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Cohen Arrives For Testimony On Capitol Hill; Michael Cohen Testifies Before House Oversight Committee. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 27, 2019 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANCHER (off camera): They're the majority in the House of Representatives. They can decide what to do. I don't know if Michael Cohen would be testifying if the Republicans were still the majority in the House of Representatives.

(Laughter)

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST (off camera): I know.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (off camera): I know.

TOOBIN (off camera): They say that facetiously.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN'S CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (off camera): And is truth of the matter is, oversight is Congress's responsibility. If you like the guy in the White House, and the party that controls Congress is doing oversight, then you probably think that they are a bunch of partisan hacks.

If you don't like the guy in the White House, and the opposing party controls the House Oversight Committee, you probably think that it is the most noble mission there is.

Carl Bernstein, I wanted to ask you a question about the credibility of Michael Cohen, because we were talking about Watergate, we're talking about John Dean versus Michael Cohen and the significantly -- there are a lot of differences, obviously, as you were noting in terms of both.

John Dean was the White House Counsel, Michael Cohen, was a fixer outside the White House. John Dean had credibility issues also. He was under attack by the White House as well. People there accused him of lying, but Michael Cohen, has much deeper ones.

CARL BERNSTEIN, LEGENDARY WATERGATE JOURNALIST (off camera): He does, because he has a known history of lying and perjuring, which we do not -- did not have with John Dean. So that his credibility is, as the Republicans say, is central to what happens today. And the American people, for the first time, are going to get to judge his credibility based on how he appears today.

Let me add one point about the Trump Tower Moscow, and why it's so important? It's what we know. We do know very little from what Mueller has shown us, but he has shown us through his investigators questions to other witnesses that time and again he has asked about Trump Tower Moscow, and whether that is at the heart of a conspiracy.

BLITZER (off camera): Hold on.

TAPPER (off camera): It is important.

BLITZER (off camera): Hold on. I think Elijah Cummings is about to bring this public hearing to (INAUDIBLE).

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D)-MARYLAND, CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: The committee will - order. Without objection the chair is authorized to declare a recess of the committee at any time. The full committee hearing convening to hear the testimony of Michael Cohen, former attorney to President Donald Trump.

REP. MARK MEADOWNS, ( R)-NORTH CAROLINA (on camera): Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order.

CUMMINGS: You'll state your point of order.

MEADOWNS (on camera): Rule F, Real Rule 9 F of the committee rules say that any testimony from your witness needs to be here 24 hours in advance. The committee, and the chairman, knows well that at 10:08, we received the written testimony, and then we received evidence this morning at 7:54.

Now, if this was just an oversight, Mr. Chairman, I could look beyond it, but it was an intentional effort by this witness and his advisors to once again show his disdain for this body, and with that I move that we postpone this hearing.

REP. JIM JORDON (R)-OHIO (off camera): (INAUDIBLE).

CUMMINGS: I want to thank the gentleman.

JORDON (off camera): (INAUDIBLE).

CUMMINGS: Let me say this, that we got the testimony late last night. We did, and we got it to you all, pretty much the same time that we got it. I want to move forward with this hearing.

MEADOWNS (on camera): Mr. Chairman, with all due respect. Mr. chairman, this is a violation of the rule. And if it was not intentional, I would not have a problem. I'm not saying it was intentional on your part. I'm saying it's intentional on his part, because Mr. Dean, last night, on a cable news network actually made it all very evident. John Dean, and I'll quote Mr. Chairman.

He said, quote, "As a former Committee Counsel in the House, Judiciary Committee, and then a long-term witness sitting alone at the table is important," quote, "Holding your statement as long as you can, so the other side can't chew it up, is important as well."

And so, it was advice that our witness got for this particular body, and Mr. Chairman, when you were in the minority, you wouldn't have stood for it, and I can tell you that we should not stand for it as a body.

CUMMINGS: Let me say this.

JORDON (off camera): Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Let me say this.

JORDON (off camera): Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Yes. (INAUDIBLE) to go.

JORDON (off camera): I'm at the table.

JORDON (off camera): Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Just a second.

JORDON (off camera): Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Yes.

JORDON (off camera): Mr. Chairman, I was asking to asking to be recognized before the motion.

CUMMINGS: We voted. So, in tabling the motion --

JORDON (off camera): You know who had this material before all the members of the committee? CNN had it before

CUMMINGS: Excuse me, excuse me, Sir.

JORDON (on camera): CNN had the (INAUDIBLE) before we did. I just want to be recognized.

CUMMINGS: Yes. Well, the vote is on tabling the motion to postpone. All in favour say, "Aye".

RESPONSES FROM COMMITTEE MEMBERS: "Aye."

[10:05:00]

CUMMINGS: All opposed say, "No."

RESPONSES FROM COMMITTEE MEMBERS: "No."

CUMMINGS: The "Ayes" have it.

MEADOWNS (off camera): I appeal the ruling of the chair.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMITEE MEMBER: It's not a ruling.

MEADOWNS (off camera): Yes. I can assure you it's in the rules. I appeal the ruling of the chair.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMITEE MEMBER: Do the rules matter, Mr. Chairman?

CUMMINGS: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMITEE MEMBER: Move to waive the rules.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMITEE MEMBER: It is a motion to --

UNIDENTIFIED COMMITEE MEMBER: Move to table.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMITEE MEMBER: Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: (INAUDIBLE) the votes.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMITEE MEMBER: Well, she made two motions. What's the motion.

CUMMINGS: The vote is on tabling.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMITEE MEMBER: I move to the table the appeal to the ruling of the chair.

CUMMINGS: The vote is on that. All in favour say, "Aye".

RESPONSES FROM COMMITTEE MEMBERS: "Aye."

CUMMINGS: All opposed say, "No."

RESPONSES FROM COMMITTEE MEMBERS: "No."

CUMMINGS: The "Ayes" have it. MEADOWNS (off camera): I asked for a recorded vote, Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Very well. The clerk will call the roll.

CLERK OF THE COMMITTEE (off camera): Mr. Cummings.

CUMMINGS: Yes.

CLERK OF THE COMMITTEE (off camera): Mr. Cummings votes yes. Miss Maloney?

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY, (D)-NEW YORK: Yes.

CLERK OF THE COMMITTEE (off camera): Miss Maloney votes yes. Miss Norton.

REP. ELEANOR NORTON, (D)-COLUMBIA: Yes.

CLERK OF THE COMMITTEE (off camera): Miss Norton votes yes. Mr. Clay?

REP. LACY CLAY, (D)-MISSOURI: Yes.

CLERK OF THE COMMITTEE (off camera): Mr. clay votes yes. Mr. Lynch?

REP. STEPHEN LYNCH, (D)-MASSACHUSSETTS: Yes.

CLERK OF THE COMMITTEE (off camera): Mr. Lynch votes yes. Mr. Cooper?

REP. JIM COOPER, (D)-TENNESSEE: Yes.

CLERK OF THE COMMITTEE (off camera): Mr. Cooper votes yes. Mr. Connolly?

REP GERRY CONNOLLY, (D)-VIRGINIA: Aye.

CLERK OF THE COMMITTEE (off camera): Mr. Connolly votes yes.

BLITZER (off camera): All right. So, they're going through the roll call of the 42 members of this committee.

It's starting off, Jake, pretty contentious, and I suspect this is only just the beginning.

TAPPER (off camera): Right. The objection from Congressman Mark Meadows, who is the chairman of the very conservative House Freedom Caucus, was that the testimony supposed to be supplied to the committee at 24 hours ahead of time. But it was not. It was only -- they only got it last night, and this morning, they got -- received the evidence of the -- that Michael will be introducing.

It is a point of order that he is objecting to. Congressman Jim Jordan, the ranking Republican, then pointed out that CNN had a copy of the testimony last night. We should point out most major news organizations had a copy of the testimony last night.

BLITZER (off camera): Right.

TAPPER (off camera): I had given it to -- via by Michael Cohen for Congressman Jordan's own reason. He's talking about "CNN" and not "Fox News", but we can move past that.

Carl Bernstein, this does not surprise me. I imagine it does not surprise you. This is a very partisan hearing, and Republicans are going to do whatever they can to chum up the water.

BERNSTEIN: That's the shame of it. The question is, is there a single Republican on this committee who will make a real attempt to get at the facts, not filibuster, not attack? And similarly, are the Democrats going to step back and let this proceed in a respectful manner without making the issue their own speeches and listening to themselves in diatribe.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (off camera): It's interesting that Mark Meadows and Jordan are two of the president's strongest defenders who are leading the charge here, not some of the other members of the committee. But I have a question, why was Matt Gaetz walking through the committee room?

BORGER (off camera): I'll tell you why.

AXELROD: OK.

BORGER (off camera): Publicly, so we would all say -- TAPPER (off camera): Just to point out, Matt Gaetz, Congressman,

Republican from Florida, not a member of this committee.

BORGER (off camera): No.

TAPPER (off camera): But made a personal threat towards Michael Cohen yesterday.

BLITZER (off camera): Hold on. Here are the results.

TAPPER (off camera): Sorry.

CUMMINGS: Motion to table is agreed to him Let me say this, you've made it clear that you do not want the American people to hear what Mr. Cohen has the say. But the American people have a right to hear him, so we're going to proceed. The American people can judge his credibility for themselves. Now --

JORDON (off camera): Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Yes.

JORDON (off camera): We did not say that. We just said we wanted to follow the rules. We had -- we didn't say, stop the hearing. We just said postpone it so that we could get his testimony, and the exhibits when we were supposed to get them, according to the rules of this committee. That's all we said. We didn't say we don't want to hear from the guy.

CUMMINGS: Reclaiming my time.

JORDON (on camera): We just said follow the rules.

CUMMINGS: Reclaiming my time. I now recognize myself for five minutes to give an opening statement.

Today, the committee will hear the testimony of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's longtime, personal attorney, and one of his closest and most trusted advisors over the last decade.

On August 21st, Mr. Cohen appeared in federal court and admitted to arranging secret payoffs of hundreds of thousands of dollars on the eve of the election to silence women, alleging affairs with Donald Trump.

[10:10:00]

CUMMINGS: Mr. Cohen admitted to violating campaign finance laws and other laws. He admitted to committing these felonies, quote, "In coordination with and at the direction of," unquote, President Trump. And he admitted, he admitted, to lying about his actions to protect the president.

Some will certainly ask, if Mr. Cohen was lying then, why should we believe him now? This is a legitimate question. As a trial lawyer for many years, I faced this situation over and over again, and I asked the same question.

Here is how I view our role. Everyone of us in this room has a duty to serve as an independent check on the Executive Branch. Ladies and gentlemen, we are in search of the truth.

The president has made many statements of his own, and now the American people have a right to hear the other side. They can watch Mr. Cohen's testimony and make their own judgment.

We received a copy of Mr. Cohen's written statement late last night. It includes not only personal eyewitness accounts of meetings with Donald Trump as president inside the Oval Office, but it also includes documents and other corroborating evidence for some of Mr. Cohen's statements.

For example, Mr. Cohen has provided a copy of a cheque sent while President Trump was in office with Donald Trump's signature on it to reimburse Mr. Cohen for the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.

This new evidence raises a host of troubling legal and ethical concerns about the president's actions in the White House and before. Would you all close that door please? Thank you.

This check is dated August 1st, 2017. Six months later, in April of 2018, the president denied anything about it. In April 2018, President Trump was flying on Air Force One when a reporter asked him the question, "Did you know about $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

The answer was, quote, "No." A month after that the president admitted to making payments to Mr. Cohen, but claimed they were part of a, quote, "A monthly retainer," and quote, "For legal services."

This claim fell apart in August when federal prosecutors concluded, and I quote. "In truth, and in fact, there was no such retainer agreement," end of quote.

Today, we will also hear Mr. Cohen's account of a meeting in 2016 at Donald Trump's office, during which Roger Stone said over speakerphone that he had just spoken with Julian Assange. Who said there would be a, quote, "Massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign," end of quote.

According to Cohen, Mr. Trump replied, quote, "Wouldn't that be great," end of quote.

The testimony that Michael Cohen will provide today, ladies and gentlemen, is deeply disturbing, and it should be troubling to all Americans. We will all have to make our own evaluation of the evidence and Mr. Cohen's credibility.

As he admits, he has repeatedly lied in the past. I agree with Ranking Member Jordan that this is an important factor we need to weigh. But we must weigh it, and we must hear from him.

[10:15:00] CUMMINGS: But where I disagree fundamentally with the ranking member involves his efforts to prevent the American people from hearing from Mr. Cohen.

Mr. Cohen's testimony raises grave questions about the legality of Donald Trump's -- President Donald Trump's conduct and the truthfulness of statements while he was president. We need to assess and investigate this new evidence as we uphold our constitutional oversight and responsibilities. And we will continue after today to gather more documents and testimony in our search for the truth.

I have made it abundantly clear to Mr. Cohen that if he comes here today, and he does not tell him the truth -- tell us the truth, I will be the first one to refer tha -- those untruthful sabers to DOJ. So when people say he doesn't have anything to lose, he does have a lot to lose if he lies

And the American people by the way voted for accountability in November, and they have a right to hear Mr. Cohen in public, so they can make their own judgments. Mr. Cohen's testimony is the beginning of the process, not the end.

Ladies and gentlemen, the days of this committee protecting the president at all costs are over. They're over. Before I close, I want to comment about the scope of today's hearing and the requests of the House Intelligence Committee, and my very good friend, Adam Schiff, Congressman Adam Schiff, the Chairman.

I intended, over the objections of the ranking member of our committee, to limit the scope of today's hearing to avoid questions about Russia. However, Mr. Cohen's written testimony -- in his written testimony, he's made statements relating to Russia, and these are topics that we understand do not raise concern from the Department of Justice.

So, in fairness to the ranking member and all committee members, we will not restrict questions relating to the witness's testimony, or related questions he is willing to answer. Finally, I remind members that we will need to remain mindful of those areas where there are an ongoing Department of Justice investigations. Those scoping limitations have not changed.

Finally, and to Mr. Cohen. Martin Luther King, Mr. Cohen said some words that I leave with you today before you testify. He said, "Faith is taking the first step, even when you can't see the whole staircase. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that truly matter."

"In the end," he says, "We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." And with that I yield to the distinguished gentleman, the ranking member of our committee, Mr. Jordan.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMITEE MEMBER: Mr. Chairman, point of parliamentary inquiry.

CUMMINGS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMITEE MEMBER: To the point --

CUMMINGS: Mr. Jordan is recognized. Mr. Jordan is recognized. It was an opening statement.

JORDON (on camera): Mr. chairman, here we go. Here ee go. Your first big hearing. Your first announced witness Michael Cohen. I want everyone in this room to think about this. The first announced witness for the 116th Congress is a guy who is going to prison in two months for lying to Congress.

Mr. Chairman, your chairmanship will always be identified with this hearing, and we all need to understand what this is. This is the Michael Cohen hearing presented by Lanny Davis. That's right, Lanny Davis, choreographed the whole darn thing. The Clinton's best friend, loyalist, operative, Lanny Davis, put this all together.

You know, how we know he told her staff. He told the committee staff. He said the hearing was his idea. He selected this committee. He had to talk Michael Cohen into coming and, most importantly, he had to persuade the chairman to actually have it.

[10:20:00]

JORDON (on camera): He told us, took two months to get that job done, but here we are, he talked him into it. This might be the first time someone convicted of lying to Congress has appeared again so quickly in front of Congress.

Certainly, it's the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness in a hearing. And there's a reason this is the first, because no other committee would do it. Think about this. With Mr. Cohen here, this committee, we got lots of lawyers on this committee. This committee is actually encouraging a witness to violate attorney-client privilege.

Mr. Chairman, when we legitimize dishonesty, we de-legitimize this institution. We're supposed to pursue the truth, but you have stacked the deck against the truth. We're only allowed to ask certain questions. Even with that amendment, you just told us about, well, Russia is now on the table.

You initially told us, we can't ask questions about the Special Counsel, can't ask questions about the Southern District of New York. Can't ask questions about Russia. Nope, nope. Only subjects we can talk about are ones, you think, are going to be harmful to the President of the United States.

And the answers to those questions are going to come from a guy who can't be trusted. Here's what the U.S. Attorney said about Mr. Cohen, "While Mr. Cohen enjoyed a privileged life, his desire for ever greater wealth and influence, precipitated an extensive course of criminal conduct."

Mr. Cohen committed four -- four distinct federal crimes over a period of several years. He was motivated to do so by personal greed and repeatedly -- repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends.

But the Democrats don't care. They don't care. They just want to use you, Mr. Cohen. You're their "Patsy". Today, they got to find somebody, somewhere, to say something, so they can try to remove the president from office, because Tom Steyer told him to.

Tom Steyer, last week, organized the Town Hall. Guess where? Chairman Adler's district in Manhattan. Two nights ago, Tom Steyer organized a Town Hall. Guess where? Chairman Cummings' district in Baltimore. The best they can find, the best they can find to start this process, Michael Cohen. Fraudster, cheat, convicted felon, and in two months, a federal inmate.

Oh actually, they didn't find him. Lany Davis found him. I'll say one thing about the Democrats. They stick to the playbook. Remember -- remember how all this started. The Clinton campaign hired Perkins Coie law firm, who hired Glenn Simpson, who hired a foreigner Christopher Steele, who put together the fake dossier that the FBI used to go get a warrant to spy on the Trump campaign.

But when that whole scheme failed, and the American people said we're going to make Donald Trump president, they said we got to do something else. So now Clinton loyalist, Clinton operative, Lanny Davis, has persuaded the Chairman of the Oversight Committee to give a convicted felon a forum to tell stories and lie about the President of the United States, so they can all start their impeachment process.

Mr. Chairman, we are better than this. We are better than this. I yield back.

CUMMINGS: I wanted to note --

JORDON (off camera): Mr. Chairman, actually I have a motion.

CUMMINGS: Yield back.

JORDON (on camera): I have a motion.

CUMMINGS: The gentleman is now directing (INAUDIBLE).

JORDON (on camera): I have a motion under Rule 2K 6 of rule --

CUMMINGS: You yielded back, sir. You yielded back.

JORDON (on camera): Mr. chairman, you took seven minutes. I took four.

CUMMINGS: The gentleman yielded back.

JORDON (on camera): That's how you going to operate. First, you don't follow the rules, and now you're going to say -- so you don't get --

CUMMINGS: Point of order.

JORDON (on camera): You get to deviate from the rules.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMITEE MEMBER: Point of order please.

CUMMINGS: Point of order.

JORDON (on camera): I just have a simple motion, Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

JORDON (on camera): It's a point to order to have a testimony 24 hours in advance.

CUMMINGS: Excuse me. I wanted to note --

JORDON (on camera): (INAUDIBLE) to address that. CUMMINGS: I wanted to note that under Rule 11, Clause 4, all media and photographers must be officially credentialed to record these proceedings and take photographs. I also wanted to briefly address the spectators in the hearing room today. We welcome you and we respect your right to be here. We also ask, in turn, for your respect as we proceed with the business of the committee today.

It is the intention of the committee to proceed without any disruptions. Any disruptions of this committee will result in the United States Capitol Police, estoring order, and that protesters will be removed. And we are grateful for your presence here today in your operation.

[10:25:00]

Now I want to welcome Mr. Cohen and thank him for participating in today's hearing. Mr. Cohen, if you would please rise, and I will begin to swear you in.

Raise your right hand. Do you swear or affirm that the testimony that you are about to give is the whole truth and nothing, but the truth so help you, God.

Let the record show that the witness answered in the affirmative. And thank you, and you may be seated. The microphones are sensitive, so please speak directly into them without objection. Your written statement will be made a part of the record.

With that, Mr. Cohen, you are now recognized to give an oral presentation of your testimony. Is your mike on?

MICHAEL COHEN, FOR ATTORNEY FOR US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes.

Chairman Cummings, Ranking Member Jordan, and members of the committee. Thank you for inviting me here today. I have asked this committee to ensure that my family be protected from presidential threats. And that the committee be sensitive to the questions pertaining to ongoing investigations. I thank you for your help and for your understanding.

I am here under oath to correct the record. To answer the committee's questions truthfully, and to offer the American people what I know about President Trump. I recognize that some of you may doubt and attack me on my credibility. It is for this reason that I have incorporated into this opening statement, documents that are irrefutable and demonstrate that the information you will hear is accurate and truthful.

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 the presidency to launch a campaign on a platform of hate and intolerance and actively win.

I regret the day I said yes to Mr. Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way. I am ashamed of my own failings and publicly accepted responsibility for them by pleading guilty in the Southern District of New York.

I am ashamed of my weakness and my misplaced loyalty of the things I did for Mr. Trump in an effort to protect and promote him. I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump's illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience.

I am ashamed, because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a con man. And he is a cheat. He was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop on Democratic National Committee emails. I will explain each in a few moments.

I am providing the committee today with several documents, 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.

Copies of financial statements from 2011, 2012 and 2013 that he gave to such institutions, such as Deutsche Bank. Acopy of an article with Mr. Trump's handwriting on it, that reported on the auction of a portrait of himself that he arranged for the bidder ahead of time, and then reimbursed the bidder from the account of his non-profit charitable foundation, with the picture now hanging in one of his country clubs.

And copies of letters, I wrote at Mr. Trump's direction that threatened his high school, colleges, and the college board not to release his grades or SAT scores.

I hope my appearance here today, my guilty plea, and my work with law enforcement agencies are steps along a path of redemption that will restore faith in me and help this --

[10:30:00]