Michael Cohen Testifies President Trump Knew Of WikiLeaks' Email Dump Beforehand
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And that is where we will pick up with NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas, who has been following every twist and turn of this testimony today. Hey, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: So Michael Cohen, as we just heard, came into this hearing a convicted and confessed liar. How did he play that today, and how did the lawmakers questioning him play that?
LUCAS: Well, this really was the big ole elephant in the room. Cohen has pleaded guilty to several federal crimes, including tax evasion, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress. He is going to federal prison, as you said. That is not the ideal resume for a congressional witness.
Democrats tried to get out in front of this issue. Chairman Elijah Cummings addressed it in his opening statement. He acknowledged that Cohen lied in the past, but he said that it was critical to hear from him today so that lawmakers and the American public can make their own assessment of what he has to say.
Republicans came at this from the other side. The top Republican on the committee, Jim Jordan, ripped into Cohen. This is a tactic that was repeated by almost every Republican lawmaker. Jordan ticked off Cohen's federal crimes. He quoted federal prosecutors, what they had written in court papers about Cohen - that he was motivated by greed, that he used his power to deceptive ends, that he was a fraudster, a cheat, a convict. Cohen himself - he acknowledged his credibility issues. He said that's why he brought documents to back up some of his allegations against Trump.
KELLY: Right. He brought letters and introduced financial statements and a check, which leads me to ask you this. For all of the hoopla surrounding the testimony today, what struck you as the most significant things we actually learned?
LUCAS: Well, Cohen spent around a decade working for Trump, so he has a lot of material to pull from. We can't get at all of it. He accused the president of being a racist. He accused him of shady business practices. But one big headline that Cohen made involves WikiLeaks. He says he was in Trump's office in July of 2016 during the campaign when Roger Stone called and Trump put him on speakerphone, Trump being - Stone being a longtime informal adviser to Trump.
Cohen says that Stone told them he had just spoken with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and he said there would be a big email dump in the coming days that would damage Hillary Clinton. So he's saying that Trump knew ahead of time that WikiLeaks emails were coming.
There's one other thing that stood out. Cohen says that Trump's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow and the lawyer for Jared Kushner reviewed his first statement to Congress. Cohen says Trump's lawyers edited that statement so that he lied about how late into the campaign negotiations over this Trump Tower project in Moscow went. The goal on that was to protect Trump. Cohen has admitted that that statement - that original statement to Congress was a lie, and he's going to serve prison time over it.
KELLY: OK, so the new thing here - Cohen had admitted he lied about that. What he added today was that it was Trump's lawyers who edited his statement...
KELLY: ...He says. OK, the other thing that struck me was the discussion about hush money payments made to two women who have alleged that they had affairs with Trump. And we got some new details on that.
LUCAS: Right. Cohen brought documents to back up these allegations. We now have a photo of a personal check from Donald Trump with Donald's squiggly signature on it. It's a check for $35,000 to reimburse Cohen for the hush money payment that he made to the adult film star Stormy Daniels. The big twist here, though, is that the check is from August of 2017, so that's a check from once Donald Trump was president of the United States.
KELLY: Signed while he was living in the White House.
LUCAS: Right. Trump has long insisted that he never had an affair with Daniels. He's denied that the payment had anything to do with the campaign. Cohen and federal prosecutors in New York as well say this payment was explicitly to influence the campaign and keep Daniels silent.
KELLY: OK, so where does this leave us? Cohen, as we've said, is headed to prison, but we expect that Congress will keep pulling at the threads that he introduced today.
LUCAS: Right. Cohen has one more day of testimony on the Hill, actually. That's behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee. He's promised to cooperate with federal prosecutors if he's asked. There are several ongoing investigations into Trump-related matters, including the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Cohen reports to federal prison in May to serve his three-year sentence.
But as you said, this does not end with Michael Cohen. Again and again today, Democrats asked him to provide the names of people who were witnesses or could corroborate his testimony. He did that. So we may very well see those people called up to Capitol Hill to testify about what they know.
KELLY: NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas - thank you, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.