The 13 Most Explosive Claims From Michael Cohen’s Testimony

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President Donald Trump’s longtime fixer revealed damaging information about everything from his business practices to his campaign in testimony before Congress Wednesday.

Speaking under oath before the House Oversight Committee, Michael Cohen claimed that Trump routinely lied about the values of his business properties, knew ahead of time that Hillary Clinton’s emails would be leaked and spoke with Cohen in the Oval Office about a hush money payment to a porn star, among other things.

“Mr. Trump is an enigma,” Cohen testified. “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.”

Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison in December after pleading guilty to tax evasion, campaign finance violations and making false financial statements. Separately, he also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2017 about the timing of a Trump Tower project in Russia. Republicans used Cohen’s missteps to question the credibility his testimony Wednesday.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest claims from Cohen’s testimony.

Prosecutors are looking into an unnamed criminal matter involving Trump

CLAIM: Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are looking into an unnamed criminal matter involving Trump or one of his associates.

QUOTE: Cohen, asked about the last time he talked to someone working for Trump: “Unfortunately, this topic is actually something that’s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York and I’ve been asked by them not to discuss it, not to give these issues.”

EVIDENCE: He did not provide further evidence.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s unlikely that Cohen would make up something like this, but without knowing more it’s hard to say how important this investigation might be or whether it may even end with any charges.

Trump talked to Cohen about the Stormy Daniels payment in the Oval Office

Trump Lawyer Investigation Congress
This image provided by Michael Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, shows copies of two checks that Cohen presented to the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 in Washington.Lanny Davis—AP

CLAIM: Cohen said that Trump talked with him during a meeting in the Oval Office about reimbursement checks for hush money he paid to keep porn star Stormy Daniels from talking about their affair.

QUOTE: “In February of 2017, one month into his presidency, I visited 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.”

EVIDENCE: Cohen submitted to Congress two $35,000 checks he said were given to him to reimburse him for the payments: one signed by Trump from his personal account and another signed by Donald Trump, Jr. from the revocable trust that owns Trump’s business.

BOTTOM LINE: Trump is already essentially an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal case regarding the hush money and campaign finance laws, and could be in legal jeopardy after he leaves office. The checks and the Oval Office conversation are very damaging.

Trump indirectly told Cohen to lie to the public about the Moscow project

CLAIM: Cohen said that Trump indirectly told him to lie about the Trump Tower Moscow project in personal conversations and by saying publicly that he had no business in Russia.

QUOTE: “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.”

EVIDENCE: He did not provide further evidence. Trump signed a letter of intent in October of 2015 on the project, and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, acknowledged in January that negotiations on the project may have gone all the way up until Election Day.

BOTTOM LINE: Trump regularly claimed during the campaign and the early part of his Administration that he did not have any business with Russia. Cohen’s testimony underscores that Trump’s claims were not true.

Trump’s lawyers reviewed Cohen’s untrue statement to Congress ahead of time

CLAIM: Cohen said that Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited his untruthful statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower project ahead of time, and that he met with Trump and attorney Jay Sekulow in the White House to discuss his testimony.

QUOTE: “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.” About the Oval Office meeting: “He wanted me to cooperate, he also wanted just to ensure by making the statement, and I said in my testimony, there is no Russia, there is no collusion, there is no — there was no deal, he goes, ‘It’s all a witch hunt and its,’ he goes, ‘This—this stuff has to end.’”

EVIDENCE: He did not provide further evidence.

BOTTOM LINE: Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of lying to Congress about the project. It’s unlikely that his claim would get Trump in any trouble, however.

Cohen regularly briefed Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump about the Moscow Tower

CLAIM: Cohen said that he briefed Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump about the Trump Tower Moscow project “approximately 10 times” during the course of business.

QUOTE: Asked if Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr. knew about the Moscow Tower project: “The company was involved in the deal, which meant that the family was involved in the deal.” Asked how many times he briefed them: “Approximately 10 in total.”

EVIDENCE: He did not provide further evidence.

BOTTOM LINE: Ivanka Trump told CNN she knew “literally almost nothing” about the Moscow tower project. Donald Trump, Jr. testified under oath before Congress that he was only “peripherally aware” of it. Cohen’s testimony directly contradicts those claims.

Roger Stone told Trump about the leaked Clinton emails ahead of time

Roger Stone arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse
Roger Stone, former adviser and longtime associate of President Trump, arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse on Feb. 21, 2019 in Washington, DC.Alex Wroblewski — Getty Images

CLAIM: Cohen said Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to Trump, told Trump in advance about a WikiLeaks release of Hillary Clinton emails in 2016.

QUOTE: “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 emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect, ‘Wouldn’t that be great.’”

EVIDENCE: He did not provide further evidence.

BOTTOM LINE: In an indictment, Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged that Stone gave information about WikiLeaks to “senior Trump campaign officials.” Cohen’s testimony suggests that could mean Trump himself as well.

Trump routinely lied about the values of his business properties

CLAIM: Cohen said Trump inflated his business property values to appear wealthy and secure loans, but deflated his assets in order to reduce his real estate taxes.

QUOTE: “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 interest.”

EVIDENCE: Cohen submitted statements of financial condition from 2011, 2012 and 2013 with figures that Cohen believes were inflated, in part because they show sudden and unexplained fluctuations in Trump’s net worth.

BOTTOM LINE: While Trump often boasts about how wealthy he is, he has consistently refused to release his tax returns, raising questions about whether he has been as successful as he claims and whether he has skirted tax laws to increase his fortune.

Trump ran for President to build his personal brand

CLAIM: Cohen claimed that Trump ran for President in order to get publicity for his business efforts and never expected to win.

QUOTE: “Mr. Trump would often say this campaign was going to be the greatest infomercial and 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.”

EVIDENCE: He did not provide further evidence.

BOTTOM LINE: Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” about the White House made a similar claim, which the White House and members of the campaign have long disputed.

Trump threatened his alma maters to keep his grades secret

CLAIM: Cohen said that Trump asked him to threaten his alma maters to prevent them from releasing his personal school records.

QUOTE: “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.”

EVIDENCE: Cohen gave Congress a letter to Fordham University threatening them with legal action if his grades were released. A representative of Fordham confirmed that they received a phone call and a letter about Trump’s grades.

BOTTOM LINE: Though it’s not as important as some of Cohen’s other revelations, the threats are interesting because Trump regularly questioned President Barack Obama’s grades.

Trump ordered Cohen to threaten people roughly 500 times

CLAIM: Cohen said that Trump asked him to threaten or intimidate people who had potentially damaging information about Trump 500 times.

QUOTE: Asked how many times Trump requested that Cohen threaten an “individual or entity” on his behalf, Cohen initially responded “quite a few times.” When pushed further, he said that Trump “probably” asked him to threaten people with litigation or intimidation 500 times in the 10 years he worked for Trump.

EVIDENCE: In addition to the letter threatening Fordham that Cohen gave Congress as part of the exhibits for his testimony, he also acknowledged a tape recording of him threatening a Daily Beast reporter.

BOTTOM LINE: The claim rings true with other accounts of how Cohen operated while working for Trump.

Donald Trump, Jr. told his father about the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer

CLAIM: Cohen said Donald Trump, Jr. told his father and got his approval before a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian attorney offering to assist the Trump campaign with “dirt on Hillary Clinton.”

QUOTE: “I remembered being in a room with Mr. Trump, probably in early June 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.’”

EVIDENCE: He did not provide further evidence.

BOTTOM LINE: Trump has long denied that he knew anything about the meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a Kremlin-connected lawyer. Cohen’s testimony contradicts that claim, but it is circumstantial evidence at best.

Trump secretly bought a portrait of himself for $60,000

CLAIM: Trump directed Cohen to pay someone to purchase a portrait of himself at an auction, spending $60,000 so his portrait would be the highest-priced item sold at the event. Trump paid the fake bidder using money from the charitable Trump Foundation and kept the portrait for himself.

QUOTE: “Mr. Trump directed me to find a straw bidder to purchase a portrait of him that was being auctioned at an Art Hamptons Event. The objective was to ensure that his 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.”

EVIDENCE: Cohen submitted a copy of an article about the auction with Trump’s handwriting on it, along with a tweet from July 16, 2013 in which Trump boasted about his portrait selling for $60,000.


BOTTOM LINE: This would be the third known instance of Trump using money from his charity to purchase a portrait of himself at an auction, according to Cohen’s testimony and reporting by Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold. Trump has faced scrutiny for allegedly using the charitable Trump Foundation for his own benefit and agreed last year to shut down the organization. New York Attorney General Letitia James is still pursuing a lawsuit against the foundation, accusing it of “persistently illegal conduct.”

Trump is racist in private conversations

CLAIM: Cohen said that Trump regularly makes racist comments when he is in private.

QUOTE: “Mr. Trump is a racist. The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacists and bigots. You have heard him call poorer countries ‘shitholes.’ In private he is even worse,” Cohen said during his opening statement. “He once asked me if I can 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.”

EVIDENCE: He did not provide further evidence.

BOTTOM LINE: The remarks are in line with a report that Trump called Haiti, El Salvador and parts of Africa “shithole countries” in a meeting with lawmakers. Trump has countered that he is the “least racist person” on multiple occasions.

Correction, Feb. 28

The original version of this story misidentified the New York Attorney General pursuing a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation. In June, then-New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced the lawsuit, but it continues today under Attorney General Letitia James, who took office in January.

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