Blasting Trump As A 'Racist' And 'Conman,' Cohen Accuses President Of Criminality
In explosive hours-long public testimony on Capitol Hill, Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, accused the president of a pattern of criminality and deception, calling him a "conman" who couldn't be trusted.
"He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat," Cohen said in his opening statement Wednesday.
In an often tense House Oversight Committee hearing that lasted seven hours, Cohen said the president directed him to lie about illegal payments to silence women who claimed to have had extramarital affairs with Mr. Trump. Cohen also accused the president of inflating the value of his properties, lying about business ventures in Russia and knowing about a trove of hacked Democratic emails ahead of their release by WikiLeaks in 2016.
Although Democrats were eager to press Cohen to divulge information implicating the president in unethical behavior and even crimes, Republicans repeatedly cast doubt on his credibility, pointing out he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and will being serving a 3-year federal prison sentence in just weeks.
Cohen's testimony came as Washington prepares for a final report from special counsel Robert Mueller's nearly 2-year-old investigation into Russian interference in U.S. elections and possible coordination between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government.
The irony of Cohen testifying two months before he reports to prison for lying to Congress was not lost on lawmakers. "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," Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said when opening the hearing.
Here are the most noteworthy moments from the hearing, as they happened:
Closing hearing, Cummings says, "We're better than this"
5:21 p.m.: "We're better than this," chairman Cummings told his fellow committee members.
In an impassioned speech to end the often tense hearing, Cummings refuted the false accusation by ranking member Jordan and other Republicans that this was the committee's first hearing. He noted that the committee had already held hearings on the price of prescription drugs and corruption, and stressed that members could address multiple issues.
"We have got to get back to normal," he said before hitting the gavel.
Cohen: If Trump loses in 2020, "there will never be a peaceful transition of power"
5:11 p.m.: In his concluding remarks, Cohen denounced the president's policies and style of governance, stressing that he's not sure Mr. Trump will easily give up the White House if his reelection bid in 2020 is thwarted.
"I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power," Cohen told lawmakers.
Tlaib and Meadows spar over race
5:02 p.m.: Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, criticized Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, a staunch White House ally, for inviting Lynne Patton, an African American Housing and Urban Development (HUD) official, to the hearing to vouch for the president's character as it relates to race.
"The fact someone would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself," she said.
Meadows, visibly angered, asked chairman Cummings to put Tlaib remarks on the record. After a tense back-and-forth, Tlaib apologized if her comments offended Meadows. She stressed she was not calling the Republican congressman a racist, but said his action was, in her opinion, racist.
Rep asks Cohen if Trump can be considered a racist. "Yes," he replied
4:55 p.m.: Rep. Ayanna Pressley, one of the new progressive Members of Congress, asked Cohen if Mr. Trump -- who she noted has been accused of perpetrating housing discrimination on the basis of race as a landlord and calling some African nations "sh**hole countries" while in White House -- could be considered a racist even if he had an African American friend.
"Yes," Cohen replied.
"I agree," Pressley responded.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez asks about reports Trump deflated value of properties
4:50 p.m. Progressive firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, asked Cohen if he was aware of Mr. Trump deflating the value of one of his golf courses in Florida to try to reduce his tax bills.
"It's identical to what he did at Trump National Golf Club and at Briarcliff Manor," Cohen replied.
Democratic rep presses Cohen on Trump's tax returns
4:40 p.m. Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez of California pressed Cohen on the president's tax returns and his controversial decision to not release them. The Congressman asked Cohen if the president ever detailed the reasoning behind his refusal to not release his tax returns.
Cohen said Mr. Trump told him that he did not want think tanks and tax experts to scrutinize his finances. According to Cohen, the president believed it would ultimately lead to tax penalties.
Mr. Trump has long refused to release his tax returns, citing a claim that he's under audit. Pressed by Gomez, Cohen said he never obtained confirmation that Mr. Trump was under audit, despite asking for it.
Trump's 2020 campaign blasts Cohen's "worthless" testimony
3:29 p.m. Calling Cohen a "felon," "disbarred lawyer" and "convicted perjurer," Kayleigh McEnany, a spokesperson for the president's 2020 reelection campaign, cast doubt on the credibility of Cohen's testimony -- which she said "has proven before to be worthless."
"This is the same Michael Cohen who has admitted that he lied to Congress previously," McEnany added. "Why did they even bother to swear him in this time?"
Pelosi: "I haven't seen one word" of Cohen's testimony
3:01 p.m. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she has not watched the first hours of Cohen's testimony before Members of Congress.
"I haven't seen one word of it," she told CBS News Capitol Hill producer Bo Erickson.
Cohen said he was previously a Democrat
2:29 p.m. Asked by Rep. Stacey Plaskett, the non-voting delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands, about his time as vice chair of the RNC finance committee, Cohen confessed he was previously a Democrat.
Cohen said he switched parties after casino magnate and former RNC chair Steve Wynn found out he was a Democrat.
"It wasn't right for a Democrat to be the vice chair," he told lawmakers.
Cohen says he lied to Melania Trump about hush payments at Trump's direction
2:23 p.m.: Cohen testified he lied to Melania Trump about Mr. Trump's knowledge of the hush payments made to women alleging affairs with Mr. Trump, at the direction of Mr. Trump.
Cohen testifies Trump Tower Moscow deal stopped because Trump won
2:16 p.m.: Cohen was asked why the Trump Tower Moscow deal came to a halt. Cohen claimed it's because Mr. Trump won.
Cohen says he'll pursue a book deal
1:58 p.m. Cohen was asked by Republican Rep. Carol Miller whether he plans to pursue a book deal in the future about his experiences.
"Yes," Cohen responded simply.
Cohen says he doesn't believe Trump has a love child
Cohen answered a series of questions from Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier -- including whether Mr. Trump has a love child. Cohen said he doesn't believe the president has a love child. Cohen also said he doesn't believe Mr. Trump ever struck Melania Trump.
Cohen: "I've never been to Prague"
1:45 p.m. Finally, nearly three hours into his testimony, Cohen answered a long-awaited question of whether he has ever been to Prague.
"I've never been to Prague," Cohen said.
One of the central claims in the so-called "Steele dossier" was the allegation that Cohen traveled to Prague to meet with Russian operatives in August or September 2016. Cohen has denied ever traveling to the European capital.
WikiLeaks says Julian Assange never had phone call with Roger Stone
1:09 p.m. In response to Cohen's testimony about its founder Julian Assange, WikiLeaks denied Assange had ever spoken to Roger Stone in a phone call:
Cohen can't answer what Trump fears most
1:15 p.m. Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican, asked Cohen what Mr. Trump fears most.
Cohen paused for a long moment, before responding that he can't answer that question.
Cohen says Trump attorney made changes to his testimony
1:06 p.m. Cohen testified that changes were being made to his testimony until late in the night. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow made some changes to the testimony, Cohen claimed.
Cohen claimed changes related to the length and timing of the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Cohen says SDNY is investigating other matters
12:48 p.m.: Cohen said he handled important personal legal matters of Mr. Trump's when serving as his counsel.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi asked about the non-disclosure agreements Cohen helped facilitate for Mr. Trump. Citing the campaign staffer who recently filed a lawsuit against the president, Cohen testified the NDAs would keep people silent: "That was the goal," Cohen said.
Cohen was unaware if anyone is prevented from speaking up about the president because of NDA's that are being used against them.
Cohen asked about any illegal act by Mr. Trump and noted that those are being investigated by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
Asked about the last time he and Mr. Trump spoke, Cohen said he couldn't elaborate.
"Unfortunately, this topic is actually something that's being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York and I've been asked by them not to talk about these issues," Cohen said.
Asked if there are any other illegal acts or wrongdoings federal prosecutors are investigating, Cohen responded, "Yes."
Graham says Trump "upset" with "dueling" coverage
12:42 p.m.: Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters he spoke with Mr. Trump Tuesday night and the president brought up Cohen.
"I talked to him last night ... about North Korea ... He mentioned, I think, he was upset he was going to have dueling shows here. It did bother him that there's going to be a split screen between Michael Cohen and him meeting with Kim Jong Un. And I said well that's just the world we live," Graham recounted.
He described the timing of the Cohen hearing coinciding with the North Korea summit as "poor form."
Graham dismissed the allegation Mr. Trump knew about the WikiLeaks emails in advance, saying, "That's not collusion, the bottom line is Stone was telling the whole world watch for this stuff."
He also minimized the campaign finance violation allegations: "I think you have to prove it was the exclusive reason somebody made a payment, I don't know how many payments Trump has made to women in the past but I think this is not the first time he's done this."
Reporting by Alan He
Cohen calls out lawmakers for not asking about Trump
12:30 p.m.: "Between yourself and your colleagues, no question since I have been here has been asked about President Trump. That's actually why I was coming today -- not to confess the mistakes I've made. I've already done that," Cohen told Jordan, appearing to criticize Republicans' line of questioning at Wednesday's hearing.
He added, "The American people don't care about my taxes. They want to know what I know [about Trump]."
Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia appeared to side with Cohen, saying the argument Republicans are using to question Cohen would make convictions of organized crime "null and void."
Hearing resumes with questions on Cohen book deal
12:25 p.m.: Rep. Virginia Foxx noted the lies Cohen pleaded guilty to, asking if Wednesday's testimony is a way to keep himself in the spotlight, Cohen responded, "No, ma'am."
Cohen said he has spoken to people about a book or movie deal and wouldn't commit pursuing such a deal in the future. He also said he wouldn't commit to not working for TV networks or running for office in New York state.
Committee takes a break
12:15 p.m.: More than two hours into the hearing, Cohen requested a break. The chairman agreed. The break lasts 10 minutes.
Cohen and Meadows have testy exchange
11:59 a.m.: Cohen and Trump ally Rep. Mark Meadows got into a heated exchange, in which Cohen said he is a nice guy, and Meadows said the record speaks differently.
Cohen: "Shame on you, Mr. Jordan"
11:30 a.m. Jordan claimed Cohen is showing no remorse for his actions.
Cohen says he's spoken to the special counsel seven times
During his testimony, Cohen said he has spoken with the special counsel seven times.
Trump sons weigh in on Cohen claims
11:17 a.m.: President Trump's sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric, weighed in on Cohen's claims that he never wanted to work in the White House, slamming his testimony as untrue.
"Michael was lobbying EVERYONE to be 'Chief of Staff.' It was the biggest joke in the campaign and around the office. Did he just perjure himself again?" Eric wondered on Twitter.
Trump Jr. echoed his brother, tweeting, "Michael Cohen begged to work at the White House and everyone knows it." He added that it was the "biggest joke of the entire transition. The beginning of his bitterness was when he realized that was never going to happen."
Cohen suggests Trump family conflicted by foreign adversaries before campaign
11:13 a.m: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz asked Cohen if there was reason to believe that the entire Trump family was conflicted by or compromised with a foreign adversary months before the 2016 election, Cohen replied, "Yes."
Wasserman Schultz, who was head of the DNC at the time of its hacking, pressed Cohen on the WikiLeaks email dumps. Cohen testified that the president had "advanced notice" about the dump of emails.
Wasserman Schultz later said that the Trump campaign appeared to be "filthy with Russian contact" throughout the majority of the race. Asked if Mr. Trump was "fully aware and had every intent of working with Russia to help make sure he could win the presidency at all costs," Cohen replied that "Mr. Trump's desire to win would have him work with anyone."
Jordan presses Cohen on pattern of lies
11:05 a.m.: "Did you lie to protect the president or did you lie to protect yourself?" Rep. Jim Jordan pressed Cohen, suggesting he had a history of lying repeatedly, bringing up his past financial crimes against him.
Jordan brought up a "Women for Michael Cohen" Twitter account that said Cohen is "handsome" and "sexy" as an example.
"That was not done to protect the president," Cohen said, claiming he didn't create the account.
"We were having fun during a stressful time."
Cohen compares Trump to "mobster" for attacks
10:57 a.m.:"I never imagined that he would engage in vicious, false attacks on my family -- and unleash his TV-lawyer to do the same. I hope this committee and all members of Congress on both sides of the aisle will make it clear: As a nation, we should not tolerate attempts to intimidate witnesses before Congress and attacks on family are out of bounds and not acceptable," said Cohen.
Cohen made those remarks as Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, stood on the side of the hearing room watching as Cohen delivered his remarks. Gaetz, who isn't on the House Oversight Committee, deleted his controversial tweet about Cohen last night -- which many saw as threatening -- and apologized.
Cohen says he wouldn't accept a pardon
10:51 a.m.: "I have lied but I am not a liar ... I have fixed things, but I am no longer your fixer, Mr. Trump," Cohen testified.
He went on to say he is going to jail, but is not trying to get a pardon and wouldn't accept one from the president even if offered.