified.

But, he said, he believes that Trump knew in advance about the infamous Trump Tower meeting attended by his son, Don Jr., his son-in-law, Jarred Kushner, and Paul Manafort along with Russians who had offered “dirt” on Clinton.

He described Don. Jr. slipping into his father’s office in the days before that get-together and whispering in Trump’s ear. “The meeting is all set.”

Trump replied: “OK, good. Let me know,” Cohen said.

Looking back, Cohen said, “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.”

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Trump allegedly knew about WikiLeaks dump ahead of release

Cohen said Trump knew in advance that WikiLeaks was going to release emails stolen from the DNC and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

“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. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect “wouldn’t that be great.”

He also portrayed Trump as an outright racist: “While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”

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Trump lied about Moscow project during campaign because he didn’t expect to win

Cohen said Trump did not directly tell him to lie to Congress: “That’s not how he operates,” he said. Instead Trump, made clear that he wanted him to lie. During the campaign, as Cohen was working to secure a business deal in Moscow for the Trump Organization, Trump “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,” Cohen said.

That was Trump’s way of telling him to lie about the negotiations, Cohen testified. At least half a dozen times during the campaign, Trump directly asked Cohen how the deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow was progressing, Cohen said.

“How’s it going in Russia?” the candidate asked, according to Cohen.

Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed his testimony in which he lied to Congress about the negotiations, Cohen testified. Why did Trump lie during the campaign? Cohen has a theory that others have previously suggested: Trump never expected to win, and “he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.”

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Cohen declares Trump a ‘racist,’ ‘conman’ and ‘cheat’

After being sworn in, Cohen declared in his opening statement that his former boss, the president, “is a racist. He is a conman. And he is a cheat.”

He also has brought documentation, including a copy of a personal check that Trump wrote him — while he was president — to reimburse him for the hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, the adult-film actress, “to prevent damage to his campaign.” The documents also included financial statements that Trump provided to Deutsche Bank from 2011 to 2013 and copies of letters to Trump’s high school, colleges and the College Board threatening legal action if they released his transcripts or standardized test scores.

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A search for truth, or a sham?

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the chairman of the Oversight Committee, and Jordan, offered starkly different assessments of Cohen’s testimony. Cummings called the hearing a search for the truth, saying what Cohen planned to say was “deeply disturbing and should be troubling to all Americans.”

“We are in the search of truth,” Cummings said.

Jordan called the hearing a sham exercise used to find dirt on the president. He noted that Cohen had pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and would report to prison in just two months. He called Cohen a “fraud” and a “cheat.”

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