[Vision2020] Cohen to Testify That Trump Engaged in Criminal Conduct While in Office
thansen at moscow.com
Tue Feb 26 05:11:59 PST 2019
Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal at:
Cohen to Testify That Trump Engaged in Criminal Conduct While in Office
President’s ex-lawyer will tell House committee he witnessed Trump’s ‘lies, racism and cheating,’ role in hush payments, says a person familiar with his plans
Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer, will for the first time publicly accuse the president of criminal conduct while in office related to a hush-money payment to a porn star, a person familiar with his planned testimony before Congress said.
Appearing on Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee, Mr. Cohen also will make public some of Mr. Trump’s private financial statements and allege that Mr. Trump at times inflated or deflated his net worth for business and personal purposes, including avoiding paying property taxes, the person said. The financial statements were developed by Mr. Trump’s accountant, the person said. The Wall Street Journal hasn’t seen those statements.
Mr. Cohen’s testimony is expected to focus on his “behind-the-scenes” accounts of working for Mr. Trump for over a decade, a period during which Mr. Cohen will say he witnessed “lies, racism and cheating” by Mr. Trump, the person said.
Mr. Cohen is expected to recount racist remarks Mr. Trump allegedly made to him, including instances in which Mr. Trump allegedly questioned the intelligence of African-Americans and criticized their lifestyle choices, the person said.
Mr. Cohen’s planned testimony comes 13 months after The Wall Street Journal first reported that Mr. Cohen paid $130,000 in October 2016 to former adult-film star Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence after she alleged having a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump.
In the wake of the Journal’s revelations, federal prosecutors investigated Mr. Cohen’s activities, raided his home, hotel room and office, and began probing the business practices of the Trump Organization, including whether it committed campaign-finance violations. The Trump Organization investigation, spearheaded by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, is continuing, people familiar with the matter said.
Representatives for the White House and the Trump Organization didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Cohen agreed to testify before the committee at the behest of its Democratic chairman, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, after postponing his scheduled hearing last month, citing public statements by Mr. Trump he saw as threats toward members of his family.
In August Mr. Cohen implicated the president in two federal crimes when he told prosecutors Mr. Trump directed hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign to Ms. Clifford and to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who alleged she had an affair with Mr. Trump.
The person familiar with Mr. Cohen’s anticipated testimony said Mr. Cohen would provide “evidence of criminal conduct since Mr. Trump became president,” but other than saying it involved the Clifford payment, wouldn’t offer more specifics before Wednesday’s House hearing.
The hearing would be the first time Mr. Cohen alleges that Mr. Trump committed a crime while in office. While the payments to both women were made in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Trump has faced questions from reporters about his possible knowledge of Mr. Cohen’s subsequent reimbursement for the Clifford payment, as well as about whether he had any conversations with Mr. Cohen about efforts to conceal the payment after the Journal first reported its existence in January 2018.
Mr. Trump previously has described the Clifford payment as a “simple private transaction” and said if the payments were illegal, it was Mr. Cohen’s “mistake.” The president has denied the sexual encounters with the women as well as ordering Mr. Cohen to arrange the payments to them.
In December, federal prosecutors in New York for the first time directly implicated the president in the payoff scheme, referring to him in court papers as “Individual-1,” alleging that Mr. Trump had played a key role in the hush payments, as The Journal had previously detailed in its reporting.
Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal crimes in August, including tax evasion and making false statements to a bank, and to one count of lying to Congress in November. He is expected on Wednesday to express contrition about the crimes he committed and acknowledge his mistakes, the person said. He will attest to having lied repeatedly to protect Mr. Trump and to what led him to publicly break with the president last summer, the person said. He will also reiterate that he wouldn’t accept a presidential pardon from Mr. Trump if one were offered, the person said. Mr. Cohen is scheduled to begin a three-year prison term on May 6.
Mr. Cohen will give his most detailed public account to date of Mr. Trump’s alleged direction of the hush payments, as well as how Mr. Trump was involved in efforts to conceal them from the public weeks before the 2016 election, according to the person.
He will also allege that Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg was involved in those efforts, the person said.
The Journal first detailed Mr. Cohen’s account to prosecutors of Mr. Weisselberg’s involvement in November. Mr. Weisselberg was granted immunity by federal prosecutors in the investigation and testified before a grand jury, according to a people familiar with the matter.
A lawyer for Mr. Weisselberg declined to comment.
Mr. Cohen spent more than a decade working for Mr. Trump, first at the Trump Organization and later as his personal lawyer. But the pair had an often turbulent relationship: Mr. Trump at one point asked senior aides to persuade Mr. Cohen to resign, and later slashed his annual income of more than $400,000 roughly in half, the Journal has previously reported.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cohen for more than a decade remained unswervingly loyal, and ultimately found a niche as a fixer of some of Mr. Trump’s thornier problems. In 2017, Mr. Cohen told Vanity Fair: “I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.” Less than a year later, Mr. Cohen publicly broke with the president, saying he was putting his family and country first.
In a memo released last week, Mr. Cummings said that in addition to the hush-money payments, Mr. Cohen’s testimony would focus on the president’s compliance with tax laws, his “potential and actual conflicts of interest,” his business practices and “the accuracy of the President’s public statements,” among other matters.
Mr. Cohen won’t answer questions related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Mr. Trump or any of his associates colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, according to a person close to Mr. Cohen. Mr. Trump has denied collusion, as has Russia.
In November, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in a separate case brought by Mr. Mueller’s office to lying to Congress in 2017 to play down Mr. Trump’s involvement in efforts during the campaign to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Mr. Cohen is expected to explain why he lied to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow but isn’t expected to say whether Mr. Trump had directed him to make those misstatements, according to the person familiar with Wednesday’s planned testimony. Mr. Cohen will tell the committee that Mr. Trump continued to inquire about the project months past January 2016—the month Mr. Cohen cited before Congress in 2017 as when the project ended, this person said.
Also this week, Mr. Cohen is set to speak privately to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
Republicans on the Oversight Committee plan to try to undercut and discredit Mr. Cohen’s testimony by raising questions about his motivations for speaking to Congress.
Republicans plan to ask Mr. Cohen the reason for the “sudden righteousness” that led him to plead guilty and implicate the president in crimes, according to a GOP lawmaker on the committee. They also plan to ask who is paying his legal fees; why he fired his former attorney, Guy Petrillo; and to whom he has spoken about his conversations with investigators, the lawmaker said.
In a letter last week to the chairman, GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina accused the panel under Mr. Cummings’s leadership of being “out to attack the president for partisan gain,” noting that Mr. Cohen had previously lied to Congress in a 2017 hearing. They said they intended to question Mr. Cohen about his “conduct throughout his professional life and any other financial dealings he has had, including with his father-in-law.”
The documents Mr. Cohen plans to discuss in his public testimony partly reflect a way for Mr. Cohen to deflect attacks from Republican members of the committee, the person familiar with his plans said, adding: “He expects to be called a liar.”
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