Michael Cohen began his testimony in front of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday, and the first words out of his mouth addressed Republican criticism that a known liar, and one who lied to Congress at that, can't be trusted. "I am here under oath to correct the record, to answer the committee's questions truthfully, and to offer the American people what I know about President Trump," he said. He noted he would bolster his words by sharing "documents that are irrefutable and demonstrate that the information you are about to hear is accurate and truthful." And then he went right at his former boss:
- "I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty, of the things I did for Mr. Trump in an effort to protect and promote him. I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts, rather than listening to my own conscience. I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist, he is a conman, and he is a cheat."
- "Mr. Trump is an enigma. He is complicated, as am I. He has both good and bad, as do we all. But the bad far outweighs the good, and since taking office, he has become the worst version of himself. He is capable of behaving kindly, but he is not kind. He is capable of committing acts of generosity, but he is not generous. He is capable of being loyal, but he is fundamentally disloyal."
- The remainder of his opening statement, which was released in advance, touched on what Cohen said was Trump's efforts to conceal his SAT and college scores, explained that Trump knew in advance about the Wikileaks drop of emails, and discussed hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels. Read highlights here.
- CNN's Brian Stelter notes that in addition to the cable news networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC are airing the hearing and will continue to do so for several hours, putting it in front of an audience that could hit the tens of millions. "Broadcast's power has receded in recent years, but it still makes a big statement when the broadcasters decide to interrupt their usual talk shows and game shows for big news events."
- The Guardian reports that there are 42 members of the House committee, each of whom will be able to ask Cohen questions. "It's going to be a long day," the paper quips. Read on for highlights.
- House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings dove into one of the 2017 checks Cohen presented as evidence of Trump having reimbursed him for a hush-money payment. "So let me make sure I understand. Donald Trump wrote you a check out of his personal account while he was serving as president of the United States of America to reimburse you for hush money payments to Ms. Clifford. Is that what you are telling the American people today?" Cummings asked. Cohen's reply: "Yes."
- Debbie Wasserman-Schultz asked if it was "likely" Trump "had every intent," as the Guardian puts it, of working with Russia to win the election. Cohen declines to directly answer, citing other investigations into the question, but says, "Mr. Trump’s desire to win would have him work with anyone."
- "Republicans have clearly decided their best path to defend Trump is by attacking Cohen," observes the Guardian. Jim Jordan, Mark Green, James Comer, and subsequent Republican lawmakers used their five minutes each to highlight Cohen's financial crimes and lies, and to repeatedly ask him about past and future book deals, suggesting he's seeking to profit from his appearance.
- Cohen said Trump knowingly inflated his assets to get on the Forbes richest people list, that the inflated numbers were used in an effort that could lower insurance premiums, and that they were shared with a bank on one occasion.
- Republican Jim Cooper pushed Cohen on why he worked for Trump for such a long time considering all the negative attributes Cohen says he has. Cohen responded with a warning: "I can only warn people, the more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering."
- Cohen got into it with the GOP's Paul Gosar, who said to him, "You're a pathological liar. You don't know truth from falsehood." Cohen's response: "Sir, I'm sorry. Are you referring to me or the president?" Gosar pushed back that this was "my time." "Are you referring to me, sir or the president?" Cohen pushed again.
- GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx pushed Cohen on how his appearance could benefit him. She asked him repeatedly if he could "commit under oath" that he wouldn't ink a book or film deal in the future. He said no.
- Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi asked Cohen what he discussed in his last contact with Trump or his reps, and Cohen explained that the Southern District of New York is investigating and asked him not to share specifics on the matter. Krishnamoorthi then asked if Cohen knows of any other wrongdoing or illegality committed by Trump. His response: "Yes and again those are part of the investigation that’s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York."
- The name Felix Sater is raised: He's a real estate developer with ties to the mob who allegedly helped the Trump Organization as it pursued a Moscow hotel. In a sworn deposition given in 2013, Trump said Sater was so unfamiliar to him that he wouldn't recognize him if he was in the room. Cohen pushed back on that, saying Sater had an office on "Mr. Trump's floor" in Trump Tower, and that the Trump Organization has files that detail the men's relationship.
- Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier asked Cohen how many times Trump asked him "to threaten an individual or entity on his behalf? ... 50 times?" More, said Cohen. "100 times?" More, he said. "200 times?" More, he said. "500 times?" Cohen's reply: "Probably, over the 10 years." He clarified that he was to threaten with litigation.
- Speier raised a rumored tape said to show the president striking his wife in an elevator. Cohen said the tape doesn't exist and emphasized that he'd never hurt Melania.
- Cohen said Trump "knew of and directed" plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow while publicly stating otherwise and indicated Cohen should lie about it. "At the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him he would look me in the eye and tell me there's no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing," Cohen said. "In his way, he was telling me to lie. He wanted me to lie."
- Cohen spoke about threats made against his family, some of which he tied to the president's tweets about him: "When you have access to 60-plus million people that follow you on social media and you have the ability within which to spark some action by individuals that follow him..." When asked what he thought Trump could do to him, he had this to say: "A lot and it's not just him. It's those people that follow him and his rhetoric ... I don't walk with my wife if we go to a restaurant or we go somewhere. I don't walk with my children. I make them go before me because I have fear."
- The House recessed around 2:30pm ET for more than an hour, during which it passed a universal background check bill for gun sales. The bill is not expected to survive in the Senate.
- California Democrat Ro Khanna asked Cohen about a check signed by Donald Trump Jr. to fund illegal hush money payments to Daniels, and whether Trump's criminal conspiracy involved himself, Donald Jr., and his chief financial officer; Cohen said yes. The Guardian notes that if Trump's eldest son is found to be directly involved in the Daniels pay-off scheme, he could be in legal trouble.
- Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib used her time to criticize Republicans for bringing black HUD employee Lynne Patton to the hearing; Patton is a Trump defender, and Tlaib said she was being used as a "prop" to prove Trump isn't racist. Mark Meadows, the Republican who invited Patton, got upset and asked Cummings to intervene, leading to a lengthy exchange of words between Cummings, Tlaib, and Meadows. Tlaib ultimately said she was not calling Meadows a racist. "Someone could write a book chapter just analyzing all the dynamics of that Tlaib-Meadows-Cummings back-and-forth over racism," tweeted James Poniewozik of the New York Times.
- During his closing remarks, Cohen said his loyalty to Trump cost him "everything." He also warned that he fears "there will never be a peaceful transfer of power" if Trump loses in the 2020 election.
- Trump said he didn't release his tax returns during the 2016 election because he was under audit, but Cohen testified that may not have been true. Some say Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's line of questioning during the hearing could lay the groundwork for those returns to be subpoenaed.
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