We’ll be providing live updates of Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee, so check back here throughout the day to follow along.
With that, the hearing is over and people are making closing statements. By way of an overview, there are three new legal issues that surfaced as part of this hearing:
- Cohen clearly established with both his testimony and documents that Trump directed the hush-money payments, including checks he signed while in office. That means that the president directed one of the crimes for which Cohen is going to jail.
- Trump’s legal team reviewed and made changes to Cohen’s previous congressional testimony in which he lied about Trump Tower Moscow.
- Trump lied in his testimony to Robert Mueller when he said that he had no knowledge of the Wikileaks email dump prior to it happening.
There is also the fact that Cohen said that federal prosecutors in SDNY are currently investigating illegal activities he is aware of, but weren’t discussed in the hearing today.
Beyond the legal issues, one of the most explosive revelations came when Cohen said that Trump had directed him to threaten people (not necessarily physically) over 500 times over the course of ten years. That is the character of the man who currently resides in the White House.
Finally, Cohen stated that Donald Trump never expected to become president, but simply saw his candidacy as “the greatest informercial of all time.”
Tlaib says that using a black woman as a prop to deny Trump’s racism is racist in and of itself. Meadows, who is responsible for doing that, erupts. Chair Cummings does a great job of calming things down.
.@RashidaTlaib calls out @RepMarkMeadows for using a black woman as a prop to “prove” that Trump isn’t racist. Says that stunt itself is racist.
Meadows freaks out, demands Tlaib’s words be struck from the record.
Cummings lets Tlaib continue. pic.twitter.com/PbRtnqvhuO
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) February 27, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez did an excellent job of delving into how Trump devalues his business properties to reduce his tax bill.
Cohen just implicated Don Trump, Jr. in the repayments to him for hush money.
On a couple of occasions, Republicans have been dismissive of Cohen’s claim that Lanny Davis isn’t being paid to represent him. You have to wonder if they are aware that Rudy Giuliani claims he isn’t getting paid to represent Trump or that Paul Manafort worked as Trump’s campaign manager for free.
Here is an interesting tidbit about the committee that is questioning Cohen:
U.S. House Oversight Committee
— Charlotte Clymer ?️? (@cmclymer) February 27, 2019
Here’s some news that broke during the committee hearing:
whomp whomp pic.twitter.com/Ba8fCWVdR8
— Adam Parkhomenko (@AdamParkhomenko) February 27, 2019
There’s been some interesting feedback on Cohen’s suggestion that Trump talks in code.
Cohen: “[Trump] doesn’t give orders. He speaks in code. And I understand that code.”
I was once assigned to FBI Organized Crime Squad in Queens, NY. Can’t begin to number amount of Mob cooperators who described their abilities to interpret Mob Boss’s orders in exact same manner.
— James A. Gagliano (@JamesAGagliano) February 27, 2019
Along with several others on twitter, a former federal prosecutor SDNY seconded that statement.
While the committee takes a break, let’s take a look at part of Cohen’s opening testimony that hasn’t come up during the hearing yet.
When I say conman, I’m talking about a man who declares himself brilliant but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges, and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores. As I mentioned, I’m giving the Committee today copies of a letter I sent at Mr. Trump’s direction threatening these schools with civil and criminal actions if Mr. Trump’s grades or SAT scores were ever disclosed without his permission.
Those would count as several of the over 500 instances when Cohen was directed by Trump to threaten someone. But they’re also a perfect example of how almost every accusation the president makes about his opponents (particularly Barack Obama) are projections. The fact that Trump doesn’t want us to know about his school records goes directly to this claim from back in 2012.
The committee has taken a break for about an hour.
After making it clear that Cohen was vice-chair of the RNC Finance Committee until eight months ago, Plaskett requested a referral to ethics committee of Rep. Matt Gaetz for possible witness intimidation because of this tweet last night.
Some historical perspective.
conservatives would never lionize someone who lied to congress pic.twitter.com/Flp2q2UaVi
— John Whitehouse+ (@existentialfish) February 27, 2019
Steube says that he doesn’t know a lawyer who would believe anything Cohen has to say. And yet…
A reminder that Mueller has vouched for Cohen’s truthfulness since he turned state’s evidence. pic.twitter.com/GsaCsLNiaL
— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) February 27, 2019
Miller jumps on the bandwagon of suggesting that Cohen’s testimony is all about an attempt to make money – as he prepares to go to prison for three years.
Wow – Cohen just said that Trump asked him to threaten someone (not necessarily physically) over 500 times.
Here’s video of Cohen trying to warn congressional Republicans:
In a moment demonstrating that not all members of congress are the brightest bulbs, Rep. Higgins (R-LA) has asked Cohen twice about the boxes he says he searched for documents that he shared with the committee. Higgins wants to know why they haven’t been turned over to the investigative authorities. Cohen keeps trying to tell him that they were seized when his offices were raided. Higgins still doesn’t seem to get it.
Just after the break, Cohen pointed out that no Republican has asked a single question about Donald Trump. Here’s a good summary of the line of questioning we’ve seen from them.
So far, R’s main ways to defend Trump w/ their line of q’s:
– Cohen wanted a WH job, turned when he didn’t get it
– He’s to get book/movie deals that will lead to $$
– He’s trying to get a reduced sentence
– He’s going to prison for lying to Congress, meaning he’s not credible
— Tarini Parti (@tparti) February 27, 2019
Cohen says that when giving instructions to staff, Trump speaks in code. The example he gave was if Trump said something like, “That is the greatest tie, isn’t it?” People know exactly what he wants them to say. It reminds me of how the president told James Comey that he hoped the former FBI director would drop the investigation into Michael Flynn. It would be interesting to know if Cohen thought that was the kind of code he was referring to.
Harley focused his questions on Trump’s close connection to convicted Russian mobster Felix Sater, who had an office on the same floor of Trump Tower as Donald Trump that he didn’t pay for.
Cohen says that, when reviewing his previous congressional testimony (in which he lied about Trump Tower Moscow), the president’s legal team made changes, including what he said about timing of discussions.
Raskin: Our colleagues are not mad you lied for POTUS, they’re mad you stopped lying.
Cohen says that his last communication with Trump on anyone on his behalf came last fall, a couple of months after the raid on his offices. When asked about the substance of that communication, he said that it is currently part of the investigation by federal prosecutors.
The committee is taking a break. When it comes to the big picture, you’d have a good idea about what’s happened if you read Cohen’s written testimony and knew that the Republican response was to basically call him a liar.
Republicans have put up a poster behind their seats that has a picture of Cohen with the words, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” I can only assume that they think that is mature and dispositive. Cohen calls it “silly,” and suggests that he understands what they’re doing because he did the same thing for Trump for ten years.
If Republicans weren’t so focused on repeating that Cohen is a liar, they might have noticed an inconsistency in his testimony. On the one hand, he told Wasserman-Schultz that Trump would do anything and collude with anyone to win the presidency. On the other hand, when talking about Trump Tower Moscow, he said that the reason the president continued to work on that deal was because he never expected to win the election, but simply saw his candidacy as “the greatest informercial of all time.”
Cohen says Trump used inaccurate financial information to secure lower premiums from insurance companies. He also says that Trump inflated his wealth when reporting to outlets like Forbes. Here’s some background on that.
Meadows engaged in some pretty hostile questioning of Cohen’s contracts with businesses to provide them with information about Trump. Meadows claims it was to provide access, but Cohen was clear that the contracts excluded any language related to lobbying. Other than getting to yell at Cohen, not sure what Meadows was trying to accomplish.
Republican members of the committee have so far focused their time on the personal crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to. On two occasions they suggested that Democrats should call witnesses who don’t have a history of lying. If they followed that course, it is hard to think of anyone who has worked for Trump that would qualify.
Maloney asks Cohen how many times during 2015 and 2016 Trump asked him to engage in hush money cover-ups. He says he can’t answer without checking records. In other words, he intimates there are more than the two we’ve heard about.
Jordan is now claiming that the reason Cohen turned on Trump is because he didn’t get a job in the White House.
Jordan is accusing Cohen of lying on his tax returns and making false statements to banks – attempting to make the point that none of that was in an effort to protect Trump.
Good summary of Cohen’s opening statement:
Things Michael Cohen says Donald Trump is guilty of:
1) Bank fraud
2) Tax fraud
3) Campaign finance felonies
— MrElias (@TheEliasRework) February 27, 2019
Cohen claims that he doesn’t have direct knowledge about whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. This is where his testimony is suspect for me. He was too close and knows too much. On the other hand, there would be huge consequences if he is lying and Mueller has evidence to the contrary.
Cohen is outlining how Trump knowingly engaged in a criminal effort to violate campaign finance laws via the hush money Cohen paid to women with whom the president had affairs.
Cohen shared 3 years of Trump’s financial statements, which were submitted to Deutsche Bank in his failed attempt to purchase the Buffalo Bills.
Cohen says that Trump never intended to win the presidency, but saw it as “the greatest informercial of all time,” in other words: a marketing opportunity.
On Trump Tower Moscow, Cohen says that Trump didn’t directly tell him to lie about it because that’s not how he works. But via his statements both publicly and privately, the president lied, which sent the message that Cohen should as well. He also said that Trump’s legal team reviewed his previous testimony to congress, which was a lie.
Cohen summarizes by saying that Trump is a racist, a con man, and a cheat.
Rep. Jordan’s opening statement basically came down to calling the president’s former lawyer a liar.
Rep. Cummings: “Ladies and gentlemen, the days of this committee protecting the president at all costs are over.” Elections matter.
10: 05 a.m.
Right off the bat, Rep. Meadows moves to delay the hearing because they got Cohen’s written statement and documents too late. The delay tactic will be to call for a voice vote on every objection Republicans throw out. We’ll have to see how long Rep. Cummings puts up with that.
Prior to the start of the hearing, the person Cohen refers to in his opening remarks as “Trump’s TV lawyer” indicated where Republicans on the committee are likely to go.
Just in: Rudy Giuliani calls Cohen testimony “pathetic” in text message to Washington Post and says, “If you believe him you are a fool.” pic.twitter.com/a0ukJO5Nv5
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) February 27, 2019
The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10:00 am ET, but overnight the New York Times published Cohen’s opening statement, which is full of bombshells. For example, there is this about Roger Stone and Wikileaks:
As I earlier stated, Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about theWikiLeaks drop of emails. In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with 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 will testify about Trump’s involvement in violations of campaign finance laws.
As Exhibit 5 to my testimony shows, I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1, 2017 – when he was President of the United States –pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me – the word used by Mr. Trump’s TV lawyer — for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf. This $35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year – while he was President.The President of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws. You can find the details of that scheme, directed by Mr.Trump, in the pleadings in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District ofNew York.So picture this scene – in February 2017, one month into his presidency.
As I noted on Tuesday, Cohen brought the receipts.
FIRST ON CNN! Michael Cohen will show Congress a copy of this $35,000 check that he says President Trump signed from his personal bank account on August 1, 2017, part of a reimbursement for hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. pic.twitter.com/xXsBiZK7wE
— Javi Morgado (@javimorgado) February 27, 2019
In terms of what to expect from Republicans on the committee, Maggie Haberman has this:
Expect to hear calls from POTUS supporters in congress to adjourn. https://t.co/LRIgHJ1o9r
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) February 27, 2019
Last night Republican Matt Gaetz engaged in what appeared to be a clear case of witness tampering on twitter.
After Speaker Pelosi tweeted out a call for members to be mindful of their comments on social media, Gaetz deleted the tweet and apologized. But at some point during all of that, he had this exchange with Alex Ward.
That should bring you up to date as we await the start of the hearing. Check back here and we’ll fill you in on the fireworks when/if they explode.