By Tim Elfrink
WASHINGTON - Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, will tell Congress on Wednesday that Trump knew his longtime adviser Roger Stone was communicating with WikiLeaks about publishing stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee, according to the text of his prepared opening statement.
In the prepared remarks, Cohen calls Trump a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat,” and also levels accusations that the president personally signed a check to cover “hush money payments” to keep quiet an affair with adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. Cohen says Trump never directly told him to lie to Congress about his business dealings in Moscow but claims the president implicitly encouraged him to do so.
A person familiar with the testimony said the document, first published by Politico, reflects what Cohen submitted as his prepared remarks, though they could change somewhat when he delivers them Wednesday to the House Oversight Committee.
“He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat,” the remarks say, referring to Trump. “He was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails.”
Trump, who is in Vietnam for his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, didn’t respond when a reporter asked him about Cohen as he sat next to Kim, The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker reported. Earlier Wednesday morning, Trump sent a tweet accusing Cohen of lying.
“Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud,” Trump tweeted. “He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!”
In a statement sent earlier via text message to The Post, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, also questioned Cohen’s truthfulness.
“It’s pathetic. This is a lawyer who [taped] his own client when he claimed he was being loyal. If you believe him you are a fool,” Giuliani said. “He bragged he was connected to Russian organized crime and he may be. His father in law who gave him millions to [invest] was convicted of tax fraud in a money laundering operation. Let’s see if these Democrats want to ask about his many crimes having nothing to do with anyone but his coterie of business associates with questionable connections.”
Cohen plans to testify that in July 2016, shortly before the Democratic convention, he overheard Trump and Stone discussing Assange’s plans. WikiLeaks released stolen DNC emails on July 22, 2016, three days before the Democratic convention.
“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,” the testimony notes. “Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of ‘wouldn’t that be great.’ “
Stone was indicted last month for lying, obstruction and witness tampering in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump has denied ever talking with Stone about WikiLeaks. The person familiar with the testimony said Cohen does not have other evidence, such as contemporaneous memos, to support his recollection of the call he claims to have overheard between Stone and the president.
In the testimony, Cohen paints Trump as a virulent racist in private.
“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,” Cohen’s testimony notes. “While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood 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.”
Cohen says Trump directed him to pay off Daniels and to lie to Melania Trump about the relationship. Cohen plans to give Congress a copy of the $130,000 wire transfer he sent Daniels’s attorney during the campaign as well what he describes as a $35,000 check signed by the president from his personal bank account on Aug. 1, 2017. He says it was one in a series of installments Trump made to reimburse him for that hush-money payout.
Cohen has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations related to the payments to Daniels. Trump claims he never told Cohen to send money to the adult film actress.
“He asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair, and to lie to his wife about it, which I did. Lying to the first lady is one of my biggest regrets. She is a kind, good person. I respect her greatly - and she did not deserve that,” his remarks say.
The president’s former lawyer says that Trump continued negotiating for a luxury condo tower project in Russia throughout the 2016 campaign. Cohen has also pleaded guilty to lying about that project in his 2017 testimony to the Senate and House intelligence committees.
“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 the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project,” Cohen’s remarks say.
Cohen adds that Trump “did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates.” But he alleges that Trump’s “personal lawyers” reviewed his untruthful testimony ahead of time.
“I lied about it, too - because 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,” the remarks say. “And he made it clear to me because his personal attorneys reviewed my statement before I gave it to Congress.”
Cohen plans to testify that he has no direct knowledge of Trump’s campaign coordinating with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. But he does recount an encounter, “probably in early June 2016,” between Trump and Donald Trump Jr. that he suggests may have been related to the president’s son meeting that same month with a Russian lawyer whom intermediaries had suggested had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
“I recalled Don Jr. leaning over to his father and speaking in a low voice, which I could clearly hear, and saying, ‘The meeting is all set.’ I remember Mr. Trump saying, ‘OK good. . .let me know,’” Cohen’s remarks say. “What struck me as I looked back and thought about that exchange between Don Jr. and his father was, first, that Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world. And also, that Don Jr. would never set up any meeting of any significance alone - and certainly not without checking with his father.”
Cohen also claims that Trump misused money and misrepresented his finances. In one case, Cohen says Trump directed him to find a straw bidder to purchase a portrait of himself at an auction.
After the bidder bought the painting for $60,000, the Trump Foundation reimbursed the person with funds meant for charitable use, Cohen says. In 2016, The Post reported that Trump used $20,000 in Trump Foundation money to purchase a 6-foot-tall portrait of himself at a children’s charity event at Mar-a-Lago in 2007, possibly in violation of IRS rules.
More broadly, Cohen’s testimony depicts Trump as self-serving and vain. He describes Trump bragging about avoiding Vietnam War service though a bone spurs diagnosis, supposedly telling his attorney, “You think I’m stupid, I wasn’t going to Vietnam.” Cohen also plans to testify that he drafted threatening letters on Trump’s behalf to schools and colleges he attended, warning them not to release his grades; he promised to provide one such letter to the committee.
Cohen, who will start a three-year prison term for his crimes later this year, casts himself in the testimony as a loyal follower horrified that Trump actually won the presidential election.
“Never in a million years did I imagine, when I accepted a job in 2007 to work for Donald Trump, that he would one day run for President, launch a campaign on a platform of hate and intolerance, and actually win,” the remarks say. “I regret the day I said ‘yes’ to Mr. Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way.”
The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind S. Helderman and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.