Trump knew about email hack, Cohen tells Congress

Source: BBC

US President Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen has claimed Mr Trump knew beforehand about a leak of hacked Democratic emails.

In congressional testimony, Cohen also said Mr Trump directed plans for a Moscow skyscraper even during his White House campaign.

In a blistering opening statement, Cohen branded Mr Trump a “racist”, a “conman” and a “cheat”. 

Mr Trump hit back: “He is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”

The US president took time out from preparing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Wednesday to lash out in a tweet at his former fixer.

Cohen, 52, will start a three-year prison term in May for the campaign finance violation of paying hush money to one of Mr Trump’s alleged mistresses, tax evasion and lying to Congress.

What did Cohen say about the email leak?

In his public testimony to the House of Representatives Oversight Committee on Wednesday, Cohen said he was in Mr Trump’s office in July 2016 when Roger Stone, a longtime political adviser, called the then-Republican presidential candidate.

Cohen said Mr Stone told Mr Trump he had been speaking to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who told him there would be a leak of emails within a couple of days that would politically embarrass Hillary Clinton’s White House campaign.

Mr Trump has denied having prior knowledge of Wikileaks’ disclosure of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails during the election.

The messages caused a damaging rift in the party by exposing Democratic officials’ favouritism towards Mrs Clinton over her challenger for the presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders.

Mr Stone, a self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, is currently facing charges of lying to Congress about his communications with Wikileaks and witness tampering.

Wielding a stiletto, not an axe

By Paul WoodWorld Affairs Correspondent, BBC News

Anyone who’s met Michael Cohen recently will tell you that he’s burning with anger at having to take the blame for crimes he says were instigated by Trump.

It seems he’s spent weeks being intensively prepped by his lawyers for this moment and intends to do the President fatal damage.

The White House talking points – farmed out to surrogates such as Donald Trump Jr – are that he’s a “disgraced liar” and “convicted perjurer”.

Cohen certainly knows he has – as he says in his testimony – a credibility problem.

That’s why he’s attempting to wield a stiletto, not swing an axe, each charge backed up by what he calls “documents that are irrefutable” – hence the dramatic production of a cheque apparently signed by Trump (the alleged refund for paying off Stormy Daniels).

He won’t talk much about whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. In fact, he says he has no direct knowledge of collusion.

He will, though, say he witnessed Trump in a telephone conversation during the campaign that showed he knew in advance Wikileaks was about to publish emails hacked – by Russia – from the Democrat Party.

That would be hugely significant, if true. Trump has always denied it.

What did Cohen say about Moscow project?

He said Mr Trump repeatedly inquired about plans for a Trump Tower Moscow while stating publicly that he had no business dealings in Russia.

“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.”

However, Cohen told Congress in 2017 that attempts to build a Trump skyscraper in Moscow had stopped by January 2016. 

He has since admitted negotiations actually continued until June 2016 in the midst of the election campaign, though the real estate project ultimately did not go ahead.

Cohen apologised on Wednesday for his earlier false statements to Congress, which he claimed were “reviewed and edited” by Mr Trump’s lawyers.

 

What else did he say about Russia?

Cohen also testified that, contrary to Mr Trump’s repeated claims, he did have advance knowledge of a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan between his campaign aides and a Russian lawyer promising “dirt” on Mrs Clinton.

The June 2016 meeting has been investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is winding up a 21-month justice department inquiry into whether the Trump campaign colluded with an alleged Kremlin plot to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Cohen spoke about an incident when Mr Trump’s son, Donald Jr, walked behind his father’s desk and told him in a low voice: “The meeting is all set.” 

Mr Trump, Cohen told the hearing, replied: “OK good, let me know.”

Importantly, Cohen also said under oath that he has no direct evidence that Mr Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia.

“I do not,” he said. “I want to be clear. But I have my suspicions.”

What about the racism allegations?

Cohen told lawmakers Mr Trump is a racist.

He said: “He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole.’ 

“This was when Barack Obama was President of the United States. 

“While we were once driving through a struggling neighbourhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. 

“And he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid. And yet I continued to work for him.”

What did he say about hush money?

Cohen provided what he said was evidence of reimbursements he received from the president for hush money the lawyer has admitted paying to a porn star who says she had an affair with Mr Trump.

Cohen said he was giving the committee a copy of a $35,000 (£26,000) cheque that Mr Trump signed in August 2017 to pay him back.

He also submitted to the panel a copy of the wire transfer of his $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet.

“Lying to the First Lady is one of my biggest regrets,” Cohen said. “She is a kind, good person. I respect her greatly – and she did not deserve that.”

What else did Cohen say?

– He said Mr Trump arranged for an anonymous bid to pay highest price – of $60,000 – for a portrait of himself during an auction in the Hamptons, an affluent enclave of New York state, then paid for it from the account of his self-named charitable foundation, before hanging the picture in one of his country clubs

– He told lawmakers he wrote letters on behalf of Mr Trump threatening the Republican candidate’s high school, colleges and the College Board not to release his grades to reporters

– He says Mr Trump once admitted to him he had no medical evidence of the bone spurs in his foot that he once claimed to obtain a draft deferment during the Vietnam War. He says Trump told him: “You think I’m stupid, I’m not going to Vietnam”

How are Republicans responding?

North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows, who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has expressed outrage that Democrats invited a “convicted liar” to testify.

In an interview with the BBC before the hearing began, the Trump ally said: “I don’t know that we’ve ever had a witness come before our committee with less credibility than Michael Cohen.”

Florida Republican lawmaker Matt Gaetz, a fierce defender of Mr Trump, has meanwhile deleted a tweet he posted threatening to reveal compromising information about Cohen’s personal life. 

Mr Gaetz denied the tweet amounted to witness-tampering, contending it was “witness-testing”.

Cohen’s originally scheduled testimony was postponed earlier this month, after he cited “threats against his family” brought by Mr Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

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