President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen testified in front of the House Oversight Committee Wednesday, sharing publicly for the first time details about the president’s financial history and involvement in criminal schemes with which Cohen has been charged.
The most chilling moment of the day came near the end of Cohen’s hours-long testimony, as the hearing began to wind down.
“My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything,” Cohen said. “I will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.”
He continued, “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today.”
Cohen then said he wanted to address Trump directly.
“We honor our veterans, even in the rain,” Cohen said, referencing a controversy some time ago when Trump canceled a planned trip to a cemetery due to rain. “You don’t use the power of your bully pulpit to destroy the credibility of those who speak out against you. This behavior is churlish. It denigrates the office of president of the United States and it is simply un-American.”
Cohen concluded, “I pray the country does not make the same mistakes I have made.”
Cohen’s comments were especially remarkable given the former lawyer once said he would “take a bullet” for Trump, as Reuters noted.
Trump, in an apparent attempt to distract from the Cohen hearing at home, was abroad Wednesday to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But he’s likely fuming about the hearing Thursday, as Cohen accused the president of a long list of crimes.
As ThinkProgress reported Wednesday evening, Cohen claimed, among other things, that he briefed the president’s family members within the Trump Organization about the fact that Felix Sater, a Russian businessman, was working on a deal to build Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 Election. In 2017, however, Donald Trump Jr. testified that he wasn’t involved and knew very little about the project.
Cohen also said Trump directed him personally to make hush money payments ahead of the 2016 election to women with whom Trump allegedly had affairs, including adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Cohen claimed he was reimbursed by the president for those payments and that both Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, and Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of The Trump Organization, signed some of those checks.
Relatedly, Cohen said that the National Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc., were engaged in “catch and kill” practices on behalf of Trump prior to 2007 buying and burying negative stories about the future president. On Wednesday, Cohen said the practice began long before the election, and before he was hired by Trump. He insinuated that there were other women, like former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who may also have been paid off to keep quiet about their alleged affairs.
Trump has repeatedly shifted his story on both topics, claiming previously he was not aware of Cohen’s payments to the women, and later suggesting that he was not only aware of the payments but that they were all completely legal. He has claimed he reimbursed Cohen only for legal services and did not know the funds were for hush money payments.
Cohen also said Wednesday that Trump inflated his net worth to lenders, inflated property values to insurers, and deflated property values for tax dodging purposes, that lawyers for the president edited his testimony before he previously testified before Congress, and that Trump knew Wikileaks was going to release the Democratic National Committee emails before it happened.
Kayleigh McEnany, the president’s campaign press secretary, issued a statement in response to Cohen’s testimony Wednesday night, rebuking the former lawyer and suggesting he was lying to hurt Trump.
“This is the same Michael Cohen who has admitted that he lied to Congress previously. Why did they even bother to swear him in this time?” she said.
Cohen pleaded guilty last year to several counts of bank fraud, tax fraud, and campaign finance violations in relation to the hush money payments, which he said were made to influence the outcome of the election. In November, he also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timing of the Trump Tower Moscow bid, as well as Trump’s alleged involvement in the project.