WATCH LIVE: Michael Cohen to Congress: I lied because Trump 'wanted me to lie'
UPDATE: Long-time Trump fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen publicly blasted his former boss at a blockbuster congressional hearing Wednesday, comparing President Donald Trump's reaction to his testimony to that of a "mobster" and saying the president had "wanted me to lie" about prior discussions of a possible real estate deal in Moscow.
Cohen also told the House Oversight Committee that Trump knew Roger Stone had spoken to Julian Assange ahead of the WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails.
"I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone," Cohen said in his opening statement before the House Oversight Committee.
"Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. 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, however, said that he knows of no direct evidence that Trump or his presidential campaign colluded with Russia.
"I do not. I want to be clear. But I have my suspicions," he said.
When asked if Cohen knows of other criminal conduct by Trump that hasn't been discussed in the hearing Wednesday, Cohen said, "Yes," but said he can't discuss it because of ongoing federal investigations. He also declined to answer a question about the last time he spoke to Trump and what the president said to him, saying that the Southern District of New York had asked him not to discuss that information publicly.
Cohen, 52, was offering congressional testimony in public for the first time just weeks before he’s slated to report to federal prison in early May.
Last year, special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the Trump operation's ties to Russia and possible obstruction of justice, indicted a dozen Russians in connection with the DNC hacks. Stone has been indicted by Mueller on charges of obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering.
Trump is a "racist," a "con man" and "a cheat," Cohen said in his opening statement, alleging that the president not only lied about his ongoing efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the election but urged Cohen to lie about them without directly saying so.
Cohen then addressed why he lied to Congress in 2017 about Trump's business interests in Russia and his project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
"Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project. And so I lied about it too," said Cohen.
"Mr. Trump had made clear to me, through his personal statements to me that we both knew were false and through his lies to the country, that he wanted me to lie. And he made it clear to me because his personal attorneys reviewed my statement before I gave it to Congress," he added.
Cohen described Trump as an "intoxicating" presence. "It seems unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong," he said, offering apologies to Congress, his family and the American people.
He told the committee in his opening statement that Trump had asked to pay off adult film star Stormy Daniels "with whom he had an affair, and to lie to his wife about it."
"Mr. Trump directed me to use my own personal funds from a Home Equity Line of Credit to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign," Cohen said. "And I am going to jail in part because of my decision to help Mr. Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted a few days later."
Cohen presented a copy of a $35,000 check that Trump personally signed from his personal bank account in August 2017 while he was president to reimburse Cohen "for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf." The check, Cohen said, was one of 11 issued to him. Other checks were signed by Don Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump organization.
Cohen also said that Trump aides debated how to funnel the money to Daniels. Weisselberg said he couldn't do it and they discussed if there was someone hoping to join a Trump golf club who could be enlisted for a favor.
"Trump called me a 'rat' for choosing to tell the truth, much like a mobster would do when one of his men decides to cooperate with the government," he said.
Cohen's documentation and testimony, said Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., "raises grave questions about the legality of President Trump's conduct and the truthfulness of his statements while he was president."
"Here is how I view our role: every one of us in this room has a duty to serve as an independent check on the executive branch. Ladies and gentleman, we are in search of the truth," said Cummings.
The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, former Freedom Caucus chairman, said that Democrats are using Cohen because they want to "try to remove the president from office, because Tom Steyer told them to." Jordan sought to discredit Cohen in his first round of questions, arguing that while Cohen has claimed that he did everything to protect Trump, his decision to file false tax returns over several years was not out of loyalty to the president.
Jordan later accused Cohen of not being remorseful.
"Shame on you, Mr. Jordan, that's not what I said," Cohen said, adding that he's leaving his family and going to prison. "I made mistakes. I own them."
Cohen later added, "All I wanted to say is I just find it interesting, sir, that between yourself and your colleagues that not one question so far since I’m here has been asked about President Trump."
"He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project."
Trump, who is in Vietnam for a nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attacked Cohen after his planned testimony was first reported, tweeting that his former lawyer "did bad things unrelated to Trump."
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in December for a series of charges he pleaded guilty to last year, including eight felony counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations, as well as the one count of making a false statement to Congress. On the eve of his congressional testimony, a New York state court filing revealed that he had been disbarred.
The president's former attorney provided the committee with a series of documents, including letters he authored threatening Trump's high school, college and the College Board from releasing his grades and SAT scores, according to Cohen's prepared opening statement. Cohen will also present a pair of reimbursement checks he received for the $130,000 hush payment he made to porn star Stormy Daniels weeks before the 2016 presidential election to keep her quiet about her allegation of a 2006 affair with Trump — an affair Trump says did not happen.
An August 2017 check for $35,000 was signed by Trump, while a March 2017 check for the same amount was signed by both Donald Trump Jr. and Trump Organization Chief Operating Officer Allen Weisselberg, according to Cohen's planned testimony.
The House Oversight Committee hearing comes a day after Cohen appeared in a closed-door hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. On Thursday, Cohen will meet in closed session with the House Intelligence Committee.
The hearing, originally scheduled for Feb. 7, was delayed after Cohen’s attorney claimed that the president and his personal attorney, Rudi Giuliani, had made threats against Cohen's family.
A federal judge agreed last week to postpone the date for Cohen to report to prison after Cohen’s attorneys said he had recently undergone a “serious surgical procedure” and needed to undergo intensive therapy as part of his recovery.