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Cohen Testifies Before Congress. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired February 27, 2019 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:30:00] CUMMINGS: -- and then we're going to go to Mr. Connolly.
COHEN: All I wanted to say is I just find it interesting, sir, that between yourself and your colleagues that not one question so far since I'm here has been asked about President Trump. That's actually why I thought I was coming today. Not to -- not to confess the mistakes that I've made. I've already done that and I'll do it again every time you ask me about taxes or mistakes. Yes, I made my mistakes, I'll say it now again. And I'm going to pay the ultimate price. But I'm not here today the American people don't care about my taxes, they want to know what it is that I know about Mr. Trump and not one question so far has been asked about Mr. Trump.
CUMMINGS: Mr. Connolly.
CONNOLLY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Well, Mr. Cohen, based on your testimony and your 10 year experience, I think you can recognize the behavior you're being subjected to in the other side of the aisle. Discredit, slander, use any trick in the book to prevent your testimony from sticking. The idea that a witness would come to us who's flawed -- and you certainly are flawed -- means they can never tell the truth and there is no validity whatsoever to a single word they say would discredit every single criminal trial of organized crime in the history of the United States because of all of them depend on someone who's turned. It would make RICO null and void. We couldn't use it anymore.
CONNOLLY: This Congress historically has relied on all kinds of shady figures who turned. One of the most famous who led to the decapitation of organized crime families in America, Joe Velachi congressional hearing, he was a witness and he committed a lot worse crimes than you're convicted of Mr. Cohen.
So, don't be fooled by what my friends on the other side of the aisle are trying to do today. It is do everything but focus on the principle, known as individual, number one, in the southern district of New York, as I recall. Is that correct Mr. Cohen?
COHEN: That is correct.
CONNOLLY: Now, Mr. Cohen, I want to ask you about something that's in your testimony and that so far has not been made public. In our committee staff search of documents provided by the White House that were otherwise redacted or already in the public, and I guess the White House thought that was funny, they made one mistake, the White House, there was an e-mail from a special to the president, to a Deputy White Counsel and the e-mail is dated May 16, 2017, and it's says, and I quote, "Podice (ph)," meaning the president, "requested a meeting on Thursday with Michael Cohen and Jay Sekulow. Any idea what this might be about?"
Do you recall being asked to come to the White House on or around that time with Mr. Sekulow? May of 2017.
COHEN: Off the top of my head sir, I don't. I recall being in the White House with Jay Sekulow and it was in regard to the documents -- the document production as well as my appearance before the House Select Intel. But, I'm not sure if that's specifically ...
CONNOLLY: Well, that ...
COHEN: ... but I will do, is I will check all my records and I'm more than happy to provide you with any documentation or a response to this question.
CONNOLLY: Well that's -- you sort of touched on the -- presumably the purpose of the discussion, at least among others. This occurred -- this meeting occurred just before your testimony before the Select Committee and Intelligence here in the House, is that correct?
COHEN: I believe so, yes.
CONNOLLY: Was that a topic of conversation with the president himself?
COHEN: If this is the specific instance that I was there with Sekulow, yes.
CONNOLLY: So, you had a conversation with the President of the United States about your impending testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, is that correct?
COHEN: That's correct.
CONNOLLY: What was the nature of that conversation?
COHEN: He wanted me to cooperate. He also wanted just to ensure, I'm making the statement and I said it in my testimony, there is no Russia, there is no collusion, there is no -- there is no deal. He goes, it's all a witch hunt and it's -- he goes, this stuff has to end.
CONNOLLY: Did you take those comments to be suggestive of what might flavor your testimony?
COHEN: Sir, he's been saying that to me for many, many months and at the end of the day I knew exactly what he wanted me to say.
CONNOLLY: And why was Mr. Sekulow in the meeting?
COHEN: Because he was going to be representing Mr. Trump going forward as one of his personal attorneys in this matter.
CONNOLLY: So, it was sort of a hand off meeting?
CONNOLLY: In any way, final question, did the president, in any way from your point of view, coach you, in terms of how to respond to questions or the content of your testimony before a House Committee?
COHEN: Again, it's a difficult answer, because he doesn't tell you what he wants. What he does is, again, Michael, there's no Russia, there's no collusion, there's no involvement, there's no interference.
I know what he means because I've been around him for so long. So, if you're asking me whether or not that's the message, that's staying on point, that's the party line that he created that so many others are now touting, yes, that's the message that he wanted to reinforce.
CUMMINGS: The gentleman's time has expired.
CONNOLLY: Thank you.
CUMMINGS: Mr. Massie.
MASSIE: Mr. Cohen, can you just clarify, did you say that at times you would do what you though Mr. Trump wanted you to do, not specifically what he told you to do?
COHEN: At times, yes.
MASSIE: So, you just went on your intuition?
COHEN: I don't know if I would call it intuition as much as I would just say, my knowledge of what he wanted because it happened before and I knew what he had wanted.
MASSIE: Does a lawyer have a duty to provide his client with good legal advice?
MASSIE: Were you a good lawyer to Mr. Trump?
COHEN: I believe so.
MASSIE: When you arranged a payment to Miss Clifford, you say in your testimony, I'm going to quote from you testimony, that you did so, quote, "Without bothering to consider whether that was improper, much less whether it was the right thing to do." You said that, unquote. That's your testimony today. You said you didn't even consider whether it was legal. How could you give your client legal advice when you're not even considering whether it's legal?
COHEN: I did what I knew Mr. Trump wanted. This conversation with Mr. Trump started ...
MASSIE: I didn't ask whether you were a good fixer. I asked whether you were a good lawyer.
COHEN: Well, sometimes you have to melt both together. I needed to, at that time, ensure and protect Mr. Trump. And if I put my -- which I'm clearly, clearly suffering the penalty of, I clearly ...
MASSIE: You said -- let me -- you said ...
COHEN: ... aired on the side of wrong.
MASSIE: So you feel like, by -- without bothering to consider whether it was proper, much less, whether it was the right thing, by ignoring any conscious, if you have one, that you were protecting Mr. Trump?
COHEN: I'm sorry, I don't understand ...
MASSIE: You feel that was how to protect -- as his lawyer, you feel that you did a good job? You said you were a good lawyer, right?
COHEN: That's correct.
MASSIE: Is that being a good lawyer? To not even consider whether it's legal or not?
COHEN: I didn't work for the campaign. I was working and I was trying to protect Mr. Trump.
MASSIE: I didn't say anything about a campaign. I said ...
COHEN: I sat with Mr. Trump and this goes back all the way to 2011, this wasn't the first scenario with Miss Daniels.
MASSIE: Let's go back then.
COHEN: So, my point -- my point is, this is -- this was an ongoing situation. It didn't just start in ...
MASSIE: Okay, right. Let's ...
COHEN: You have to let finish.
MASSIE: Well ...
COHEN: It started in -- it didn't start in October. It started many years earlier.
MASSIE: Let me ask you specifically on that. When were you disbarred?
COHEN: Yesterday, from what I read in the paper.
MASSIE: Yesterday. When should you have been disbarred? Based on the legal counsel you were giving your client?
COHEN: I don't have an answer for your question.
MASSIE: How long were you counsel for Mr. Trump?
COHEN: Since 2007.
MASSIE: When is the first time you gave him bad legal advice or failed to inform him of his legal obligations, as you testified today, you did in the case of the payment to Miss Clifford? When was the first time you did that? Would that qualify for disbarment?
COHEN: I don't sir. I'm not the Bar association.
MASSIE: I think you should consult with them maybe occasionally on some of these things. Is anybody ...
COHEN: Well, there's no point now. I lost my licenses.
MASSIE: Has anybody -- has anybody else promised to pay Mr. Davis for representing you?
MASSIE: Nobody has?
COHEN: No. Are you offering?
MASSIE: Question, quickly. July -- you said, and this also in your testimony, in the days before the Democratic Convention, you became privy to a conversation that some of Hillary Clinton's e-mails would be leaked, is that correct?
MASSIE: OK. Was that in -- you said late July? Do you know the exact day?
COHEN: I believe it was either the 18th or the 19th and I would guess that it would be on the 19th.
MASSIE: But it was definitely July?
COHEN: I believe so, yes.
MASSIE: Did you know that was public knowledge in June. This was Mr. Assange -- and I'd like to submit this -- unanimous consent submit this for the record.
CUMMINGS: Without objection, so ordered.
MASSIE: Mr. Assange reported to the media on June 12 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. I would like to yield the remainder of my time to Mr. Higgins.
HIGGINS: Thank you, sir. Mr. Cohen, I'm quoting close again (ph) earlier you said, "I spent last week looking through boxes to find documents that would support your accusations." Were those boxes good, sir? Are they -- where are those boxes? Are they in your garage?
COHEN: They're in a storage.
HIGGINS: And are these not boxes that should have been turned over to investigative authorities during the many criminal investigations you've been subject to?
COHEN: Sir, these are the boxes that were returned to me post the raid.
HIGGINS: If they included data pertinent to crimes that you've committed, should they not have been turned over and remanded to investigative authority? Did Mr. Lanny Davis know of these boxes?
CUMMINGS: Gentleman's time has expired. You may answer the question.
COHEN: I don't understand his question, sir.
CUMMINGS: Very well. Krishnamoorthi?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Mr. Cohen, morning. Thank you, Chairman Cummings, for convening this hearing, and thank you, Mr. Cohen, for voluntarily testifying this morning.
Mr. Cohen, you were the executive vice president and special counsel for the Trump organization, correct?
COHEN: I was the executive vice president special counsel to Donald J. Trump.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: And special counsel means you were the attorney for him. Is that right?
COHEN: It just means I was there in order to handle matters that he felt were significant and important to him individually.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: And those included legal matters?
COHEN: Yes, sir.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Sir, as a former attorney, you are familiar with legal documents known as non-disclosure agreements or NDAs, is that right?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Sir, I'm sure you know that NDAs properly written in scope can be reasonable in certain business contexts, but they can also be abused to create a chilling effect to silence people as we've see in the Me Too movement and other places. Isn't that right, Mr. Cohen?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: And Mr. Cohen, the Trump organization used NDAs extensively. Isn't that right?
COHEN: That's correct.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Mr. Cohen, I'm reading from a recent Washington Post article regarding the language in one of these types of NDAs where the terms were described as very board.
For instance, the terms "confidential information" was defined to be anything that, quote, "Mr. Trump insists remain private or confidential including but not limited to any information with respect to the personal life, political affairs, and/or business affairs of Mr. Trump or any family member," close quote. Do those terms sounds familiar to you?
COHEN: I've seen that document.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: In fact, there's a class action lawsuit filed this month by former Trump campaign worker, Jessica Denson, that this NDA language is illegal because it is too broad, too vague, and would be used to retaliate against employees who complain of illegality or wrongdoing. Would you agree that in the use of the -- of these types of NDAs with this type of language and later when Donald Trump sought to enforce them that he intended to prevent people from coming forward with claims of wrongdoing?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Would you agree that the effect of the use of these NDAs and their enforcement was to have a chilling effect on people or silence them from coming forward?
COHEN: I apologize. I -- if you want to define chilling, I'm not sure...
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Oh, just that he would in using these NDAs or trying to enforce them would basically try to keep people silent?
COHEN: That was the goal.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: And nothing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through President Donald Trump, correct.
COHEN: That's 100 percent certain.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: OK. Mr. Cohen, do you believe that there are people out there today either from the president's business or personal life who are not coming forward to tell their stories of wrongdoing because of the president's use of NDAs against them?
COHEN: I'm sorry, I don't know the answer to that question.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: OK. Sir, I have a couple other questions for you. When was the last communication with President Trump or someone acting on his behalf?
COHEN: I don't have the specific date, but it was awhile ago.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: OK, do you have a general timeframe? [12:45:00] COHEN: I would suspect it was within two months post the raid of my home, hotel.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: OK, so early fall of last year generall?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: And what did he or his agent communicate to you?
COHEN: Unfortunately this topic is actually something that's being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York, and I've been asked by them not to discuss and not to talk about these issues.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Fair enough. Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven't yet discussed today?
COHEN: Yes, and again, those are part of the investigation that's currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Sir, Congressman Cooper asked you about where you were aware of any physical violence committed by President Trump. I just have a couple quick questions. Do you have any knowledge of President Trump abusing any controlled substances?
COHEN: I'm not aware of that, no.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Do you have any knowledge of President Trump being delinquent on any alimony or child care payments?
COHEN: I'm not aware of any of that.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Do you have any knowledge of President Trump arranging any healthcare procedures for any women not in his family?
COHEN: I'm not aware of that, no.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. I yield back.
COHEN: Thank you.
CUMMINGS: Mr. Cloud.
CLOUD: Thank you, Chairman. Mr. Cohen, can you tell me the significance of May 6?
COHEN: In terms of, sir?
CLOUD: A couple months from now.
COHEN: That's the day that I need to surrender...
CLOUD: Yes, sir.
COHEN: ... to federal prison.
CLOUD: Could you, for the record, state what you've been convicted of?
COHEN: I've been convicted on five counts of tax evasion. There's one count of misrepresentation of documents to a bank. There's two counts, one dealing with campaign finance for Karen McDougal, one count of campaign finance violation for Stormy Daniels, as well as lying to Congress.
CLOUD: Thank you. Can you state what your official title with campaign was?
COHEN: I did not have a campaign title.
CLOUD: And your position in the Trump administration?
COHEN: I did not have one.
CLOUD: OK, in today's testimony you said that you were not looking to work in the White House. The Southern District of New York in their statement, their sentencing memo says this. "Cohen's criminal violations in the federal election laws were also stirred (ph) like other's crimes by his own ambition and greed. Cohen privately told friends, colleagues, and including seized text messages that he'd expected to be given a prominent role in the new administration. When that did not materialize, Cohen found a way to monetize his relationship in excess with the president. So were they lying or were you lying today?
COHEN: I'm not saying it's a lie, I'm just saying it's not accurate. I did not want to go to the White House. I retained and I brought an attorney and I sat with Mr. Trump -- with him for well over an hour, explaining the importance of having a personal attorney, that every president has had one, in order to handle matters like the matters I was dealing with, which included Summer Zervos --
CLOUD: I reclaim my time.
COHEN: -- Stormy Daniels, I was dealing with --
CLOUD: I ask unanimous consent --
COHEN: -- and other personal matters that needed --
CLOUD: Excuse me, this is my time. Thank you. I ask unanimous consent to submit the sentencing memo from the Southern District of New York, New York for the record.
CUMMINGS: Without objection, so ordered.
CLOUD: All right. I'll give that to you in a second. OK, this memo states that you committed four distinct federal crimes over a period of several years, you were motivated to do so by personal greed and repeatedly used your power to influence for deceptive ends (ph). It goes on to say that you were -- that they each involved -- they were distinct in the harms but bear common set of characteristics, that they involve deception and were each motivated by personal greed and ambition. There's a lot we don't know in regards to this investigation but here's what we do know.
We know that you were expecting a job at the White House and didn't get it, you made millions lying about your close access to the president, you have a history of lying for personal gain, including -- that's banks, your -- about your accountant, to law enforcement and your family, the Congress, the American people the Southern District of New -- New York. You've said that you did all this out of blind loyalty to Mr. Trump but your sentencing memo said -- states this -- this was not an act out of blind loyalty, as Cohen suggests. Cohen was driven by a desire to further ingratiate himself with potential future president for whom's political success Cohen himself claimed credit for.
[12:50:00] Now we're in a search for truth and I don't know, Chairman, how we're supposed to ascertain the truth in this quagmire of a hearing when the best witness we can bring before this has already been convicted of lying before us. And what's sad is the American people have seen this play out before. We have people in prominent positions fail and then couple years later they get a book deal. Now you're set to go to jail for a couple years, you come out with a multimillion book deal, that's -- that's not bad living. And so my question is, is will you today -- will you today to commit to donate any further proceeds to book deals, to film reviews to charity?
CLOUD: Thank you, I yield my time.
MEADOWS: Will -- will the gentleman yield? Will the gentleman yield?
COHEN: Now if you'll -- may -- may I finish?
MEADOWS: Will the gentleman yield?
CLOUD: Yield to Mr. Meadows.
COHEN: May I finish my --
MEADOWS: Mr. Cohen, he's yielded to me and so --
COHEN: I didn't finish (ph) my response.
MEADOWS: Listen. Everything's been made --
COHEN: I'm asking the chairman. Mr. Chairman, may I finish my response, please?
CUMMINGS: I'll let you respond but answer his question, please.
MEADOWS: Mr. Cohen, everything's been made of your lies in the past, I'm concerned about your lies today. Under -- under your testimony just a few minutes ago to me, you indicated that you had contracts with foreign entities and -- and yet we have a truth in testimony disclosure form which requires you to list those foreign contracts for the last two years and you put N/A on there. And it's a criminal offense to not have that accurately. So when were you lying? Either in the testimony to me earlier today or when you filled out the form?
CUMMINGS: Gentleman's time has expired. Mr. Cohen, you may answer his question and then whatever you wanted to say on that other one.
COHEN: His -- his questions unfortunately, I -- I don't have an answer for his question. But as it --
MEADOWS: No, no, no, no, no, no, no -- Mr. Chairman --
COHEN: As it relates --
CUMMINGS: The gentleman is out of order. He said he does not have an answer.
MEADOWS: Mr. Chairman, when -- when we were in the majority -- with all due respect, Mr. Chairman --
CUMMINGS: (Inaudible) order. The gentleman has just said he doesn't have an answer. And you've gone over your time.
UNKNOWN: Well he's under oath.
MEADOWS: He's under oath to tell the truth. One of them is not accurate, Mr. Chairman.
CUMMINGS: -- you'll have time to ask a question.
UNKNOWN: Mr. Chairman, just a question. Mr. Chairman, just a question.
CUMMINGS: Mr. Raskin.
UNKNOWN: Mr. --
CUMMINGS: Mr. Raskin.
RASKIN: Mr. Cohen, thank you for your composure today. Our colleagues are not upset because you lied to Congress for the president, they're upset because you stopped lying to Congress for the president. Now you described the Trump campaign as a once-in-a-lifetime moneymaking opportunity, the greatest infomercial of all time, I think you said. And this may be the most trenchant observation of your whole testimony. Do you think the Trump campaign or presidency ever stopped being about making money for the president, his family and his organization?
RASKIN: When did it stop being that?
COHEN: When he won the election. RASKIN: And what did it become about at that point?
COHEN: Then it had to be about figuring out what to do here in Washington.
RASKIN: Can you carefully explain to America how the hush money payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels worked? Can you carefully explain what catch and kill is?
COHEN: Sure. I received a phone call regarding both Karen McDougal as well as Stormy Daniels, obviously at different times, stating that there were issues that were going to be damaging to Mr. Trump. With the Stormy Daniels, it started in 2011, when she wanted to have something removed from a website. And that was the first time I met Keith -- I spoke with Keith Davidson, her then acting attorney and we were successful in having it taken down from the website. It wasn't until years later did -- right by -- around the time of the campaign did they come back and they ask what -- what are you going to do now because she's back on the trail trying to sell the story.
At which point in time David Pecker, on behalf of the National Enquirer, reached out to her and her attorney in order to go take a look at lie detector test that would prove that she was telling the truth. They then contacted me and told me that she was telling the truth, at which point -- again, all the times --
RASKIN: She took a lie detector test?
COHEN: She allegedly took a lie detector test and was seen by an employee of the National Enquirer. At which point in time I went straight into Mr. Trump's office and I explained why this time it's different than another time.
RASKIN: OK, now when you say different than another time, were there other women paid sexual hush money by Donald Trump or his organization? Was this a standard operating practice?
RASKIN: So you're not aware of any other cases where it had taken place.
[12:55:00] COHEN: I'm not aware of any other case that Mr. Trump paid. SO which brings us to the Karen McDougal. He was supposed to pay. He was supposed to pay $125,000 for the life story of Karen McDougal. For whatever the reason may be, he elected not to pay it. David Packer was very angry because there was also other monies that David had expended on his behalf. Unfortunately David never got paid back for that either.
RASKIN: So David Packer had done this in other cases of other mistresses or women.
COHEN: Other circumstances, yes.
RASKIN: OK. COHEN: Not all of them had to do with women.
RASKIN: Are -- are you aware of anything that the president has done at home or abroad that may have subjected him to or may subject him to extortion or blackmail?
COHEN: I am not, no.
RASKIN: OK. Are you aware of any videotapes that may be the subject of extortion or blackmail?
COHEN: I've heard about these tapes for a long time. I've had many people contact me over the years. I have no reason to believe that that tape exists.
RASKIN: In December 2015, Donald Trump was asked about his relationship with Felix Sater, a convicted felon and real estate developer, and he replied, "Felix Sater boy, have to even think about it. I'm not that familiar with him." Why did Trump endeavor to hide his relationship with Felix Sater and what was his relationship?
COHEN: Well, he certainly had a relationship. Felix was a partner in a company called Bayrock that was involved in the deal the Trump Soho Hotel as well as, I believe, the Trump Fort Lauderdale project. Why did he want to distance himself? That's what Mr. Trump does. He distances himself when things go bad for someone. And at that point in time it was going bad for Mr. Sater.
RASKIN: You said you lied to Congress about Trump's negotiations to build his Moscow tower because he made it clear to you that he wanted you to lie. One of the reasons you knew this is because, quote, "Mr. Trump's personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement in the Congress about the timing of the Moscow tower negotiations before I gave it." So this is a pretty breathtaking claim and I just want to get to the facts here.
Which specific lawyers reviewed and edited your statement to Congress on the Moscow tower negotiations and did they make any changes to your statement?
COHEN: There were changes made, additions. Jay Sekulow for one.
RASKIN: Were there changes about the timing the question...
CUMMINGS: Gentleman's time has expired. You may answer that question.
COHEN: There were several changes that were made including how we were going to handle that message...
COHEN: ... which was...
CUMMINGS: Will you finish?
COHEN: Yes, the message, of course, being the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive.
RASKIN: That was one of the changes?
CUMMINGS: Mr. Grothman.
GROTHMAN: Yes, first of all I'd like to clear up something, just a little something that bothers me. You started off your testimony you said I think in response to some question that President Trump never expected to win. I just want to clarify that I dealt with several -- President Trump several times as he was trying to get Wisconsin.
He was always confident. He was working very hard, and this idea that somehow he was just running to raise his profile for some future adventure at least in my experience is preposterous. I otherwise find it offensive when anti-Trump people imply that he just did this on a lark (ph) and didn't expect to win.
But be that as it may, my first question concerns your relationship with the court. Do you expect -- I mean, right now I think you're sentenced to three years, correct?
COHEN: That's correct.
GROTHMAN: Do you expect any time using this testimony, other testimony after you get done doing whatever you're going to do this week, do you every expect to go back and ask for any sort of reduction in sentence?
COHEN: Yes. There are ongoing investigations currently being conducted that have nothing to do with this Committee or Congress that I am assisting in and it is for the benefit of a Rule 35 motion, yes.
GROTHMAN: So you expect and perhaps what you testify here today will effect going back and reducing this, what we think is a relatively late three-year sentence? Do you expect to go back and ask for a further reduction?
COHEN: Based off of my appearance here today?
GROTHMAN: Well, based upon whatever you do between now and your request...
COHEN: The Rule 35 motion is in the complete hands of the Southern District of New York, and the way the Rule 35 motion works is what you're supposed to do is provide them with information that leads to ongoing investigations.
I am currently working with them right now on several other issues of investigation that concerns them that they're looking at.