In one of the most anticipated congressional hearings in – at least – a generation, Michael Cohen spent better than six hours answering questions from members of the House Oversight Committee about the decade he spent working for Donald Trump.
Much of the hearing was simply partisan jousting. Committee Democrats sought to tease out details of Trump’s role in hush money payments made to two women alleging affairs with him in the mid-2000s, and how long conversations about the Trump Tower Moscow project continued into the 2016 general election campaign. Republicans sought to remind people that Cohen was a liar, having already pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, and was likely to write a book about his experiences. (I’m still not sure what that second point has to do with anything, but that’s what they focused on!)
Amid all of the yelling and partisanship, however, we did learn some things from Cohen. And he confirmed some other things. My list is below.
1. Cohen said Trump spoke with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks
Said Cohen in his opening statement: “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.”
That’s important because Trump has said previously he never spoke to Stone about WikiLeaks and never directed anyone to contact WikiLeaks to find out about when it might release emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
2. Cohen confirmed Trump directed him to pay off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal
In pleading guilty in the Southern District of New York, Cohen said – and prosecutors confirmed – that Trump had directed and coordinated hush money payments to the two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump. In his opening statement, Cohen said, “He asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair, and to lie to his wife about it, which I did.” Cohen also presented a $35,000 personal check signed by Trump that he described as one in a series of repayments from the President for the $130,000 in hush money Cohen paid to Daniels.
3. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow (and others) edited Cohen’s congressional testimony in August 2017
Cohen has previously pleaded guilty to lying to Congress – in written testimony he submitted to the House and Senate intelligence committees – about how long he (and Trumpworld) stayed in contact with the Russians about a potential Trump Tower development in Moscow. Cohen said in his testimony those conversations ended in January 2016, but later acknowledged they continued through at least June 2016. In his testimony today, Cohen said he submitted that testimony to be reviewed by Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer, and others as part of a joint defense agreement in place at the time. It is unclear whether Sekulow or others knew whether Cohen was being candid with them.
Sekulow responded later Wednesday, saying, “Today’s testimony by Michael Cohen that attorneys for the President edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false.”
4. Cohen said he briefed Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. a number of times about Trump Tower Moscow
Cohen offered more details on his conversations with members of the Trump family about the project in Moscow; he said that he briefed the President’s eldest son and daughter an estimated 10 times about the project.
5. Cohen made clear that Trump never directly asked him to lie to Congress
“Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress,” said Cohen in opening statement. “That’s not how he operates.” That directly rebuts a BuzzFeed News story last month that said Cohen had told special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump told him to lie. It’s also consistent with the statement released by the special counsel’s office following the BuzzFeed story in which the office disputed that Cohen had told them Trump told them to lie.
6. Cohen said he has never been to Prague
One of the most debated parts of the dossier on Trump put together by former British spy Christopher Steele was that Cohen had traveled to Prague in the summer of 2016 to serve as a sort of liaison between Trump’s campaign and the Russians. Cohen said under oath on Wednesday that he has never been to Prague or to to the Cezech Republic.
7. Hope Hicks called Cohen when the “Access Hollywood” tape broke
In October 2016, when an audio tape emerged of Trump using lewd and misogynistic language, Trump adviser – and later White House communications director – Hope Hicks called Cohen, who was in London visiting his daughter, to make clear that he was expected to bat down this story as nothing more than “locker room talk.”
8. Cohen never sought a presidential pardon
“I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from President Trump,” said Cohen. What’s not clear from Cohen’s statement is whether a pardon was ever offered by Trump or anyone affiliated with Trump.
The Point: Cohen’s testimony didn’t provide a single silver bullet against Trump’s White House that some Democrats had hoped for. But he added detail and depth to some of the more potentially damaging allegations against Trump – most notably the alleged end-run of campaign finance law in the payments to Daniels and McDougal.