7 key takeaways from Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen's testimony to Congress

Cohen arrives to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in Washington.
Cohen arrives to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in Washington.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen called Trump a "racist," "conman" and "cheat" in testimony on Wednesday (Feb 27) before a committee of the US House of Representatives committee.

Here are highlights from his opening statement:

WIKILEAKS EMAIL DUMP

Cohen said Trump, the Republican candidate, knew WikiLeaks would release hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time.

He said he was in Trump's office at Trump Tower when Roger Stone told Trump he had spoken with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that Assange had told Stone that within a couple of days there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage rival Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Cohen said Trump responded, "Wouldn't that be great."

TRUMP TOWER MEETING WITH RUSSIANS

Cohen said that, after reading 2017 media accounts of a Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 involving Donald Trump Jr, others from the Trump campaign and Russians, he recalled Donald Jr entering a room that month, leaning over his father's desk and, speaking in a low voice, saying, "the meeting is all set."

"I remember Mr. Trump saying, 'OK, good... Let me know."

Cohen said that Donald Jr would never set up a meeting of any significance on his own and not without checking with his father, and that nothing went on in "Trump world," especially the campaign, without Trump's knowledge and approval.

He said Trump had frequently told him and others that Donald Jr "had the worst judgment of anyone in the world."

HUSH-MONEY PAYMENTS

Cohen said Trump asked him to pay off an adult film star with whom Trump had had an affair, and to lie about it to Trump's wife Melania.

Cohen gave the committee a copy of the US$130,000 (S$175,000) wire transfer during the closing days of the presidential campaign from him to an attorney for Stephanie Clifford, whose screen name is Stormy Daniels.

He said the actress had demanded the payment to maintain her silence about her affair with Trump.

He said Trump told Cohen to use his own personal funds from a home equity line of credit to avoid any money being traced back to Trump that could hurt the campaign.

Cohen also provided the committee a copy of a US$35,000 personal cheque signed by Trump on Aug 1, 2017, to reimburse him "for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf."

He said the cheque was one of 11 installments paid throughout the year. Other reimbursement cheques were signed by Trump Organisation finance chief Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr, Cohen said.

MOSCOW TRUMP TOWER

Cohen said Trump lied when he said negotiations to build a Trump tower in Moscow ended in January 2016 and that Trump asked him about the negotiations as late as June of that year.

He said Trump did not tell him directly to lie to Congress about the negotiations but that he inferred from his boss' statements that he should do so and that Trump's lawyers reviewed and edited his statements to Congress in a previous appearance.

CHEATING

Cohen told the committee that Trump inflated the worth of his total assets "when it served his purposes," such as trying to be listed as one of Forbes magazine's wealthiest people, and deflated them to reduce his real estate taxes.

He also said Trump directed him to find a straw, or fake bidder, to buy a Trump portrait that was being auctioned, in order to ensure it went for the highest price of any portrait that day.

 

Cohen said the fake bidder bought the painting for US$60,000.

"Mr Trump directed the Trump Foundation, which is supposed to be a charitable organisation, to repay the fake bidder, despite keeping the art for himself,"Cohen said.

Cohen also said he commonly called owners of businesses that were owed money for their services and told them there would be no payment or reduced payment.

"When I told Mr Trump of my success, he actually revelled in it," Cohen testified.

RACISM

Cohen said Trump has publicly courted white supremacists and bigots, and has called poorer countries "s***holes."

"In private, he is even worse," the lawyer told the committee.

"He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn't a 's***hole.' This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States."

Cohen recalled driving through a struggling Chicago neighbourhood and Trump telling him 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."

TRUMP'S CHARACTER

"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," Cohen told the committee.

He recalled that in 2011 Trump criticised Obama for not releasing his grades, calling the Democratic president "a terrible student."

He said that, since becoming president, Trump "has become the worst version of himself. He is capable of behaving kindly, but he is not kind. He is capable of committing acts of generosity, but he is not generous. He is capable of being loyal, but he is fundamentally disloyal.

"Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great," Cohen said.

"He had no desire or intention to lead this nation - only to market himself and to build his wealth and power."