President Trump's Former Lawyer Michael Cohen Testifies Before Congress

Cohen swears to tell the truth

President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer is testifying in front of the House Oversight and Reform Committee today where he called his former boss a "cheat and "con man."

"I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty -- of the things I did for Mr. Trump in an effort to protect and promote him," said Cohen during his opening statement. "I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat."

In his opening statement, Cohen also testified that Trump knew in advance about Wikileaks being in possession of emails stolen from the DNC, and their plans to release them in an effort to damage his political rivals.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to several crimes, including a campaign finance violation, which centered on payments he made to silence two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump. Prosecutors said the payments made by Cohen constituted an illegal campaign contribution.

Cohen is expected to discuss the scheme that was concocted to pay him back. Federal prosecutors say Cohen falsely submitted invoices to the Trump Organization in 2017 for a total of $420,000. Cohen was reimbursed in monthly installments of $35,000. Court filings from the case indicated that two Trump Organization executives (Executive-1 and Executive-2) were also involved in the reimbursement scheme.

One of the checks Cohen presented to Congress was drawn on Trump's personal bank account and signed by the president in August 2017.

"So let me make sure I understand. Donald Trump wrote you a check out of his personal account while he was serving as president of the United States of America to reimburse you for hush money payments to Ms. Clifford. Is that what you are telling the American people today?" Cummings asked.

"Yes, Mr. Chairman," Cohen replied.

When asked whether he practiced "catch and kill" tactics for Trump with the National Enquirer, Cohen said he did.

"I was involved in several of these catch-and-kill episodes. But these catch-and-kill scenarios existed between David Pecker and Mr. Trump long before I started working for him in 2007," Cohen said.

Cohen said he worked with the National Enquirer owner, American Media Inc, to bury negative stories about Trump that could have harmed his chances in the 2016 election. In December, federal prosecutors struck a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, who admitted to making a payment of $150,000 along with members of Trump's president campaign to prevent Playboy model Karen McDougal's claims of an affair with Trump being made public.

According to Cohen, Trump would regularly inflate the value of his assets so he could appear on Forbes' list of richest people in the world, and then turn around and deflate his assets to reduce the amount of real estate taxes he would pay.

"There were times that I was asked, again with Allen Weisselberg, the CFO, to go back to speak with an individual from Forbes, because Mr. Trump wanted each year to have his net worth rise on the Forbes wealthiest individuals list," said Cohen. "And so what you do is you look at the assets and you try to find an asset that has say, for example, 40 Wall Street, which is about 1.2 million square feet. Find an asset that is comparable, find the highest price per square foot that's achieved in the area and apply it to that building. Or if you're going off of your rent roll, go by the gross rent roll times a multiple and you make up the multiple which is something he had talked about. It's based upon what he wanted to value the asset at. 

Michael Cohen testifies before Congress

When Rep. Jackie Speier asked Cohen how many people or entities President Donald Trump asked him to threaten during his decade of service with the president, Cohen estimated that the number was around 500.

Speier: "How many times did Mr. Trump ask you to threaten an individual or entity on his behalf?"

Cohen: "Quite a few times."

Speier: "50 times?" 

Cohen: "More."

Speier: "100 times?" 

Cohen: "More."

Speier: "200 times?"

Cohen: "More."

Speier: "500 times?"

Cohen: "Probably, over the 10 years."

Speier also asked Cohen about the the existence of a tape that purportedly showed the president hitting his wife, Melania. Cohen said he doesn't believe Trump has ever hit the First Lady.

"The story goes that he struck Melania while in that elevator because there's a camera inside — which I'm not so sure. I actually am certain it's not true. I've heard about that tape for years," he said.

Cohen insisted he never saw a tape like that and that it's not something Trump would do in his opinion.

Committee members broke for a brief lunch break, during which, the House voted to pass the universal background check bill H.R. 8, a bipartisan piece of legislation aimed at strengthening background checks on all gun sales, including those made at gun shows and for online purchases.

AOC quizzes Cohen during his testimony

When the Committee returned from lunch, Cohen resumed his testimony, telling Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) about whether President Trump's tax returns were really being audited during the 2016 election.

"Mr. Cohen, do you know whether President Trump's tax returns were really under audit by the IRS in 2016?" Gomez asked.

"I don't know the answer. I asked for a copy of the audit so that I could use it in terms of my statements to the press, and I was never able to obtain one," Cohen said.

Gomez followed up: "So, do you have any inside knowledge about what was in the President's tax returns that he refused to release?"

"I do not," Cohen said, adding. "Statements that he has said to me is that what he didn't want was to have an entire group of think tanks that are tax experts run through his tax return and start ripping it to pieces and then he'll end up in an audit and he'll ultimately have taxable consequences, penalties and so on."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) also had her chance to quiz Cohen. The firebrand liberal asked Cohen about Trump's strategy of devaluing his own properties to reduce his tax bill.

While en route to his meeting with North Korea Dictator Kim Jong Un, President Trump tweeted about Cohen's testimony, writing that his former lawyer was lying to reduce his prison time.

"Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time."

Cohen began working for President Trump in 2006, until he left the president's service in May 2018.

This is a breaking news story. More details will be added as they become available.

Photo: Getty Images

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