KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Michael Cohen Implicates President Trump For Wrongdoing In Wednesday's Testimony

Feb 27, 2019
Originally published on February 28, 2019 10:29 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And now more on Michael Cohen's testimony from NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Michael Cohen went from Trump's loyal enforcer and fixer to the guy under oath before Congress and the nation releasing details about Trump that seemed custom-designed for maximum embarrassment, describing his former boss in the worst possible light.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL COHEN: I plead guilty in federal court to felonies for the benefit of, at the direction of and in coordination with individual No. 1. And for the record, individual No. 1 is President Donald J. Trump.

KEITH: As far as witnesses go, Cohen is hardly the most sympathetic or reliable, something Republicans on the committee spent most of their time highlighting. In a tweet before the hearing, President Trump pointed out Cohen had just been disbarred for, quote, "lying and fraud." Trump went on to say that Cohen was now lying to reduce his prison time.

Cohen pleaded guilty to financial crimes unrelated to Trump, lying to Congress about a Trump Tower Moscow project and campaign finance violations for hush money payments made to two women who alleged affairs with Trump.

Today, as he has before, Cohen implicated President Trump in those payments but this time with documentation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COHEN: And these include a copy of a check Mr. Trump wrote from his personal bank account, after he became president, to reimburse me for the hush money payments I made to cover up his affair with an adult film star and to prevent damage to his campaign.

KEITH: Again and again, Cohen placed Trump in the room, directing Cohen and others to put out false information.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COHEN: Everybody's job at the Trump Organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day, most of us knew we were coming in, and we were going to lie for him on something. And that became the norm.

KEITH: Inflating his net worth to magazine writers and even insurance companies and a bank, finding a straw buyer to make sure a portrait of Trump got the highest bid at a charity auction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COHEN: The portrait was purchased by the fake bidder for $60,000. Mr. Trump directed the Trump Foundation, which is supposed to be a charitable organization, to repay the fake bidder despite keeping the art for himself.

KEITH: Making threats to reporters and even universities who he wanted to make sure didn't release his college transcripts.

This is California Democrat Jackie Speier questioning Cohen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACKIE SPEIER: How many times did Mr. Trump ask you to threaten an individual or entity on his behalf?

COHEN: Quite a few times.

SPEIER: Fifty times?

COHEN: More.

SPEIER: A hundred times?

COHEN: More.

SPEIER: Two hundred times?

COHEN: More.

SPEIER: Five hundred times?

COHEN: Probably.

KEITH: Cohen alleges he regularly updated Trump on an effort during the campaign to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen says he talked to Trump and one of his lawyers before providing false testimony about the tower project to Congress, though notably Cohen didn't say Trump specifically directed him to lie about it.

New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney tried to tease out Trump's level of involvement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CAROLYN MALONEY: Did he control everything that went on in the Trump Organization? And did you have to get his permission in advance and report back after every meeting of any importance?

COHEN: Yes.

KEITH: But what does this all mean for Trump?

Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine who specializes in campaign finance, says the new information revealed in the hearing is tantalizing but not conclusive.

RICK HASEN: We've learned a lot of things that are politically embarrassing. The question is whether we've learned anything much of legal significance. And on that, I think it's uncertain.

KEITH: And that's a question for congressional Democrats, too. The Oversight Committee's chairman, Elijah Cummings, said Cohen's testimony would be the beginning of the investigative process, not the end.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.