In what promises to be a riveting and historic televised hearing, Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former longtime personal lawyer, is set to appear before a House oversight panel Wednesday to provide an intimate and potentially damaging look at Trump’s business empire, as well as his conduct during and after the 2016 presidential election campaign.
In prepared testimony obtained by news organizations ahead of the hearing, Cohen says of Trump: “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat.”
Cohen says Trump had knowledge of, directed, and lied about negotiations his company had during the 2016 presidential campaign to build a skyscraper in Moscow.
And Cohen says Trump knew that his campaign adviser Roger Stone was in contact with WikiLeaks head Julian Assange about the release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails before WikiLeaks released them to the public.
Cohen goes on to say Trump never expected to win the U.S. presidential election, instead viewing his candidacy as “a marketing opportunity.”
The prepared remarks detail reimbursements by Trump for hush money payments Cohen made to keep quiet two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed they had sexual relations with the billionaire real estate businessman. Cohen says Trump personally signed 11 checks from his personal bank account while he was president, and that he is providing the committee a copy of one of those checks.
And while Cohen says he does not have direct evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, he says “I have my suspicions.”
He cites as potential evidence a conversation he witnessed between Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr. Cohen says he believes the topic was a meeting that would take place at Trump tower involving Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son-in-law and now senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, his campaign manager Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer with ties to the Russian government.
That meeting has drawn scrutiny, including from special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump has denied having advance knowledge of the talks, and in August downplayed allegations that his side was there to get potentially harmful information about his presidential opponent Hillary Clinton, saying such acts are “totally legal and done all the time in politics.”
Hours before Wednesday’s testimony was due to begin, Trump wrote on Twitter seemingly trying to distance himself from Cohen.
“Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately),” the president wrote. “He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
Cohen will become the highest-profile witness since the 1970s Watergate scandal to testify in Congress against a sitting American president.
The last time the United States witnessed anything like this was in 1973, when former White House Counsel John Dean delivered a dramatic testimony that implicated President Richard Nixon and others in a cover-up effort in the Watergate affair. A year later Nixon became the first American president in history to resign.
Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress once before and will have his work cut out to persuade lawmakers he is telling the truth this time.
Facing a lengthy prison sentence, Cohen struck a deal with prosecutors.
In August, he pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges, including campaign finance violations in connection with the payments to Daniels and McDougal. In December, he pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress about the Trump Organization’s efforts to negotiate a deal to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In return, he received a three-year prison sentence. He’s scheduled to report to prison in early May.
As part of his plea agreement, Cohen is continuing to cooperate with federal prosecutors in New York who are investigating Trump’s business interests and millions of dollars of donations made to his presidential inaugural committee. Cohen was a fundraiser for the committee.
Chris Hannas contributed to this report