Trump’s former lawyer gives tell-all testimony

On Feb. 27, Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, appeared before the House Oversight and Reform Committee to provide a tell-all testimony of the criminal acts he committed while working for Trump.

Last year, Cohen plead guilty to lying to Congress on behalf of Trump regarding information about a Moscow real estate project, developing simultaneously as Trump was securing the GOP nomination in 2016.  Cohen plead guilty to campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud. He was sentenced to 3 years in federal prison.

This year, Cohen took responsibility for lying on behalf of Trump, making it clear that, “I have lied, but I am not a liar,” said Cohen. “I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man.”

In Cohen’s testimony, he made many severe claims against Trump; accusing that Trump had made hush payments, lied about his business relationship with Russia, inflated his own wealth and made many unapologetic racist comments over the years.

Cohen’s allegations were backed up by various checks and documents.

Cohen claimed that, while working for Trump, he was asked to lie for him on many more occasions and work as a “fixer” for the president. This job included stopping negative articles before they were published, paying people off and writing threatening letters to schools to not release Trump’s academic records. Cohen said he was to, “Always stay on message. Always defend.” and that it “monopolized” his life. 

Hush money payments

Cohen admitted to having knowledge about payment that was made to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, in an effort to pay for silence after a sexual encounter between her and Trump. Cohen detailed that a payment of $35,000 was made before Election Day 2016, only one of eleven total. Cohen explained that at the president’s directive, Cohen took out a home-equity loan in order to pay Daniels a total of $130,000. To substantiate this, Cohen showed the committee a copy of a check from Trump’s personal bank account dated Aug. 1, 2017 that matched the installment amount, bearing President Trump’s signature. Cohen also implicated Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s eldest son, and the chief financial officer of Mr. Trump’s company, Allen Weisselberg, in the arrangement of the payments.

Cohen also said he was told by Trump to lie to Daniels regarding Trump’s knowledge of the payments.

Russian collusion

Returning to his first guilty plea, Cohen concretely implicated Trump’s knowledge of negotiations with Russia, and attested to the President’s lies about the matter.

Cohen informed the committee of a meeting that took place at the Manhattan Trump Tower in June 2016 that involved information regarding Hilary Clinton, provided by Russian contacts. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and Donald Trump Jr. were all said to be in attendance. Contrary to the president’s remarks, Cohen suggested that President Trump was aware of this meeting.

Prior knowledge of leaked emails

Cohen further alleged that Trump had knowledge of WikiLeaks’ involvement in the divulging of thousands of emails from Democrats, more specifically, Hilary Clinton. He claimed that Trump knew about this breach before it happened. Cohen cited a discussion between the president and Roger Stone, Trump’s long-time consultant, who was said to have met with WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange. Cohen further explained that Assange had assured that the exposed emails would be detrimental to Hilary’s campaign, to which President Trump supposedly responded, “Wouldn’t that be great.”

Contradicting tax audit

In the last four decades, all major party presidential nominees have released their tax returns. It is not required, but it shows the American people the candidate’s details of income and what motivates their wealth.

Throughout President Trump’s campaign and presidency, he has claimed that his tax returns could not be released because “it’s under routine audit.” He added that “when the audit ends, I’m going to present them.” This statement was made in 2016, and Trump further assured that he hoped the I.R.S. audit would be finished before the election in 2016.

According to Cohen, however, Trump refuses to release his tax returns out of fear of being audited and required to pay additional taxes and penalties.

Falsely inflated assets

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) asked Cohen about Trump’s financial statements. Cohen confirmed that the president would submit falsely inflated asset reports to insurance companies. The statements show that the president boosted his net worth by more than $3 billion in a nine month period. Cohen explained that Trump, “inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.”

Cohen also stated that Trump would deflate his assets for similar reasons. An example brought before the committee was the down-playing of the value of Trump’s golf courses to local tax officials in order to receive tax breaks.

After the testimony

A subpoena was sent to the Trump Organization’s long-time insurance broker, Aon on Mar. 5 in regards to claims that Trump misled insurers on the value of this assets.

On Mar. 6, Cohen gave documents to the House Intelligence Committee that cited information about the planning of his previous false statements to Congress, as well as shedding more light on the Moscow Trump Tower Project.

Cohen filed a lawsuit against the Trump Organization on Mar. 7. In a statement released by his attorneys, Cohen said, “When it was publicly reported that I might be cooperating with prosecutors, the Trump Organization breached its agreement and stopped paying fees and costs.” The lawsuit claims that the organization owes $1.9 million to pay Cohen’s legal defense bills that the organization had promised to cover.

On Mar. 8, Trump tweeted that Cohen, “directly” asked for a presidential pardon. If this allegation proves to be true, it would mean that Cohen again lied under oath to Congress. Cohen denies this accusation, and the president has yet to corroborate this claim.

Going Forward

David Spataro, chairman of the Political Science department at Bellevue College, commented on what may be in store for the future. Spataro stated that testimonies such as this one “tend to be more theatrical than substantive, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.”

Spataro stated that the Democratic Party will most likely use this information given against Trump, but Democratic leaders are not currently pursuing impeachment nor do they look like they’re going to. Spataro stated that this could be due to a number of reasons, one of which being that the 2020 elections are somewhat around the corner. “There is essentially zero chance of removal,” stated Spataro.

Spataro stated that he doesn’t believe there will be many significant changes because of this.

Congressional members explained that they will continue this investigation while Cohen waits to serve his sentence in May.

On Mar. 16, Felix Sater, a one-time, Russian business associate of Trump who worked on the Moscow Trump Tower Project is said to appear for a public hearing with the House Intelligence Committee

The Watchdog will continue to provide updates on this story as it develops.