U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen is set to testify this week before Congress, offering insight into his work for the president, which included an illegal arrangement during the 2016 election to pay money to two women claiming to have had affairs with Trump.
Cohen’s three-day congressional appearance starts Tuesday, in which he will give a closed-door interview to the Senate intelligence committee.
Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, has offered a preview of what could be a dramatic public hearing Wednesday saying it will be “chilling” as Trump’s longtime fixer lays out more than a decade of “personal, front-line experiences” with the president.
“You’re going to hear personal, front-line experiences of memories, and incidents, and conduct, and comments that Donald Trump said over that 10-year time period behind closed doors that, to me, when I first heard Michael tell me all this, even as much as I knew about Trump that was negative, was chilling.”
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Cohen, who said he would “take a bullet” for Trump, has quickly changed his tune amid increasing pressure from prosecutors who are looking into his work with the president.
He has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, tax fraud and a campaign finance violation in the hush-money scheme and was sentenced to three years in prison. Cohen, 52, won a two-month delay before starting his sentence and must surrender to authorities May 6.
What can we expect?
Wednesday’s hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee is one of three sessions Cohen has this week in Washington D.C., including two closed-door hearings with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. These private interviews — on Tuesday and Thursday — are expected to cover questions on efforts by Russia to influence the 2016 U.S. election.
Brad Moss, a national security attorney based in Washington D.C., said Wednesday is the main event and could uncover new details about any payments made to additional women or revelations about Trump’s finances.
“It’s all about the finances, in terms of the company and Trump in particular,” Moss said. “Where the money comes from, how it is handled. That has always been the sketchiest part of everything tied up in Trump and his businesses is the financing.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, has said that Cohen’s testimony Wednesday will not cover questions about matters related to Russia, including the infamous Trump Tower project currently being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller.
In a memo released ahead of Cohen’s testimony, Cummings outlined 10 issues that would be addressed during the hearing:
- The president’s debts and payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election
- The president’s compliance with financial disclosure requirements
- The president’s compliance with campaign finance laws
- The president’s compliance with tax laws
- The president’s potential and actual conflicts of interest
- The president’s business practices
- The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
- The accuracy of the president’s public statements
- Potentially fraudulent or inappropriate practices by the Trump Foundation
- Public efforts by the president and his attorney to intimidate Cohen or others not to testify.
Moss said he will be watching to see if any new details are revealed regarding the president’s financial ties with Deutsche Bank, which loaned $300 million to Trump and had ties to a high-ranking Russian money-laundering operation.
“In the ’90s, when he almost went personally broke, he had to get new financing and no American bank would trust him anymore,” he said. “Trump became reliant on foreign banks, like Deutsche Bank, and there’s always been this concern that his money is tied up in something dirty.”
Moss cautioned that if Cohen exposes personal details about Trump’s “bad behaviour,” his testimony could go from bombshell to dud. “The public has already taken this in, they’re used to it by now,” he said. “They know this is who Donald Trump is for better or for worse.”
Meanwhile, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, told ABC’s This Week he hopes to learn from Cohen on Thursday why he made “false statements before our committee when he first appeared.”
“Did they go beyond what he told us about Moscow Trump Tower into other areas as well?” Schiff said. “Who would have been aware of the false testimony that he was giving?”
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Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to the two intelligence committees about the Trump Organization proposal to build a skyscraper in Moscow. Last August, he also pleaded guilty to tax fraud, making false statements to a bank and the campaign finance violation.
He has said the campaign finance violation was the result of hush payments made at Trump’s request during the election to keep two women from speaking publicly about affairs they said they had with the president.
Trump has repeatedly called Cohen a “liar,” and has suggested Cohen’s co-operation was aimed to reduce his prison sentence.
Meanwhile, Republicans have also been attempting to undermine Cohen’s credibility calling the disgraced lawyer “an admitted serial liar” and describing the proceedings as a “charade” to discredit the president.
“When Cohen appears before our committee, we can only assume that he will continue his pattern of deceit and perjury,” Republic Representatives Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows said in a joint letter. “Although Cohen falsely attributes his crimes to ‘blind loyalty to Donald Trump,’ a federal judge correctly noted that Cohen’s crimes were all motivated by his personal greed and ambition.”
“This charade is an affront to our committee’s constitutional obligations,” Jordan added in a statement last Thursday.