President Donald Trump’s former lawyer has completed three days of testimony on Capitol Hill – and is coming back for another day next week – after publicly branding his former boss a racist and a con man who lied about business dealings in Russia and directed him to conceal extramarital relationships.
Cohen was interviewed behind closed doors Thursday by the House Intelligence Committee for more than eight hours, the last of his three appearances before Congress this week. He said as he left that he would be returning to Capitol Hill on March 6 for another round of questioning with the same panel.
House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff called the closed-door session with Cohen productive and said lawmakers were able to “drill down in great detail” on issues they are investigating. Schiff said the committee will also hear from Felix Sater, a Russia-born executive who worked with Cohen on an ultimately unsuccessful deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, in an open hearing March 14.
Cohen, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to Congress about the Moscow real estate project and reports to prison soon for a three-year sentence, gave harsh testimony about Trump on Wednesday. He said Trump knew in advance that damaging emails about Democrat Hillary Clinton would be released during the 2016 campaign – a claim the president has denied – and accused Trump of lying during the 2016 campaign about the Moscow deal.
Cohen also said Trump directed him to arrange a hush money payment to a porn actress who said she had sex with the president a decade earlier. He said the president arranged to reimburse Cohen, and Cohen brought to the hearing a check that he said was proof of the transaction.
Two of Trump’s most vocal defenders, GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, sent a referral to the Justice Department alleging Cohen lied in his testimony. Their letter to Attorney General William Barr details several Cohen statements they said were false, including claims that he “never defrauded any bank” and did not want a job in Trump’s White House.
They pointed to Cohen’s guilty plea for making false statements to a banking institution and to court filings that say Cohen told friends he wanted a White House job.
Cohen’s testimony unfolded as Trump was in Vietnam meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said he tried to watch as much of Cohen’s marathon hearing as he could. Trump called the hearing “fake” and said it was a “terrible thing” for Democrats to hold it during his summit.
He seized on Cohen’s concession that he had no direct evidence that Trump or his aides colluded with Russia to get him elected, the primary question of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Trump said he was a “little impressed” that Cohen had said that to the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Cohen, shaking off incessant criticism from Republicans, was the first Trump insider to pull back the curtain on a version of the inner workings of Trump’s political and business operations. He likened the president to a “mobster” who demanded blind loyalty from underlings and expected them to lie on his behalf.
“My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything: my family’s happiness, friendships, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honour, my reputation and soon my freedom,” Cohen said. “I will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.”
In testimony that cut to the heart of federal investigations encircling the White House, Cohen said he arranged the hush money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels at Trump’s behest and agreed to lie about it to the public and the first lady. And he said he was left with the unmistakable impression Trump wanted him to lie to Congress about a Moscow real estate project, though the president never directly told him so.
Cohen said prosecutors in New York were investigating conversations Trump or his advisers had with him after his office and hotel room were raided by the FBI last April. Cohen said he could not discuss that conversation, the last contact he said he has had with the president or anyone acting on his behalf, because it remains under investigation.
The appearance marked the latest step in Cohen’s evolution from legal fixer for the president – he once boasted he’d “take a bullet” for Trump – to a foe who has implicated him in federal campaign finance violations.
As Republicans blasted him as a convicted liar, a mostly unrattled Cohen tried to blunt the attacks by repeatedly acknowledging his own failings. He called himself a “fool,” warned lawmakers of the perils of blind loyalty to a leader undeserving of it and pronounced himself ashamed of what he had done to protect Trump.
Cohen described himself as co-operative with multiple investigations in hopes of reducing his time behind bars. He is seen as a vital witness for federal prosecutors because of his proximity to the president during key episodes under investigation and their decade-long professional relationship.