WASHINGTON — Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, told a House committee Wednesday that his former client was a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat” who ran for president in the hope of enhancing his name brand.
Facing three years in prison for multiple felony counts, including one count of lying to Congress, Cohen apologized to every member of Congress as a show of contrition. Cohen spoke of a litany of misdeeds he willingly did and lies he told for Trump out of ambition and misdirected loyalty.
At one point, he said that Trump probably had directed him to threaten or intimidate a person or entity some 500 times over their 10-year plus association.
“I hope my appearance here today, my guilty plea, and my work with law enforcement agencies are steps along a path of redemption that will restore faith in me and help this country understand our president better,” Cohen told the House Oversight Committee.
Perhaps no moment has showcased the reversal of fortune for Trump since he took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2017.
The November midterm elections delivered control of the House to Democrats who are using their leadership position to conduct several investigations into the 2016 Trump campaign even as special counsel Robert Mueller continues his probe into possible Russian collusion during the 2016 election.
Before the midterms, GOP members often used such hearings in search of evidence of anti-Trump bias inside the FBI.
“The days of this committee protecting the president at all costs are over,” Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., declared as the hearing began.
Fall from grace
Cohen’s fall from grace began in April when federal investigators searched his office, his home and his hotel room in New York. In August, he pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of lying to a financial institution and two counts involving illegal campaign contributions in 2016.
Prosecutors portrayed $280,000 that Cohen arranged to silence two women who claimed to have had sexual relations with Trump as illegal attempts to influence the 2016 election.
In November, Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress when he falsely asserted that the Trump Organization stopped pursuing a possible Moscow project in January 2016, when in fact he discussed the Moscow project as late as June 2016. Cohen soon will report to prison for a three-year sentence.
On Tuesday, Cohen was disbarred.
Before the committee, Cohen testified that he knew of no “direct evidence” tying Trump or his campaign to collusion with Russia, “but I have my suspicions.”
Cohen then told of seeing the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., tell his father about a meeting, which Cohen later posited must have been the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with the president’s son, son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer.
Last year, a Virginia jury found Manafort guilty of tax fraud and bank fraud charges, and he later pleaded guilty to two felony conspiracy counts in a Washington, D.C., federal court.
Cohen also suggested an indirect link with Russia when he said under oath that he was in the room when political operative Roger Stone told Trump by phone that WikiLeaks was about to release a tranche of emails that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In January, Mueller charged Stone with lying to Congress and witness tampering. Stone has pleaded not guilty.
When he was CIA director, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service, often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
Cohen’s credibility questioned
Republicans tried unsuccessfully to block the hearing as it got underway on grounds that Cohen had not provided his opening statement long enough in advance.
The committee’s top Republican, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, also sought early on to undermine Cohen’s credibility by calling him a “fraudster, cheat” and “a convicted felon.”
“Certainly it’s the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness at a hearing,” Jordan said.
From Hanoi, Vietnam, where he was attending a high-stakes summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump tweeted, “Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!”
Cohen attorney Lanny Davis, who worked in the Clinton White House, sat near his client as Republican lawmakers grilled Cohen about his history of tax evasion and lying to Congress while Democrats lauded his “redemption.”
The hours of questioning dredged up some useful and some dubious information.
Cohen admitted that he made some 100 surreptitious tapes of conversations he had, including with clients.
The president’s former lawyer also said that the National Enquirer publisher David Pecker was prepared to pay close to $15,000 to bury a story about a Trump love child with an employee, a tale that Cohen investigated but believed to be untrue.
Cohen also said he did not believe that a rumored tape of Trump striking wife Melania in a Trump Tower elevator existed. “I’m certain it’s not true,” Cohen said, as he insisted, “It doesn’t exist.”
Cohen also said Trump never expected to be elected president.
“He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election,” Cohen said. “The campaign — for him — was always a marketing opportunity.”
Cohen recalled during his testimony Trump’s private admission that he avoided military service during the Vietnam War because Trump said he wasn’t stupid and wasn’t going to Vietnam.
“I find it ironic, President Trump that you are in Vietnam right now,” Cohen said.
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or at 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.