- Marcy Wheelerindependent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties. She runs the website EmptyWheel.net.
In an explosive 5-hour hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday, President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen accused his old boss of committing multiple criminal acts before and during his presidency. Cohen provided evidence that Trump had violated campaign finance laws by paying hush money to women, accused the Trump Foundation of committing fraud by using the tax-exempt organization for personal purposes, and said Trump lied when he said he couldn’t release his tax returns because they were being audited. He also claimed that Trump had advance knowledge that WikiLeaks was preparing to publish a trove of emails to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the run-up to the 2016 election. Cohen confirmed the president repeatedly checked in about the status of a proposed Trump Tower Moscow project well into the 2016 campaign, despite public claims to the contrary. But he said he had seen no direct evidence that Trump had colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign. The testimony came two months before Cohen is scheduled to begin a 3-year prison sentence for lying to Congress, a series of financial crimes and campaign violations. We speak with Marcy Wheeler, an independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties. She runs the website EmptyWheel.net.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. President Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, has accused his old boss of committing multiple criminal acts before and after he became president. Cohen made the charges during more than five hours of explosive public testimony on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
He provided evidence that Trump had violated campaign finance laws by paying hush money to women. He accused the Trump Foundation of committing fraud by using the tax-exempt organization for personal purposes. Cohen said Trump lied when he said he couldn’t release his tax returns because they were being audited. He said Trump routinely deflated his assets to reduce his taxes, while inflating them in order to win bank loans. Cohen claimed Trump had advance knowledge that WikiLeaks was preparing to publish a trove of emails to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Cohen also confirmed the president repeatedly checked in about the status of a proposed Trump Tower Moscow project well into the 2016 campaign, despite his public claims to the contrary. But Michael Cohen said he had seen no direct evidence that Trump had colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign. Cohen also said he fears there would not be a peaceful transition of power if Trump loses the 2020 election.
Michael Cohen’s testimony came two months before he’s scheduled to begin a 3-year prison sentence for lying to Congress, a series of financial crimes and campaign violations. Cohen told Congress he was ashamed of his own failings.
MICHAEL COHEN: Never in a million years did I imagine, when I accepted a job in 2007 to work for Donald Trump, that he would one day run for the presidency, to launch a campaign on a platform of hate and intolerance, and actively win. I regret the day I said yes to Mr. Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way.
I am ashamed of my own failings and publicly accepted responsibility for them by pleading guilty in the Southern District of New York. I am ashamed of my weakness and my 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 con man. And he is a cheat. He was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop on Democratic National Committee emails.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Cohen accused President Trump of repeatedly lying during the 2016 campaign when he said he had no dealings with Russia.
MICHAEL COHEN: There were at least a half a dozen times between the Iowa caucus in January of 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me, “How’s it going in Russia?” referring to the Moscow tower project. You need to know that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow tower negotiations before I gave it. So, to be clear, Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project. And so I lied about it, too, because Mr. Trump had made clear to me, through his personal statements to me, that we both knew to be false, and through his lies to the country, that he wanted me to lie. And he made it clear to me, because his personal attorneys reviewed my statement before I gave it to Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Cohen also revealed new details about how President Trump, as well as his son Don Jr., signed checks to him to reimburse him for the hush money he paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with Trump.
MICHAEL COHEN: As Exhibit 5A to my testimony shows, I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed, from his personal bank account, on August 1st of 2017—when he was president of the United States—pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me—the word used by Mr. Trump’s TV lawyer—for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf. This $35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year, while he was president. Other checks to reimburse me for the hush money payments were signed by Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg. And see, for that example, 5B.
The president of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws. And you can find the details of that scheme, directed by Mr. Trump, in the pleadings in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testifying in front of Congress Wednesday.
For more, we’re joined by Marcy Wheeler, independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties. She runs the website EmptyWheel.net.
Marcy, welcome to Democracy Now! Overall, respond—as you tweeted up a storm yesterday, following every line—what you thought was most important about this explosive five hours before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
MARCY WHEELER: Well, it was kind of overwhelming, because, you know, there are additional details of financial fraud that you weren’t even able to hit on because there was so much there. I think what was most surprising is that Cohen came off more credibly than, certainly, the Republicans who were trying to damage his credibility. Yeah, is he still, you know, a thuggish liar? Yeah. Do we all know what a creep he was during 2016? Absolutely. Yeah, was yesterday a performance? Absolutely. But did he come off at least credibly enough to make what he was saying about Trump generally seem true? And I think he did.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was most significant, do you think, about what he revealed? What President Trump pointed out, in Vietnam, at his news conference, clearly very engaged in this—I don’t know if that’s why he ended the summit abruptly—but said the important thing to bring out, he said, although he considers him a liar, is that he said there was no collusion.
MARCY WHEELER: What Cohen actually said is that he, himself, didn’t have direct evidence. A lot of people note that this means the entire Steele dossier is debunked, which is not surprising. I’ve been challenging that for a long time. What he said was he suspected it, and talked particularly about a weird interchange between Don Jr. and his father sometime in June of 2016 where Don Jr. came up, walked behind Trump’s desk and said, “blah, blah, blah, the meeting,” and Trump, you know, kind of assented to that and said, “Good. Let me know.”
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to Michael Cohen, who said Donald Trump knew about the WikiLeaks release of Hillary Clinton’s emails before it happened.
MICHAEL COHEN: A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked documents, the Democratic National Committee emails, ahead of time. And the answer is yes. As I earlier stated, Mr. Trump knew, from Roger Stone, in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails. In July of 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that within a couple of days there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating, to the effect, “Wouldn’t that be great?”
AMY GOODMAN: Later in the hearing, Republican Congressmember Thomas Massie of Kentucky questioned Michael Cohen.
REP. THOMAS MASSIE: You said—and this is also in your testimony—in the days before the Democratic convention, you became privy to a conversation that some of Hillary Clinton emails would be leaked. Is that correct?
MICHAEL COHEN: Correct.
REP. THOMAS MASSIE: OK. Was that in—you said late July. Do you know the exact day?
MICHAEL COHEN: I believe it was either the 18th or the 19th, and I would guess that it would be on the 19th.
REP. THOMAS MASSIE: But it was definitely July?
MICHAEL COHEN: I believe so, yes.
REP. THOMAS MASSIE: Do you know that was public knowledge in June? This was Mr. Assange. And I’d like to submit this—unanimous consent to submit this for the record.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Without objection, so ordered.
REP. THOMAS MASSIE: Mr. Assange reported to the media on June 12th that those emails would be leaked. So, I’m not saying you have fake news; I’m saying you have old news, and there’s really not much to that.
AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Wheeler, he’s saying that a lot of people knew, that Julian Assange had said it publicly.
MARCY WHEELER: Julian Assange said publicly that he had material on Hillary Clinton. What Julian Assange never said publicly is “I’m going to drop it at the beginning of the DNC.” And so, what is interesting about Cohen’s story—and, to be clear, it’s unlikely that he really did speak directly with Julian Assange. We know from a bunch of Stone’s other claims that when he claimed to be speaking directly with Assange, he instead was speaking with a cutout, like Jerome Corsi or like Randy Credico.
But what it appears happened is that Stone informed Trump precisely when the emails were going to be dropped. And that, as far as I know, is not something that has been made public before, and is particularly interesting because if the call happened on July 19th, Stone was meeting with Nigel Farage at the RNC that day, and he’s one of the people that it was clear Mueller seemed interested in finding out whether was a go-between between people in the U.K. who knew about the emails and Roger Stone. So, it is new information. It’s consistent with Roger Stone’s indictment, although it means, in the indictment, Mueller is referring to the president himself as a senior campaign official. It’s more specific than we had ever known before.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, 30 seconds, come back and hear Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s line of questioning for Michael Cohen. Stay with us.