Russia, hush money, lies: Takeaways from Cohen’s testimony
WASHINGTON (AP) — Michael Cohen told Congress a lot— and much of it wasn’t good for Donald Trump.
In matter-of-fact testimony, the former Trump lawyer drew a troubling picture of his former boss, saying the president lied to the American public on matters big and small.
But Cohen stopped short of saying he had direct evidence that Trump or his campaign conspired with the Kremlin to sway the 2016 election.
A few key takeaways:
WHAT NEW DETAILS DID WE LEARN?
Cohen provided a lot of new insight into Trump’s involvement in hush money payments, his taxes, his business and his 2016 campaign.
Perhaps most importantly, Cohen revealed that prosecutors in New York are investigating conversations that Trump or his advisers had with Cohen after the FBI raided his hotel room and office in April 2018.
About two months later, Cohen says he had contact with Trump or one of his representatives. But Cohen declined to say more because he says the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is investigating the matter.
It’s hard to say whether this puts Trump in any personal legal jeopardy.
Last year, Cohen implicated Trump in a crime, saying he directed him to violate campaign finance laws. But Justice Department legal opinions say a sitting president can’t be indicted.
TRUMP SPOKE IN CODE
At least when it came to covering up a business deal in Russia.
Cohen testified that Trump “in his way” communicated that he wanted his former lawyer to lie to Congress about a Trump Tower Moscow deal he was negotiating during the 2016 presidential campaign.
But Cohen said the president was careful not to directly tell him to do so.
Even though Trump knew he was negotiating the Russian business deal during the campaign, Cohen said the then-Republican candidate would look him in the eye and tell him “there’s no business in Russia.”
Later, Cohen said he lied to be consistent with Trump’s public story.
“He doesn’t give you questions, he doesn’t give you orders,” Cohen said. “He speaks in a code, and I understand the code because I’ve been around him for a decade.”
NO ‘DIRECT’ EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION
Cohen says he isn’t aware of direct evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. But he does have “suspicions” about it.
Cohen testified that Trump was told in advance that WikiLeaks planned to release emails damaging to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 White House campaign. Cohen recounted a phone call in Trump’s office days before the Democratic National Convention when Trump adviser Roger Stone told Trump that WikiLeaks would be releasing a “massive dump” of emails harmful to the Clinton campaign in the coming days.
Cohen’s allegation would contradict the president’s assertions that he was in the dark on this issue.
It’s not immediately clear what evidence Cohen has to support the allegation or how legally problematic this claim might be for Trump.
Stone, even though he is under a gag order, texted reporters Wednesday: “Mr. Cohen’s statement is not true.”
TRUMP WAS HEAVILY INVOLVED IN HUSH MONEY PAYMENTS
And according to Cohen, the cover-up afterward.
Cohen said Trump personally directed him to arrange a $130,000 hush money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels in the waning weeks of the 2016 campaign.
On Wednesday, Cohen described multiple meetings about paying off Daniels with Trump and Trump Organization chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.
Cohen says Weisselberg decided that reimbursements to Cohen should be spread out over 12 months to “hide what the payment was.”
Asked if Trump knew the details, Cohen said: “Oh, he knew about everything, yes.”
Trump signed at least one of the reimbursement checks. Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. signed at least one other.
Later, after the payment to Daniels became public, Cohen said Trump called him in February 2018 and asked him to lie about it.
Cohen also said Trump had him lie to first lady Melania Trump about them.
AN EXAMPLE OF ‘WHAT NOT TO DO’
That’s what Cohen says he is now, particularly for his own children.
He repeatedly said he was remorseful for the crimes he committed. He choked up at one point. He said he once had a “wonderful life” and now has “lost it all.”
He also said he regrets contributing to the “daily destruction of civility” by defending Trump.
“I’m responsible for your silliness because I did the same thing that you’re doing now for 10 years,” Cohen told Republican members of Congress who sought to impugn his credibility.
He warned the members and others who “blindly” support Trump that they could end up suffering “the same consequences that I’m suffering.”
ENTANGLING THE TRUMP CHILDREN
Trump’s children emerged as key figures in a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and as their father’s top defenders.
Cohen said he had briefed Ivanka Trump and Trump Jr. approximately 10 times about the business deal. Cohen’s testimony may pose a problem for Trump Jr., who told Congress in 2017 that was only “peripherally aware” of the proposal.
During Wednesday’s testimony, Trump Jr. ridiculed Cohen as a disgruntled former employee who was just out to save himself. Trump Jr. tweeted that Cohen’s testimony sounded “like a breakup letter.”
Both he and his brother, Eric Trump, suggested that Cohen was angry because he was rejected from a job at the White House — an assertion Cohen denied.
Eric Trump also tweeted a Republican Party video about Cohen with the title, “Have Fun in Prison!”
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