Return to Transcripts main page


Live Coverage of Michael Cohen Testimony Before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 27, 2019 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: -- and my work with law enforcement agencies are steps along a path of redemption that will restore faith in me and help this country understand our president better.

And before going further, I want to apologize to each member, to you as Congress as a whole. The last time I appeared before Congress, I came to protect Mr. Trump. Today, I am here to tell the truth about Mr. Trump.

I lied to Congress about (ph) when Mr. Trump stopped negotiating the Moscow Tower project in Russia. I stated that we stopped negotiating in January of 2016. That was false. Our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign.

Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That's not how he operates. In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me, "There's no Russian business." And then go on to lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie.

There were at least a half a dozen times between the Iowa caucus in January of 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me, "How's it going in Russia?" Referring to the Moscow Tower project.

You need to know that Mr. Trump's personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it.

So to be clear, 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. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.

And so I lied about it, too. Because Mr. Trump had made clear to me, through his personal statements to me -- that we both knew to be false -- and through his lies to the country, that he wanted me to lie. And he made it clear to me because his personal attorneys reviewed my statement before I gave it to Congress.

Over the past two years, I have been smeared as a rat by the president of the United States. The truth is much different. And let me take a brief moment to introduce myself. My name is

Michael Dean Cohen. And I am a blessed husband of 24 years and a father to an incredible daughter and son.

When I married my wife, I promised her that I would love her, I would cherish her, and I would protect her. As my father said countless times throughout my childhood, "You, my wife, and you, my children, are the air that I breathe." So to my Laura, and to my Sami, and to my Jake, there is nothing I wouldn't do to protect you.

I have always tried to live a life of loyalty, friendship, generosity, and compassion. It's qualities my parents ingrained in my siblings and me since childhood. My father survived the Holocaust thanks to the compassion and selfless acts of others. He was helped by many who put themselves in harm's way to do what they knew was right. And that is why my first instinct has always been to help those in need.

And Mom and Dad, I am sorry I let you down.

As the many people that know me best would say, I am the person that they call at 3:00 a.m. if they needed help. And I proudly remember being the emergency contact for many of my children's friends when they were growing up because their parents knew that I would drop everything and care for them as if they were my own.

Yet last fall, I pled guilty in federal court to felonies for the benefit of, at the direction of, and in coordination with individual number one. And for the record, individual number one is President Donald J. Trump.

[10:35:04] It is painful to admit that I was motivated by ambition at times. It is even more painful to admit that, many times, I ignored my conscience and acted loyal to a man when I should not have.

Sitting here today, it seems unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong. For that reason, I have come here to apologize to my family, to my government, and to the American people.

Accordingly, let me now tell you about Mr. Trump. I got to know him very well, working very closely with him for more than 10 years as his executive vice president and special counsel, and then as personal attorney when he became president.

When I first met Mr. Trump, he was a successful entrepreneur, a real estate giant, and an icon. Being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating. When you were in his presence, you felt like you were involved in something greater than yourself, that you were somehow changing the world.

I wound up touting the Trump narrative for over a decade. That was my job. Always stay on message. Always defend. It monopolized my life.

At first, I worked mostly on real estate developments and other business transactions. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Trump brought me into his personal life and private dealings. Over time, I saw his true character revealed.

Mr. Trump is an enigma. He is complicated, as am I. He has both good and bad, as do we all, but the bad far outweighs the good. And since taking office, he 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. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation, only to market himself and to build his wealth and power.

Mr. Trump would often say this campaign was going to be the greatest infomercial in political history. He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign, for him, was always a marketing opportunity.

I knew early on, in my work for Mr. Trump, that he would direct me to lie to further his business interests. I am ashamed to say that when it was for a real estate mogul in the private sector, I considered it trivial. As the president, I consider it significant and dangerous.

But in the mix, lying for Mr. Trump was normalized and no one around him questioned it. In fairness, no one around him today questions it either.

A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked documents, the Democratic National Committee e- mails, ahead of time. And the answer is yes.

As I earlier stated, Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails. In July of 2016, 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 e-mails that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect, "Wouldn't that be great."

Mr. Trump is a racist. The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacists and bigots. You have heard him call poorer countries, shitholes. His private -- in private, he is even worse.

[10:40:05] 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.

And 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. Mr. Trump is a cheat. As previously stated, I'm giving to the committee, today, three years of Mr. Trump's personal financial statements from 2011, 2012 and 2013, which he gave to Deutsche Bank to inquire about a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills, and to "Forbes." These are Exhibits 1a, 1b, and 1c to my testimony.

It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in "Forbes," and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.

I am sharing with you two newspaper articles, side by side, that are examples of Mr. Trump inflating and deflating his assets, as I said, to suit his financial interests. These are Exhibit 2 to my testimony.

As I noted, I'm giving the committee today an article he wrote on -- and sent me -- that reported on an auction of a portrait of Mr. Trump. This is Exhibit 3A to my testimony.

Mr. Trump directed me to find a straw bidder to purchase a portrait of him that was being auctioned off at an Art Hamptons Event. The objective was to ensure that this portrait, which was going to be auctioned last, would go for the highest price of any portrait that afternoon.

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. And please see Exhibit 3B to my testimony.

And it should come as no surprise that one of my more common responsibilities was that Mr. Trump directed me to call business owners, many of whom are small businesses, that are owed money for their services and told them no payment or a reduced payment would be coming. When I asked Mr. Trump -- or when I told Mr. Trump of my success, he actually reveled in it. And yet I continued to work for him.

Mr. Trump is a con man. He asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair. And to lie about it to his wife, which I did. And lying to the first lady is one of my biggest regrets because she is a kind, good person. And I respect her greatly. And she did not deserve that.

And I am giving the Committee today a copy of the $130,000 wire transfer from me to Ms. Clifford's attorney during the closing days of the presidential campaign, that was demanded by Ms. Clifford to maintain her silence about her affair with Mr. Trump. And this is Exhibit 4 to my testimony.

Mr. Trump directed me to use my own personal funds from a home equity line of credit to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign. And I did that, too, without bothering to consider whether that was improper, much less whether it was the right thing to do or how it would impact me, my family, or the public. I am going to jail in part because of my decision to help Mr. Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted a few days later.

As Exhibit 5a to my testimony shows, I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1st of 2017, when he was president of the United States, pursuant to the cover-up -- which was the basis of my guilty plea -- to reimburse me -- the word used by Mr. Trump's TV lawyer -- for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf.

[10:45:25] This $35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year while he was president. Other checks to reimburse me for the hush money payments were signed by Donald Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg. And see, for that example, 5b.

The president of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws. And you can find the details of that scheme, directed by Mr. Trump, in the pleadings in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

So picture this scene. In February of 2017, one month into his presidency, I'm visiting President Trump in the Oval Office for the first time and it's truly awe-inspiring.

He's showing me all around and pointing to different paintings. And he says to me something to the effect of, "Don't worry, Michael, your January and February reimbursement checks are coming. They were FedExed from New York and it takes a while for that to get through the White House system. As he promised, I received the first check for the reimbursement of $70,000 not long thereafter.

When I say "con man," 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.

As I mentioned, I'm giving the committee today copies of a letter I sent, at Mr. Trump's direction, threatening these schools with civil and criminal actions if Mr. Trump's grades or SAT scores were ever disclosed without his permission. And these are under Exhibit 6.

The irony wasn't lost on me, at the time, that Mr. Trump, in 2011, had strongly criticized President Obama for not releasing his grades. As you can see in Exhibit 7, Mr. Trump declared, "Let him show his records," after calling President Obama a terrible student.

The sad fact is that I never heard Mr. Trump say anything in private that led me to believe he loved our nation or wanted to make it better. In fact, he did the opposite.

When telling me in 2008 or 2009 that he was cutting employees' salaries in half, including mine, he showed me what he claimed was a $10 million IRS tax refund. And he said that he could not believe how stupid the government was for giving someone like him that much money back. During the campaign, Mr. Trump said he did not consider Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war Senator John McCain to be a hero because he likes people who weren't captured. At the same time, Mr. Trump tasked me to handle the negative press surrounding his medical deferment from the Vietnam draft.

Mr. Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur. But when I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery. He told me not to answer the specific questions by reporters, but rather offer simply the fact that he received a medical deferment.

He finished the conversation with the following comment. "You think I'm stupid? I'm not going to Vietnam." And I find it ironic, Mr. President, that you are in Vietnam right now. And yet I continued to work for him.

Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. And I want to be clear. But I have my suspicions.

[10:50:05] Sometime in the summer of 2017, I read all over the media that there had been a meeting in Trump Tower in June of 2016 involving Don Jr. and others from the campaign, with Russians including a representative of the Russian government. And an e-mail setting up the meeting with the subject line, "Dirt on Hillary Clinton."

Something clicked in my mind. I remember being in a room with Mr. Trump, probably in early June of 2016, when something peculiar happened. Don Trump Jr. came into the room and walked behind his father's desk, which in and of itself was unusual. People didn't just walk behind Mr. Trump's desk to talk to him.

And 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."

What struck me, as I looked back and thought about the 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 significance alone. And certainly not without checking with his father.

I also knew that nothing went on in Trump world, especially the campaign, without Mr. Trump's knowledge and approval. So I concluded that Don Jr. was referring to that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting about dirt on Hillary with the Russian representatives, when he walked behind his dad's desk that day. And that Mr. Trump knew that was the meeting Don Jr. was talking about when he said, "That's good. Let me know."

Over the past year or so, I have done some real soul-searching. I see now that my ambition and the intoxication of Trump power had much to do with the bad decisions, in part, that I made.

To you, Chairman Cummings and Ranking Member Jordan, the other members of this committee, the members of the House and Senate, I am sorry for my lies and for lying to Congress.

And to our nation, I am sorry for actively working to hide from you the truth about Mr. Trump when you needed it most.

For those who question my motives for being here today, I understand. I have lied, but I am not a liar. And I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man.

I have fixed things but I am no longer your fixer, Mr. Trump.

And I am going to prison and have shattered the safety and security that I tried so hard to provide for my family. My testimony certainly does not diminish the pain that I have caused my family and my friends. Nothing can do that. And I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from President Trump.

And by coming today, I have caused my family to be the target of personal scurrilous attacks by the president and his lawyer, trying to intimidate me from appearing before this panel. Mr. Trump called me a rat for choosing to tell the truth, much like a mobster would do when one of his men decides to cooperate with the government.

And as Exhibit 8 shows, I have provided the committee with copies of tweets that Mr. Trump posted, attacking me and my family. Only someone burying his head in the sand would not recognize them for what they are. It's encouragement to someone to do harm to me and my family.

I never imagined that he would engage in vicious false attacks on my family, and unleash his TV lawyer to do the same. And I hope this committee and all members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, make it clear that as a nation, we should not tolerate attempts to intimidate witnesses before Congress and attacks on family are out of bounds and not acceptable.

[10:55:02] I wish to especially thank Speaker Pelosi for her statements in this Exhibit 9 to protect this institution and me, and the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Adam Schiff.

And you, Chairman Cummings, for likewise defending the institution and my family against the attacks by Mr. Trump.

And also the many Republicans who have admonished the President as well.

I am not a perfect man. I have done things I am not proud of. And I will live with the consequences of my actions for the rest of my life. But today, I get to decide the example that I set for my children. And how I attempt to change how history will remember me.

I may not be able to change the past, but I can do right by the American people here today. And I thank you for your attention. And I am happy to answer the committee's questions.

REP. ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT AND REFORM COMMITTEE: Thank you very much, Mr. Cohen. I now recognize myself.

Mr. Cohen, before I start, I want to make sure you really understand something. You have admitted lying to Congress, to this very body. And now you're going to prison for it.

Do you, Mr. Cohen, recognize the gravity of your offenses? You are a lawyer, right?

COHEN: As of yesterday, I am no longer a lawyer. I have lost my law license, amongst other things.

CUMMINGS: But you understand the gravity of this moment?

COHEN: I most certainly do, Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: I want you to really hear this, Mr. Cohen. We will not tolerate lying to this Congress by anybody. We're in search of the truth. Do you understand that?

COHEN: I do.

CUMMINGS: Now, the president has also made numerous statements that turned out to be inaccurate. For example, he said he knew nothing about the hush money payments to Ms. Clifford. And his 2017 financial disclosure form said he never owed money to reimburse you for those payments.

Yet in your testimony, Mr. Cohen, you said that you met with the president in the Oval Office in February of 2017 and discussed his plans to reimburse you for money you paid.

You say he told you -- and I quote -- "Don't worry, Michael, your January and February reimbursement checks are coming." Is that accurate? And was that in the Oval Office?

COHEN: The statement is accurate but the discussions regarding the reimbursement occurred long before he became president.

CUMMINGS: Would you explain that?

COHEN: Back in 2017, when -- actually I apologize. In 2016, prior to the election, I was contacted by Keith Davidson who is the attorney -- or was the attorney -- for Ms. Clifford, for Stormy Daniels.

And after several rounds of conversations with him about purchasing her life rights for $130,000, what I did, each and every time, is go straight into Mr. Trump's office and discuss the issue with him.

When it was ultimately determined -- this was days before the election -- that Mr. Trump was going to pay the $130,000, in the office with me was Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. He acknowledged to Allen that he was going to pay the $130,000, and that Allen and I should go back to his office and figure out how to do it.

So, yes, sir, I stand by the statement that I gave, that there was a history to it.

CUMMINGS: In your testimony, you have -- you said you brought (ph) some -- some checks, is that right?

You said you brought (ph) some checks.

COHEN: Yes, sir.

CUMMINGS: Let me ask you about one of these. This, from the Trump trust that holds the president's businesses. Can you tell me who signed this check?

COHEN: I believe that the top signature is Donald Trump Jr. And that the bottom signature, I believe, is Allen Weisselberg's.

[11:00:05] CUMMINGS: And can you tell me the date of that check?