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Michael Cohen Testifies Before House Oversight Committee


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Rachel Martin. President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen is testifying before the House Oversight Committee this hour, where he is making extraordinary allegations against the president of the United States.


MICHAEL COHEN: I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a con man. And he is a cheat.

MARTIN: Cohen was President Trump's lawyer for a decade or so. He will go to prison in May for three years for previously lying to Congress and for campaign finance violations, violations that Cohen is outlining today in this testimony. Joining us now in studio, NPR's Tim Mak, who is covering the hearing. Tim, we got a heads-up about the testimony in the opening statement that Michael Cohen would read. Various media outlets, including NPR, reported on that. So we knew some of what he was expected to say. Can you tell us more about what happened when he took the stand?

TIM MAK, BYLINE: It's hard to overstate just how much of a bombshell this has been - that Michael Cohen is providing testimony today about Donald Trump's finances, his organization, his business practices, his proposed plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow - all of the things that he did for Donald Trump as his personal lawyer and so-called fixer for almost 10 years. One of the big questions during the campaign and ever since has been what foreknowledge, if any, Donald Trump had about the WikiLeaks release of Democratic National Committee emails. Michael Cohen now says that he believes Trump knew in advance about that release. He also says that Trump knew and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations. That's that proposed business deal that was taking place during the campaign in 2016 - that Trump knew about it, and he lied about it. And in fact, he said the reason why is that he never expected to win. Take a listen.


COHEN: 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.

MAK: And that's a really stunning accusation from a longtime ally of Donald Trump's.

MARTIN: Does he have proof? I mean, it's one thing to make these allegations. But does he have any evidence?

MAK: Well, it's really interesting. His testimony today was accompanied by a whole slew of exhibits. They include financial documents, copies of checks, copies of letters that Mr. Cohen wrote on behalf of Donald Trump. One of the allegations - one of the top line things that Michael Cohen is saying is that President Trump personally signed a check from his personal bank account to reimburse Michael Cohen for hush money and, he says, and provides a check that was signed in August 2017 where Donald Trump actually made this reimbursement. Remember, this is the very money - this is the very hush money that Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to campaign violations for.

MARTIN: Right. This is to cover up alleged affairs with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. So how have Republicans approached Michael Cohen in this hearing?

MAK: Well, Republicans who support Trump have started to question Michael Cohen's credibility, and they're trying to delay the hearing. They've tried procedural steps at the beginning of the hearing to try to push it off. Here's Republican ranking member Jim Jordan talking about this.


JIM JORDAN: Mr. Chairman, here we go. Here we 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.

MAK: It really reflects what a lot of folks, including the White House, have said, which is, how can you trust someone - how can you give credibility to someone who has already acknowledged lying to Congress and will be going to jail as a result of this acknowledgement?

MARTIN: I mean, that's a real concern. Even Elijah Cummings, the chair of the committee, has admitted...

MAK: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...That he's concerned about that.

MAK: Absolutely. Even Democrats have said, look. We need to take seriously this caution that this is someone who's lied to Congress in the past.

MARTIN: What are the consequences of Michael Cohen's testimony? What could happen from here?

MAK: Well, it's really interesting. It's not a criminal matter right now before the House. This is more of a political fact-finding mission.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Tim Mak for us this morning covering the Michael Cohen testimony at the House Oversight Committee. Tim, thanks so much.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.