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Michael Cohen Testifies Before House Oversight Committee. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired February 27, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:00] MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I believe that the top signature if Donald Trump Jr and that the bottom signature is, I believe, is Alan Weisselberg's.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Can you tell me the date of that check?
COHEN: March 17th of 2017.
CUMMINGS: Now, wait -- wait a minute, hold up.
The date on the check is after President Trump held his big press conference claiming that he gave up control of businesses. How could the president have arranged for you to get this check if he was supposedly playing no role in his business?
COHEN: Because the payments were designed to be paid over the course of 12 months and it was declared to be a retainer for services that would be provided for the year of 2017.
CUMMINGS: Was there a retainer agreement?
COHEN: There is no retainer agreement.
CUMMINGS: Would Don Jr. or Mr. Weisselberg have more information about that?
COHEN: Mr. Weisselberg for sure about the entire discussions and negotiations prior to the election. And Don Jr. would have cursory information.
CUMMINGS: Now, here's another one. This -- this one appears to be signed by Donald Trump himself. Is that his signature?
COHEN: That is Donald Trump's signature.
CUMMINGS: So let me make sure I understand.
Donald Trump wrote you a check out of his personal account while he was serving as president of the United States of America to reimburse you for hush money payments to Ms. Clifford. Is that what you are telling the American people today?
COHEN: Yes, Mr. Chairman. CUMMINGS: One final question.
The president claimed he knew nothing about these payments. His ethics filing said he owed nothing to you. Based on your conversations with him, is there any doubt in your mind that President Trump knew exactly what he was paying for?
COHEN: There is no doubt in my mind, and I truly believe there's no doubt in the mind of the people of the United States of America.
CUMMINGS: And these view (ph) documents appear to corroborate what you just told us.
With that I'll yield to (OFF-MIKE).
JORDAN: "I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we're in the courthouse and I will take you for every penny you still don't have and I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. So I'm warning you, tread very F-ing lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be F-ing disgusting, you understand me?"
Mr. Cohen, who said that?
COHEN: I did.
JORDAN: And did you say that, Mr. Cohen, in your testimony on page two -- you said you did things for Mr. Trump in an effort to protect him. Was that statement that I just read that you admitted to saying -- did you do that to protect Donald Trump?
COHEN: I did it to protect Mr. Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump.
JORDAN: And in your sentencing statement back in December in front of the judge, you said this, Mr. Cohen: "My weakness can be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump, a blind loyalty that led me to choose a path of darkness." Is that accurate, Mr. Cohen?
COHEN: I wrote that.
JORDAN: You wrote that and said that in front of the judge, is that right?
COHEN: That's correct.
JORDAN: Let me read a few other things here and let me ask you why you did some of these things.
When you filed a false tax return in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, was all that out of blind loyalty to the president?
COHEN: No, it was not.
JORDAN: When you failed to report $4 million in income to the Internal Revenue Service, did you do that to protect Donald Trump? COHEN: No, I did not.
JORDAN: And when you failed to pay $1.4 million in taxes -- I got constituents who don't make that in a lifetime -- when you failed to pay $1.4 million in taxes to the U.S. treasury, was that out of some blind loyalty to the president of the United States?
COHEN: It was not. But the number was $1.38 million and change and I have paid that money back to the IRS at this time.
JORDAN: I think the American people appreciate that, $1.3 million not (ph) $1.4 million.
COHEN: And I would also just like to say it was over a course of five years, approximately $260,000 year.
JORDAN: Yes, and that's what I said, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 -- that's five years.
JORDAN: Got it.
[11:05:00] When you made false statements to financial institutions concerning a home equity line of credit, taxi medallions, and your Park Avenue apartment in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and you pled guilty to making those false statements to those banks, was that all done to protect the president?
COHEN: No, it was not.
JORDAN: How about this one?
When you created the fake Twitter account Women for Cohen and paid a firm to post tweets like this one, "In a world of lies, deception and fraud, we appreciate this honest guy, @MichaelCohen #TGIF #handsome #sexy," was that done to protect the president?
COHEN: Mr. Jordan, I didn't actually set that up. It was done by a young lady that worked for Red Finch. And during the course of the campaign, which you would know, it's somewhat crazy and wild, we were having fun. That's what was, sir: We were having fun.
JORDAN: Was it done to protect the president?
COHEN: That was not done to protect the president.
JORDAN: Was it a fake Twitter account?
COHEN: That was -- no, that was a real Twitter account. It exists.
JORDAN: Did you pay a firm to create this Twitter account Women for Cohen?
COHEN: I didn't pay the firm to do that. It was done by a young lady that works for the firm. And again, sir, we were having fun during a stressful time.
JORDAN: The point is, Mr. Cohen, did you lie to protect the president or did you lie to help yourself?
COHEN: I'm not sure how that helped me, sir.
JORDAN: I'm not sure how it did either.
And I would like to also note that more than half the people on that site are men.
JORDAN: And here's the point -- here's the point. The chairman just gave you a 30-minute opening statement and you have a history of lying over and over and over again. And frankly, don't take my word for it, take what the court said, take what the Southern District of New York said.
"Cohen did crimes that were marked by a pattern of deception and that permeated his professional life. These crimes were distinct in their harms but very common set of circumstances: They each involved deception and were each -- each motivated by personal greed and ambition."
A pattern of deception for personal greed and ambition, and you just got 30 minutes of an opening statement where you trashed the president of the United States of America.
Mr. Cohen, how long did -- how long did you work for Donald Trump?
COHEN: Approximately a decade.
JORDAN: 10 years?
COHEN: That's correct.
JORDAN: And you said all these bad things about the president there in that last 30 minutes and yet you worked for him for 10 years? All those bad things?
I mean, it's that bad, I can see you working for him for 10 days, maybe 10 weeks, maybe even 10 months. But you worked for him for over 10 years.
Mr. Cohen, how long did you -- how long did you work in the White House?
COHEN: I never worked in the White House.
JORDAN: And that's the point, isn't it, Mr. Cohen?
COHEN: No, sir.
JORDAN: Yes, it is. COHEN: No, it's not, sir.
JORDAN: You wanted to work in the White House.
COHEN: No, sir.
JORDAN: You didn't get brought to the dance.
JORDAN: And now...
COHEN: Sir, I was extremely proud to be personal attorney to the president of the Untied States of America. I did not want to go to the White House. I was offered jobs. I can tell you a story of Mr. Trump reaming out Reince Priebus because I had not taken a job where Mr. Trump wanted to, which was working with Don McGahn at the White House General Counsel's Office.
JORDAN: No, you worked for the president...
COHEN: Sir, sir, one second. What I said at the time -- and I brought a lawyer in who produced a memo as to why I should not go in because there would be no attorney-client privilege. And in order to handle some of the matters that I talked about in my opening that it would be best suited for me not to go in, and that every president had a personal attorney...
JORDAN: Here's what I see. Here's what I see. I see a guy who worked for 10 years is here trashing the guy he worked for for 10 years, didn't get a job in the White House, and now -- and now you're behaving just like everyone else who's got fired or didn't get the job they wanted, like Andy McCabe, like James Comey -- same kind of selfish motivation after you don't get the thing you want. That's what I see here today, and I think that's what the American people...
COHEN: Mr. Jordan, all I wanted was what I got it, to be personal attorney to the president, to enjoy the senior year of my son in high school, and waiting for my daughter, who's graduating from college, to come back to New York. I got exactly what I want.
CUMMINGS: Gentleman's time...
JORDAN: Exactly what you want?
COHEN: What I wanted, that's right.
JORDAN: You're going to prison...
CUMMINGS: Gentlemen, gentlemen's time has expired...
COHEN: I received exactly what I wanted.
CUMMINGS: The gentlemen's time has expired. Ms. Wasserman Schultz.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Cohen, thank you for being here today. As you likely know, I served as the Chair of the Democratic National Committee at the time of the Russian hacks, and when Russia weaponized the messages that it had stolen, but I want to be clear my questions are not about the harm done to any individual by WikiLeaks and the Russians. It's about the possible and likely harm to the United States of America and our democracy.
[11:10:00] I have a series of questions that I hope will connect more of these dots. Mr. Cohen, is it your testimony that Mr. Trump had advanced knowledge of the Russia WikiLeaks release of the DNC's e- mails?
COHEN: I can't -- I cannot answer that in a yes or no. He had advanced notice that there was going to be a dump of e-mails, but at no time did I hear the specificity of what those e-mails were going to be.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But you do testify today that he advanced knowledge of their imminent release?
COHEN: That is what I had stated in my testimony.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And that he'd shared that outcome.
COHEN: Yes, ma'am.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Did Mr. Trump likely share this information with his daughter, Ivanka, son, Don Jr., or Jared Kushner?
COHEN: I'm not aware of that.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Was Ivanka, Jared, or Don Jr. still involved in the Russian tower deal at that time?
COHEN: The company was involved in the deal, which meant that the family was involved in the deal.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: If Mr. Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, and son, Donald Jr., are involved in the -- in the Russian Trump Tower deal, is it possible the whole family is conflicted or compromised with a foreign adversary in the months before the election?
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Based on your experience with the president and knowledge of his relationship with Mr. Stone, do you have reason to believe that the president explicitly or implicitly authorized Mr. Stone to make contact with WikiLeaks, and to indicate the campaign's interest in the strategic release of these illegally hacked materials?
COHEN: I'm not aware of that.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Was Mr. Stone a free agent reporting back to the president what he had done, or was he an agent of the campaign acting on behalf of the president, and with his apparent authority?
COHEN: No, he was a free agent.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: A free agent that was reporting back to the president what he had done?
COHEN: Correct, he frequently reached out to Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trump was very happy to take his calls. It was free service.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Roger Stone says he never spoke with Mr. Trump about WikiLeaks. How can we corroborate what you are saying?
COHEN: I don't know, but I suspect that the Special Counsel's Office and other government agencies have the information that you're seeking.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Moving onto a little later in 2016, a major WikiLeaks dump happens hours after the Access Hollywood tape is released. Do you believe or are you aware of Mr. Trump coordinating or signaling for this e-mail dump?
COHEN: I'm unaware of that. I actually was not even in the country at the time of the Billy Bush tape. I was in London visiting my daughter.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Knowing how Mr. Trump operates with his winning-at- all-costs mentality, do you believe that he would cooperate or collude with a foreign power to win the presidency? Is he capable of that?
COHEN: It calls on so much speculation. It would be unfair for me to answer that.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I understand, but you have a tremendous amount of experience even when you testified...
COHEN: Mr. Trump is all about winning.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And in your...
COHEN: He will do what is necessary to (inaudible) to win.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... and in your opinion and experience, would he have the potential to cooperate or collude with a foreign power to win the presidency at all costs.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Based on what you know, would Mr. Trump, or did he, lie about colluding and coordinating with the Russians at any point during the campaign?
COHEN: So as I've stated in my testimony, I wouldn't use the word "colluding." Was there something odd about the back and forth praise with President Putin? Yes. But I'm not really sure I can answer that question in terms of collusion. I was not part of the campaign. I don't know the other conversations that Mr. Trump had with other individuals. There's just so many dots that all seem to lead to the same direction.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And kindly before my time expires, Mr. Cohen: The campaign and the entire Trump organization appeared to be filthy with Russian contact. There are Russian business contacts. There are campaign Russia -- Russian contacts. There are lies about all of those contacts, and then we have Roger Stone informing the president just before the Democratic National Convention that these -- that WikiLeaks was going to drop documents in the public areas, that we knew at that point were hacked and stolen by Russia from the Democratic National Committee.
CUMMINGS: The gentlelady's time has expired. You may answer her inquiry.
[11:15:00] WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: My question is...
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... given all those connections, is it likely that Donald Trump was fully aware and had every intent of working with Russia to help make sure that he could win the presidency at all costs?
COHEN: Let me say that this is a matter that's currently being handled by the House Select and the Senate Select Intelligence Committees. And so I'd rather not answer that specific question, other than just to tell you that Mr. Trump's desire to win would have him work with anyone.
And one other thing that I had said in my statement, when it came to the Trump Tower Moscow project, it was worth hundreds of millions of dollars and we never expected to win the election. So this was just business as usual.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you, Mr. Cohen.
CUMMINGS: Mr. Green of Tennessee.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
GREEN: Thank you Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Jordan. The Chairman of this committee promised members of the American people a fair an open process, yet the Democrats vastly limited the scope of this hearing. They've issued a gag order to tell members of this committee what we can and cannot talk about. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle claim that they want the truth and they want transparency and fair oversight, yet the Democrats witness to testify before Congress today is none other than a scorned man who is going to prison for lying to Congress. Let that sink in -- he's going to prison for lying to Congress, and he's the star witness to Congress.
If you read the sentencing report on Mr. Cohen, words like "deceptive" and "greedy" are scattered throughout that report. It paints a picture of a narcissist, a bully who cannot tell the truth, whether it's about the president or about his own personal life. But today, he's the majority party's star witness.
If the Democrats were after the truth, they'd have an honest person here testifying. And if they were really after the truth, they'd not restrict the questioning to just a few topics, but let's take a look at those restricted topics.
Mr. Chairman, the first topic in your limited scope that I could ask Mr. Cohen is about the president's debts. But, Mr. Chairman, didn't Mr. Cohen plead guilty to lying to banks about his personal finances? So we're asking a guy going to jail for lying about his debts to comment about the president's debts. He's the expert.
Mr. Chairman, your next couple of topics say that I can ask Mr. Cohen about the president's compliance with financial disclosures and campaign finance laws, but didn't Mr. Cohen on two occasions break campaign-finance law with his own donation? So again, the majority party's star witness on the president's compliance is a guy who broke compliance laws himself.
Mr. Chairman, you graciously allow us to ask questions of Mr. Cohen on the president's dealings with the IRS and tax law. Your star witness here broke the law with regards to the IRS at least five times. He pled guilty on cheating on his taxes, lying to the IRS -- he is the best witness you got?
Next up, with the permission of the chairman, I get asked Mr. Cohen about his perspective on the president's business dealings. Let me get this straight: The witness lied to multiple financial institutions to get loans to pay off other loans just to keep himself afloat, and he is going to be the expert on business practices?
Obviously, Mr. Chairman, the witness may produce documents that he suggests incriminate the president, yet he lies to banks. All of those lies were done on fraudulent documents -- documents that he forged. Nothing he says or produces has any credibility. Apparently he even lied about delivering his own child, which his wife had to correct the record.
Ladies and gentlemen, how on earth is this witness credible? With all the lies and deception, the self-serving fraud, it begs the question, what is the majority party doing here? No one can see this guy as credible. He will say whatever he wants to accomplish his own personal goals. He is a fake witness, and his presence here is a travesty.
I hope the American people see through this. I know the people back in Tennessee will.
And with that statement, sir, I have a few questions of the witness.
With your loss of your law license -- and I think you mentioned in your opening statement that you had been disbarred, what is your source of income in the future?
[11:20:00] COHEN: I don't expect I'm going to have a source of income when I'm in a federal penitentiary.
GREEN: What -- is there a book deal coming or anything like that?
COHEN: I have no book deal right now in the process. I have been contacted by many, including for television, a movie -- if you want to tell me who you would like to play you, I'm more than happy to write the name down.
GREEN: I'm sure there's a very attractive...
COHEN: I would also like to turn around and just to correct your statement on me -- no...
GREEN: Well let me ask one other question though, I only have a limited amount of time...
COHEN: ... no individual...
GREEN: One quick -- one quick question: Who paid your expenses to be here today?
COHEN: Who has paid my expenses?
GREEN: To be here today?
COHEN: I paid my expenses.
GREEN: Mr. Chairman, I'd like to yield the remaining of my time to the ranking member.
JORDAN: Mr. Cohen, how many times have you talked to the special counsel's office?
JORDAN: Did they talk to you at all in preparation for today's hearing between the seven times you talked to them prior to your sentencing? Have you had any conversations with the special counsel's office between sentencing and today?
COHEN: I'm so sorry -- I don't understand your question.
JORDAN: You talked to them seven times. That's in the sentencing memorandums that were in front of the court back in December. What I'm asking is how many times you've talked to the Special Counsel's Office since then, up to today's appearance here in Congress?
CUMMINGS: The gentleman's time has expired. You may answer the question though, that one question.
COHEN: I'm sorry I don't have the answer to that.
CUMMINGS: Ms. Maloney.
MALONEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And, Mr. Cohen, in your 10 years of working for Donald Trump, 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: There was -- there was nothing that happened at the Trump Organization, from whether it was a response as the "Daily Beast" story that you referred to, Ranking Member, that did not go through Mr. Trump with his approval and sign off, as in the case of the payments.
MALONEY: How many -- how many times did the president, Michael, ask you or direct you to try to reach settlements with women in 2015 and 2016?
COHEN: I'm sorry, ma'am. I don't -- I don't have the answer to that. I'd have to go back and try to recollect. It's certainly the two that we know about.
MALONEY: And why -- why do you think the president did not provide the accurate information in his 2017 financial disclosure form? What was he trying to hide? He corrected other forms, but he didn't correct this one.
COHEN: The payments on the reimbursement of the funds that I expended on his behalf.
MALONEY: Can you elaborate more?
COHEN: Well, going back into the story as I stated when Allen Weisselberg and I left the office and we went to his office in order to make the determination on how money was going to be wired to the IOLA -- the Interest on the Lawyer's Account for Keith Davidson in California. I had asked Allen to use his money. I didn't want to use mine, and he said he couldn't, and we then decided how else we can do it. And he asked me whether or not I know anybody who wants to have a party at one of his clubs that could pay me instead, or somebody who may have wanted to become a member of one of the golf clubs. I also don't have anybody that was interested in that.
COHEN: And it got to the point where it was down to the wire. It was either, we -- somebody wired the funds and purchased the life rights to the story from Ms. Clifford, or it was going to end up being sold to television. And that would have embarrassed the president, and it would have interfered with the election.
MALONEY: But the president has never amended his 2017 form, to this day. And while you're facing the consequences of going to jail, he is not.
COHEN: Well, I believe that they amended a financial disclosure form. And there's a footnote somewhere, buried. I don't recall, specifically, what it says. But there is a footnote buried somewhere.
MALONEY: Can you describe, Michael, to the American people, catch and kill?
COHEN: So catch and kill is a method that exists when you're working with a news outlet. In this specific case it was AMI National Enquirer David Pecker, Dylan Howard, and others, where they would contact me, or Mr. Trump, or someone, and state that there's a story that's percolating out there that you may be interested in. And then, what you do is you contact that individual, and you purchase the rights to that story from them.
MALONEY: And -- and you practiced this for the president?
COHEN: I was involved in several of these catch and kill episodes. But these catch and kill scenarios existed between David Pecker and Mr. Trump long before I started working for him in 2007.
MALONEY: Michael, can you suggest who else this committee should talk to for additional information on this, or anything else?
COHEN: Yes. I believe David Pecker, Dylan Howard, Barry Levine of AMI as well, Allen Weisselberg, Alan Garten of the Trump Organization as well.
MALONEY: Well, thank you very much for your testimony. And Mr. Chairman, this is a story of redemption.
COHEN: Thank you, ma'am.
CUMMINGS: Mr. Comer.
COMER: Mr. Cohen, in your testimony you stated that you began work for the Trump Organization as a lawyer dealing with real estate transactions. Is that correct?
COHEN: That's correct.
COMER: Prior to coming to Congress, I served as the director for two different banks. So I've seen hundreds of loan applications. And to try to determine your credibility here today, I just wanted to ask you a couple of real estate transaction questions just to see how, in fact, you -- you operate. According to the Southern District of New York prosecutors, you lied to banks to secure loans by falsely stating the amount of debt you were carrying. Mr. Cohen, question to you; was it Donald Trump's fault that you knowingly committed a crime of deception to defraud a bank?
COHEN: No, it's not.
COMER: Was that fraudulent loan you obtained for the Trump Organization or for you personally?
COHEN: It would be for me, though I'm not familiar with which loan that you're referring to. I would like to ...
COHEN: I would like to say one thing.
COMER: Mr. Cohen.
COHEN: Sir, I would like just to respond. When we're talking about...
COMER: The loan that you plead guilty...
COHEN: When we're talking about the home equity line of credit, which is what I believe you're referring to...
COMER: We're also referring...
COHEN: ... no...
COMER: ... (inaudible) question...
COHEN: ... no individual...
COMER: ... pertaining to your summer home that you purchased, too.
COHEN: I never purchased a summer home.
No individual, or no bank, in the 22 years that I've had loans, have ever lost a dollar with me. I owe no money to any bank.
COMER: Well, the banks usually find out if someone's trying to deceive them.
COHEN: In 22 years...
COMER: Did -- did your -- did your, so-called, blind loyalty...
COHEN: ... I have no money that's ever been owed...
COMER: Mr. Cohen.
COHEN: ... to any individual...
COMER: Mr. Chairman.
COHEN: ... or any bank.
COMER: Mr. Cohen, did your, so-called, blind loyalty to the president cause you to defraud the bank for your own personal gain?
COHEN: Sir, I take exception to that, because there's never been a fraud on a -- I never defrauded any bank.
COMER: Well, let's dig a little deeper on that -- on the bank fraud. According to the Southern District of New York, you failed to disclose more than $20 million in liabilities, as well as tens of thousands of dollars of monthly expenses. That's according to the Southern District of New York.
Now, Mr. Cohen, you being a lawyer, surely you knew you were breaking the law. Now -- now, why would you have done that?
COHEN: Sir, I'm not a CPA. And I plead guilty. I'm going to prison as a result of it.
COMER: Because you're a con?
COHEN: No, sir, because I plead guilty, and I am going to be doing the time. I have caused tremendous -- tremendous pain to my family. And I take no...
COMER: Let's -- let's go back to the...
COHEN: ... happiness in the (inaudible).
COMER: One last question about the bank. When the bank found out about the liabilities that you failed to disclose, you lied again to the bank -- this is according to the Southern District of New York, and said it had been expunged when, in fact, you just shifted the debt to another bank. So apparently according to the information that -- that we received, your intent to defraud the bank was for the desire to purchase the summer home for $8.5 million.
COHEN: No, sir.
COMER: That's not right?
COHEN: That would've been off of an equity line, considering I had less than a 50 percent loan-to-value on the assets. And it was a preexisting line of credit that existed years before the date that you're referring to, where this is all surrounding New York City taxi medallions. COMER: But you understand that when you fail to disclose liabilities, especially $20 million in liabilities, that is, in fact, fraud.
COHEN: Except even with the $20 million in liability...
COMER: How much was it?
COHEN: ... the medallions were, at that time, worth over $45 million.
COMER: Mr. -- Mr. Cohen, you called Donald Trump a cheat in your opening testimony. What would you call yourself?
COHEN: A fool.
COMER: You calling -- OK, well, no comment on that.
COHEN: I -- I appreciate that (ph).
COMER: Mr. Chairman, we said we were in search of the truth. I -- I don't believe that Michael Cohen is capable of telling the truth.