The public testimony of President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen began with fireworks Wednesday morning and rarely cooled down as the House Oversight Committee hearing continued throughout the day on Capitol Hill.
From the start of the explosive hearing, Cohen vilified Trump’s character and accused him of a wide range of wrongdoing, while lamenting his own admitted lies and crimes he committed during his years as Trump’s « fixer. »
Cohen, 52, is scheduled to begin a three-year prison term in May for those crimes, which include tax evasion, campaign-finance violations and lying to Congress in prior testimony. But he insisted that he was telling the truth on Wednesday in his opening remarks and defended himself against aggressive questioning from Republicans on the committee.
Here are 10 of the most stunning moments from the public hearing.
Cohen was expected to be contrite when he appeared before the congressional committee. But he traded barbs on more than one occasion with the committee’s ranking member, Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, who was Cohen’s most aggressive questioner in the early hours of the hearing.
« Shame on you, Mr. Jordan, » Cohen said at one point while disputing the GOP leader’s characterization of his testimony.
Cohen took issue with Republicans on the Oversight panel after they displayed signs in the hearing room with screenshots from a now-defunct « Women for Cohen » Twitter account that was created during the 2016 presidential campaign.
« Putting up silly things like this, » Cohen said, was « really unbecoming of Congress. »
He likened the displays to his own actions as a former Trump loyalist. « I’m responsible for your silliness, because I did the same thing that you’re doing now, for 10 years, » he said.
« The fact that you pull up a news article that has no value to it … would make you a liar, which puts you into the same position that I am in. And I can only warn people, the more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did, blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I’m suffering. »
Shortly after FBI agents raided Cohen’s properties in April 2018, his reportedly in-the-works book deal with Hachette Book Group fell apart. Cohen said in his hearing Wednesday that that deal was worth about $750,000, for a book to be titled « Trump Revolution: From the Tower to the White House, Understanding Donald J. Trump. »
Cohen testified that he turned down that deal — but added that he would be more interested in snagging a book deal now.
« Do you plan to pursue another book deal about your experiences? » Cohen was asked by Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.V.
Cohen replied simply: « Yes. »
Asked by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., about an alleged tape in which Trump is said to hit his wife Melania in an elevator, Cohen unequivocally denied its existence.
« I’m certain it’s not true, » Cohen said. « I don’t believe Trump ever struck Melania, ever. »
Cohen was also asked about his knowledge of other salacious but unsubstantiated rumors, including whether Trump had a secret love child and whether there was a tape of Trump engaging in sex acts with Russian prostitutes involving urine.
Cohen denied any knowledge of either of those rumors.
In another tense exchange with Jordan, Cohen said that he had declined the chance to work in the White House’s office of general counsel after Trump won the presidency, because it could have jeopardized his attorney-client privilege with his boss.
Jordan accused Cohen of « trashing » Trump in his testimony simply because he was vindictive about not being offered a job in the White House after nearly a decade working for Trump.
« Now you’re behaving just like everyone else who got fired or didn’t get the job they wanted, » Jordan said.
« I did not want to go to the White House » at the time, Cohen rebutted.
« I was offered jobs. I can tell you a story of Mr. Trump reaming out [former chief of staff] Reince Priebus, because I had not taken a job where Mr. Trump wanted me to, which is working with Don McGahn at the White House general counsel’s office, » Cohen said.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., filed a criminal investigation referral against Michael Cohen in mid-hearing, claiming that the recently disbarred lawyer violated a law requiring lobbyists to disclose work they do for foreign entities.
Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., did not object.
Cohen insisted during the hearing that « each and every contract contained the clause in my contract that said ‘I will not lobby.' »
Meadows ripped Cohen in a tweet later Wednesday: « Cohen talks about ‘blind loyalty.’ His real blind loyalty? It’s to the almighty dollar. »
Mark Meadows TWEET I just entered a referral for criminal investigation of Michael Cohen, who violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by illegally lobbying on behalf of foreign entities without registering Cohen talks about « blind loyalty. » His real blind loyalty? It’s to the almighty dollar.
During his testimony, Cohen received a statement of encouragement from an unlikely source: Porn star Stormy Daniels, who said she had an affair with Trump years earlier and later sued him and Cohen to void a hush deal she signed on the eve of the 2016 election.
That $130,000 deal, which Cohen said Trump directed him to make and then reimbursed him for while Trump was president, partly formed the basis for a campaign-finance charge that Cohen pleaded guilty to.
But on Wednesday, Daniels said she was « proud » of Cohen « for finally beginning to tell the truth about what you did, and trying to repair some of the harm you have caused. I can hear the pain and regret you feel for betraying your family and your country. My heart goes out to you and your family. »
Cohen testified that he was unable to share certain details about Trump during the public hearing because federal prosecutors in New York are currently investigating undisclosed Trump-related wrongdoing.
Asked about his most recent conversation with one of Trump’s representatives, Cohen said that « 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 and not to talk about these issues. »
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., then asked Cohen: « Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven’t yet discussed today? »
Cohen replied: « Yes. And again, those are part of the investigation that’s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York. »
Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is not on the House Oversight Committee, is under investigation by the Florida state bar for sending an allegedly threatening tweet the evening before Cohen’s public hearing.
« Hey @MichaelCohen212 – Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? » Gaetz wrote in a since-deleted tweet Tuesday. « Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot… »
The Florida bar’s probe came to light as a Democratic congressional colleague of Gaetz’s suggested that he be referred for possible discipline by the House Ethics Committee for « witness intimidation and tampering » and that he might face criminal prosecution for the tweet.
Cohen’s opening statement explicitly called Trump a racist.
« He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole,' » Cohen gave as an example. « This was when Barack Obama was President of the United States. »
Meadows pushed back, bringing forward Trump aide Lynne Patton, who is black, to refute Cohen’s claim.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., took issue with this tactic.
« To prop up one member of our entire race of black people … is totally insulting, » she said later in the hearing.