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Cohen on Trump: What you need to know

Darko Janjevic
February 28, 2019

In his testimony to Congress, Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen has cast him as a racist and con man and said the president knew about efforts to damage Hillary Clinton. DW looks at key parts of the testimony.

Michael Cohen testifies before House Oversight and Reform Committee
Image: picture-alliance /O. Douliery

Donald Trump is a "racist" and a "con man," his former lawyer Michael Cohen told the US House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform at the outset of a damning public testimony based on his decadelong professional relationship with the US president.

Cohen, who once boasted he would "take a bullet" for Trump, accused the president of potential campaign finance violations and prior knowledge of efforts to derail the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. He also revealed internal details about the Trump Organization.

Hush payments to Stormy Daniels

Trump directed and coordinated payments to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, alias Stormy Daniels, according to Cohen. The money was initially paid by Cohen from his personal funds to prevent Clifford from going public with a story of a brief 2006 affair with Trump, he 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 said.

As evidence, Cohen provided lawmakers with the copy of a personal check for $35,000 (€30,800) signed by Trump and dated after the president took office. The payment, according to Cohen, was one of several installments to reimburse him for the $130,000 that he had paid to Clifford's lawyer. Trump also allegedly discussed the payments with Cohen in the Oval Office.

Cohen had previously admitted paying the one-time Playboy model Karen McDougal over a similar issue. Trump has repeatedly denied ordering hush-money payments to the women, which could violate US campaign finance laws.

WikiLeaks, hacked Democrat emails

Commenting on emails obtained from the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign, Cohen said Trump had had previous knowledge of the release.

According to Cohen, Trump learned of the dump from his longtime ally and campaign adviser, Roger Stone.

"Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with [WikiLeaks founder] 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 of 'wouldn't that be great,'" Cohen said.

Stone was arrested in January on charges of making false statements, witness tampering and obstructing justice in the Russia probe. He has denied talking to Trump about the WikiLeaks hack.

Trump has stated he had "never heard" of WikiLeaks before the DNC hack and dump of emails from his rival Clinton.

Russia and Trump's interests in Moscow

Cohen previously pleaded guilty for lying to Congress about Trump's alleged plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump had claimed he had no business interests in Russia in the runup to the 2016 election.

However, Cohen said Trump "knew of and directed" negotiations to build a property in Moscow during the campaign. The plans never materialized.

Cohen said he didn't have "direct evidence" that Trump or his aides colluded with Russia to get him elected, but disputed the president's account of a meeting between the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Kremlin-linked lawyer in an attempt to dig up "dirt" on Clinton.

While the Trump family alleges the younger Trump acted independently of his father and without informing him, Cohen said the younger Trump "would never set up any meeting of any significance alone — and certainly not without checking with his father."

He also said Trump "frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world."

Trump's character

Cohen described Trump as "cheat" who treated his presidential run as "the greatest infomercial in political history," saying the businessman never believed he would win the Republican nomination or subsequent election.

He also called the president "a racist," and said he heard Trump say black people would not vote for him because they were "too stupid."

Under questioning, Cohen admitted to paying a tech company to manipulate two online polls, one at the website of the American broadcaster CNBC and the other at the Drudge Report in 2015. This was allegedly done at Trump's direction. 

Cohen also said he was instructed by Trump to threaten the high school and colleges attended by the president to prevent them from releasing his grades or SAT score, a standardized college admission test.  

Cohen also claimed Trump directed him to make about 500 threats to various individuals and organizations over the course of 10 years of working for him. The threats involved possible litigation or "an argument with a nasty reporter that is writing an article."

Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows and Thomas Massie
Republicans called Cohen a 'pathological liar' and said he was bitter about not being offered a job at the White HouseImage: picture-alliance/P. Martinez Monsivais

More revelations to come

Several times in his hourslong testimony, Cohen refused to give details on his dealings with the president, including his last conversation with Trump or a Trump representative. The reason, according to Cohen, is that the matter is still being investigated by a New York court and that he was told not to discuss them.

Cohen also said he knows about other illegal acts by Trump, which are still under investigation.

He wrapped up his explosive testimony by warning that Trump may not accept a "peaceful transition of power" if he loses his bid for re-election in 2020, saying the president would do anything to win.

"Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power," he said in a final statement.

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