WASHINGTON – Michael Cohen, the man tasked with keeping Donald Trump’s deepest secrets, offered Congress a damning portrait of his former boss on Wednesday, saying the president encouraged him to lie to Congress and the public for Trump’s protection.
During an often combative appearance before a House committee, Cohen delivered a searing account of his dealings with the man who he helped win the White House, casting Trump as a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat” and tying the White House more directly than ever to criminal investigations that have shadowed Trump’s presidency.
And when his own credibility was directly and frequently challenged as a recently convicted felon who lied to Congress two years ago about his own dealings on behalf of the president, Cohen countered that he had served Trump and his business for a decade and that few people are in a better position to offer insights about his former boss and the organization he built around himself.
In more than six hours of sworn testimony, Cohen asserted that Trump knew WikiLeaks planned to release stolen emails that were damaging to political rival Hillary Clinton. “Wouldn’t that be great,” he said Trump replied when informed of the prospect during the 2016 campaign.
Cohen told the panel that Trump helped engineer and personally reimbursed Cohen for an illegal hush-money payment to a porn star, then told him to lie about the arrangement. And he said the president indirectly encouraged him to lie to Congress about his pursuit of a potentially lucrative Trump Tower development in Moscow, even as Trump repeatedly denied any business interests in Russia throughout the 2016 campaign.
“Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress,” Cohen said. “That’s not how he operates. He would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way he was telling me to lie about it.”
Cohen said he shared his false statement with Trump’s personal lawyers, including Jay Sekulow, before he provided it to Congress. “There were several changes that were made” during that review, he said.
Sekulow said the allegation is “completely false.”
The disclosures went on, as Cohen suggested that Trump knew in advance of a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, headed by Donald Trump Jr., in which a Russian lawyer promised to provide damaging information on Clinton. “I recalled Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying: ‘The meeting is all set.’ I remember Mr. Trump, saying, ‘OK, good … let me know.”