Trump knew about email hack, Cohen tells Congress

BBC – US President Donald Trump’s former 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 rang Mr Trump to say he had been speaking to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who told him there would be a “massive dump” of emails within a couple of days that would politically embarrass Hillary Clinton’s White House campaign.

The witness said Mr Trump responded along the lines of “wouldn’t that be great”.

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

The messages – which US authorities say were hacked by Russian intelligence – caused a damaging rift among Democrats by exposing how party officials preferred 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.

What did Cohen say about Moscow project?

He said Mr Trump “knew of and directed” 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,” said Cohen. “He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars.”

However, Cohen has been convicted of lying to Congress when he testified in 2017 that attempts to build a Trump skyscraper in Moscow had stopped by January 2016.

He has since acknowledged 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 testified that, contrary to Mr Trump’s repeated claims, he seemed to 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 allegation?

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.

He submitted to the committee a copy of his $130,000 (£97,000) wire transfer to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet – a payment which led to Cohen’s conviction for campaign finance violations.

Cohen also gave the panel a copy of a $35,000 cheque dated August 2017 – one of a series he said Mr Trump signed to pay him back in instalments.

“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 and colleges not to release his grades to reporters
  • He says Mr Trump 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 Mr Trump told him: “You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam”

Were there any other key moments?

Cohen suggested federal prosecutors in New York are investigating some unspecified crime involving Trump.

Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat, asked Cohen about his final conversation with Mr Trump, which the witness said happened about two months after the FBI raided Cohen’s home and office last April.

Cohen said he could not divulge what they discussed because it was currently being investigated by the Southern District of New York prosecutor.

Mr Krishnamoorthi pressed: “Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven’t yet discussed today?”

“Yes, and again, those are part of the investigation that is currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York,” Cohen replied.

How did committee members respond?

During the hearing, the president’s fellow Republicans pilloried committee Democrats for inviting a man convicted of lying to Congress.

Jim Jordan of Ohio called Cohen – who lost his law licence on Tuesday – a “fraudster” and “cheat”.

“Certainly it’s the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness in a hearing,” said the lawmaker, a Trump ally.

But committee chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, defended the decision to give Cohen a public platform, saying it was the panel’s job to search out the truth.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who led the DNC when it was hacked, asked the witness: “Is it possible the whole [Trump] family is conflicted or compromised with a foreign adversary in the months before the election?”

Cohen said yes.

But Arizona Republican Paul Gosar told Cohen: “Look at the old adage that our moms taught us: ‘Liar, liar pants on fire.’ No one should ever listen to you and give you credibility. It’s sad.”

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