In his opening remarks, he calls Trump a “racist,” a “conman,” and a “cheat,” and he also suggests that his client instructed him to lie about the timing of negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen does not say Trump directly told him to do that, but that it was “made clear” that he should.
In the remarks, Cohen says, “I lied about it, too, because Mr. Trump had made clear to me, through his personal statements to me that we both knew were false and through his lies to the country, that he wanted me to lie.”
He will note that Trump’s attorneys reviewed his statements before he gave that congressional testimony in 2017.
Cohen has plead guilty to lying to Congress about the timing of the Trump Tower negotiations. He originally downplayed the talks and said they ended in January 2016, when in fact they continued well into that year’s presidential campaign.
Republicans are likely to attack Cohen’s credibility. He is scheduled to start a prison sentence in May, after pleading guilty to tax and campaign finance charges.
In the Rayburn House office building, media and spectators flooded the hallway outside the hearing room. Cohen himself arrived about an hour before its scheduled start.
Follow along for updates and watch the live stream above.
Democrats reject GOP effort to delay hearing. Republicans start by trying to delay the testimony. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the Oversight Committee’s ranking member, moved to delay the hearing because members did not get Cohen’s prepared remarks until just after 10 p.m. on Tuesday night. He said that the rules say that such testimony has to be provided 24 hours beforehand.
But in a vote on a motion to delay, the Democratic majority votes to move forward. Cummings says that Cohen needed to be heard and that the American people could decide
“I’ve made it abundantly clear to Mr. Cohen if he comes here today, and he does not tell the truth, I will be the first to refer those untruthful statements to the DOJ,” Cummings says.
In his opening statement, Jordan blasts the hearing as a political orchestration of Lanny Davis, one of Cohen’s lawyers and an associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
He also said that the committee was “actually encouraging” Cohen to break attorney-client privilege. Jordan also said that Cohen was a “patsy” to the Democrats.
More on Cohen’s opening remarks here.
‘The greatest infomercial in political history’: While Cohen is testifying about a number of incidents that have legal implications for himself and Trump, he’s also attacking his character, and not holding anything back.
He says that Trump never expected to win the presidency.
“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great,” Cohen says. “He had no desire or intention to lead this nation, only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the ‘greatest infomercial in political history.’
‘Mr. Trump is a racist’: Cohen cites incidents where he says Trump used racist remarks.
“He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole.’ This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States.”
He also said that once, when they were driving through a “struggling neighborhood” in Chicago, “he commented that only black people could live that way.” He says that Trump also told him “that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
The Stormy Daniels payments: Cohen is clear that Trump was at the center of the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, and that the reimbursements to him were masked by the Trump Organization as a legal retainer.
“The payments were designed to be paid over the course of 12 months,” he said.
Under questioning from Cummings, he identifies one reimbursement check, from March 2017, as signed by Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg,the Trump organization’s CFO.
The counterattack from Republicans: Jordan questions why Cohen would turn on Trump, in a big way, after being so loyal to him for so many years.
“If it is that bad, I can see you working for him for 10 days, 10 weeks, maybe even 10 months,” Jordan says, but he notes that Cohen worked for him for 10 years.
He then suggests that Cohen was upset because he didn’t get a job in the White House.
“All I wanted was what I got, to be the personal attorney for the president,” he says.
Jordan also brings up the creation of a “Women for Cohen” Twitter account. Cohen says that it was created by a young woman at the IT firm RedFinch Solutions. The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen also retained RedFinch in 2015 to rig online polls for Trump.
“We were having fun. That’s what it was sir, we were having fun. That was not done to help the president,” Cohen says.
Jordan asks him whether he created the account to help Trump or to help himself.
“I’m not sure it helped me, sir,” Cohen says.
Cohen suggests Trump knew of June, 2016 meeting with Russians: Cohen says that he believes that Donald Trump Jr. informed his father of the planned meeting in June, 2016, with a group of Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.
When news broke about the meeting in July, 2017, it created a sensation and speculation that it could be evidence of efforts to collude with the Russians, while Trump Jr. has said that the meeting was a bust and inconsequential.
“I remember being in the room with Mr. Trump, probably in early June 2016, when something peculiar happened. Don Jr. came into the room and walked behind his father’s desk — which in itself was unusual. People didn’t just walk behind Mr. Trump’s desk to talk to him. I recalled Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying, ‘The meeting is all set.’ I remember Mr. Trump saying, ‘OK good….let me know.” He says that he has concluded that Trump Jr. was referring to the meeting with the Russians.
Cohen says that Trump Jr. “would never set up any meeting of any significance alone — and certainly not without checking with his father.”
Republicans question who’s paying Cohen’s legal team: So far, GOP members of the committee are attacking Cohen as a liar, and they’ve suggested that the hearing is a Democratic set up.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) raised the suspicion that billionaire Tom Steyer, who is bankrolling an impeach Trump campaign, is actually paying Davis, one of Cohen’s lawyers.
Cohen says that he is not paying Davis right now, and later says that no one else was paying him.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) later expresses doubts about this claim and asks Cohen why Davis would work for free.
“I guess he things it’s important,” Cohen says.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) at one point shouted at Cohen when he tried to clarify a point, admonishing Cohen that it was he who asks the questions.
Some Democrats suggest that they are finding Cohen credible.
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) says to Cohen that “I don’t think my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are afraid you’re going to lie; they’re afraid you’re going to tell the truth.”
A book deal, a movie deal or a TV deal? Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) grills Cohen on past efforts to get a book deal and queries he’s gotten about a movie deal, with the implication being that he’s trying to cash in on his fame.
She tries to get him to commit to not pursuing such opportunities, but he doesn’t do so when it comes to TV commentary or running for political office in New York.
That was enough for Foxx to claim that he’s trying to use his association with Trump to make some money despite being “a liar, a cheater” and a convicted felon.
“And that is going to get me a book deal, a movie deal and a spot on television? I don’t think so,” Cohen responds.
He later refuses to commit to contributing any proceeds from a book or movie deal to charity.
‘Not one question so far’: Amid GOP attacks on his credibility, from his disbarment to his tax evasion, Cohen says that none of the Republicans members have asked about his claims about Trump.
“Not one question so far since I’m here has been asked about President Trump,” Cohen says.
He also lashed out at the GOP members, telling them at one point, “I’m responsible for your silliness because I did the same thing you’re doing now. For ten years I protected Mr. Trump.” He warns that those who follow Trump “blindly,” as he did, “are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering.”
More to come: Cohen says that federal prosecutors are looking at further wrongdoing or illegal acts by Trump that have not even been discussed in the hearing.
“Those are part of the investigation that’s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York,” he says.
Later, he says that he continues to assist federal prosecutors, and acknowledges that it is “for the benefit” of seeking a reduction of his sentence.
At some points in his testimony, Cohen says that he can’t elaborate by request of prosecutors.
Cohen Says Trump’s Lawyer Edited His Congressional Testimony: Cohen said that in advance of giving his congressional testimony in 2017, he went to the White House and spoke to Trump about it. His legal team made changes and additions to it. He named Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lawyers, when asked who reviewed and edited the testimony.
Among the edits were those having to do with the Trump Tower Moscow project.
“There were several changes that we made, including how we were going to handle that message,” Cohen said.
Later, Cohen says that his prepared testimony was circulated among a number of White House officials as part of a joint defense agreement.
“The document circulated around,” he says later.
Sekulow issued a statement later on Wednesday calling Cohen’s claims “completely false.”
More ‘catch and kill’: Cohen says that there were other unsavory stories about Trump that American Media CEO David Pecker purchased took keep out of the press — a practice commonly called “catch and kill.”
Pecker is a longtime friend of Trump’s, and AMI already has admitted to its role in buying the rights to Daniels’ and Karen McDougal’s stories for the purposes of keeping them out of the press during the presidential campaign.
Among the other “catch and kill” stories was one about Trump having a “love child” with a Trump Organization employee, Cohen says. He said that Pecker made a $15,000 payment to pay off a source, even though he said that he doesn’t believe the child existed.
He also doesn’t believe there is anything to rumors that an elevator security camera tape of Trump striking his wife Melania, as Trump would never do that. “I don’t believe Mr. Trump ever struck Mrs. Trump, ever,” he says.
Still, he said that while working for Trump, they had concerns over what would happen to Pecker’s trove of information after buying unflattering “catch and kill” stories. When Pecker eyed moving to Time, they were worried about others getting ahold of the “treasure trove” of documents.
The Trump campaign responds. During a break in Cohen’s testimony, President Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign responded.
“Michael Cohen is a felon, a disbarred lawyer, and a convicted perjurer, who lied to both Congress and the Special Counsel in a ‘deliberate and premeditated fashion according to the Special Counsel’s office,” Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary, said in a statement. “Now he offers what he says is evidence, but the only support for that is his own testimony, which has proven before to be worthless.”
Trump’s taxes. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump declined to release his tax returns, claiming that it was because was under audit.
But Cohen says that he was never able to obtain a copy of the audit, and that he presumes that in fact, Trump is not facing that IRS scrutiny. He said that Trump didn’t want to release his returns because he didn’t want “think tanks” to go through the returns and then he would face an audit.
AOC’s moment. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the most famous of all new House freshmen, used her five minutes to ask Cohen very specific questions about reports of Trump deflating the value of some of his golf courses for tax purposes.
Cohen said that Trump would “deflate the value of the asset” and then put in a request to the local tax department for a deduction.