Michael Cohen’s highly anticipated testimony in front of the House Oversight and Reform Committee is underway on Capitol Hill. The former personal lawyer and “fixer” for Donald Trump testified Tuesday behind closed doors to the Senate Intelligence Committee, answering questions related to the panel’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election. Today, he’s expected to talk about his personal and professional relationship with Trump.
In a statement last week, committee chairman Elijah Cummings laid out the topics the hearing will cover, including Trump’s compliance with campaign-finance and tax laws, his business practices, and the accuracy of his public statements.
Late Tuesday night, the New York Times published a copy of Cohen’s introductory remarks, in which Cohen will call the president a “conman” and a “cheat.” “In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he 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 intends to say, according to a copy of his opening statement obtained by the Times. “In his way, he was telling me to lie.”
The Trump administration has already begun pushing back against Cohen. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders unveiled the predictable line of attack against Cohen Tuesday. “Disgraced felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress and making other false statements,” she said in a statement. “Sadly, he will go before Congress this week and we can expect more of the same. It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies.”
She’s not wrong about Cohen being a liar. Indeed, he’s previously lied to Congress, which is one of the reasons he’ll begin serving a three-year prison sentence on May 6 (the others being financial crimes and campaign-finance violations).
To some, Cohen’s record makes him an unreliable witness. But to others, it makes him someone who realizes the consequences of lying to Congress. And this, based on numerous reports, is what he plans to say:
Cohen will accuse Trump of crimes.
According to the New York Times, Cohen plans to tell lawmakers that Trump initiated the $130,000 hush payment to Stormy Daniels meant to keep her quiet about the affair she says she had with Trump. While Trump has admitted to knowledge of the payments, he says he didn’t tell Cohen to make them.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Cohen will present “evidence of criminal conduct” related to the Daniels payment that occured “since Mr. Trump became president.” It’s unclear if Cohen will address the “catch and kill” deal he orchestrated to keep former Playboy model Karen McDougal quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.
Cohen, the WSJ reports, will also testify that Trump was involved in efforts to conceal the payments from the public in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, and will implicate Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg in the effort.
The Washington Post reports that Cohen is also expected to address a BuzzFeed News story alleging that Trump instructed Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project. Robert Mueller’s office has disputed the BuzzFeed News story, which initially led some to call for Trump’s impeachment, and Cohen has yet to comment on it publicly. According to the Times, Cohen will provide counter-evidence to BuzzFeed’s reporting, saying, “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates.”
According to a copy of the opening remarks obtained by the Times, Cohen will provide a clear picture of the blurry timeline of Roger Stone’s contacts with WikiLeaks. “In July 2016, 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,” the written statement says. “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 of ‘wouldn’t that be great.’” Speaking with reporters, Roger Stone has denied such a conversation took place.
Cohen will also accuse Trump of being a racist, lying cheat.
Cohen will testify that Trump lies about his wealth when it suits him, the Washington Post reports. “Trump used high numbers for his purposes, such as getting on the top 10 wealthiest people on the Forbes list, and low numbers, when it came time to paying real estate taxes,” a person familiar with Cohen’s expected testimony told the paper.
Cohen also plans to tell lawmakers that Trump made racist comments in front of him, including “questioning the intelligence of African-Americans,” Politico reports.
In the opening statement provided to the Times on Tuesday night, Cohen claims Trump “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.”
Cohen will bring receipts.
Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis hasn’t said much about what to expect from his client, but he has said that Cohen has “worked very hard on this moment to not only tell the truth, but to back it up with documents.”
Among the documents, which will reportedly be made visible to those watching at home, will be financial statements demonstrating that Trump has inflated his net worth.
He’ll also bring a document, Politco reports, to “refute a claim by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, that Cohen used a $35,000-a-month retainer from Trump as reimbursement for paying off Daniels.”
Committee Republicans will call Cohen a liar.
White House aides expect GOP members on the Oversight Committee, led by Ohio’s Jim Jordan, to aggressively go after Cohen’s credibility. The Times reports that Republican members will spend their allotted time “trying to paint him as a liar and accusing him of fabricating stories to help his cause.”
Jordan has said, “Our members intend to question Mr. Cohen about the crimes he pleaded guilty to, other criminal activity he participated in but refused to disclose, his international financial dealings and a long list of other probative activities.”
Cohen will explain why he’s turned on Trump.
When Cohen, who once said he’s take a bullet for his boss, appeared in front of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in the fall of 2017, he lied, telling lawmakers that discussion of a potential Trump Tower in Moscow ended in early 2016. He later admitted that those discussions went on into June of that year. Those lies are part of the reason why he’s going to jail for three years.
What’s changed in the last year and half that has led Cohen to go from lying for Trump, to trying to destroy him? Cohen plans to explain.