Cohen attacks ‘racist, conman’ Trump before Congress

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The US president’s former lawyer on Wednesday cast him as a racist and conman who used his inner circle to cover up damaging allegations about sex and lied about his business interests in Russia throughout the campaign that sent him to the White House.

In a damning depiction of Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to Congress, testified that Mr Trump had advance knowledge and embraced the news that emails damaging to Hillary Clinton would be released.

But he also said he has no “direct evidence” that the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russia.

He likened the president to a “mobster” who demands blind loyalty from underlings and expects them to lie on his behalf to conceal information and protect him – even if it means breaking the law.

“I am not protecting Mr Trump any more,” he declared.

In one revelation, Cohen said that prosecutors in New York are investigating conversations Mr Trump or his advisers had with him after his hotel room was raided for documents by the FBI last April.

He was asked by a Democratic congressman about the last contact he had had with Mr Trump or any agent representing the president.

Trump Kim Summit
US President Donald Trump passes wellwishers in Hanoi, Vietnam (Adam Schreck/AP)

But he declined to provide more specific details on grounds that the matter was under current investigation by federal prosecutors.

His appearance marked the latest step in Cohen’s evolution from legal fixer for the president – he once boasted he’d “take a bullet” for Mr Trump – to a foe who has implicated him in federal campaign finance violations.

The matter-of-fact testimony about hush money payments and furtive Russian meetings unfolded as Mr Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, offering stark TV counter-programming to the president’s official duties.

At a Vietnam hotel and unable to ignore the drama thousands of miles away, Mr Trump lashed out on Twitter, saying Cohen “did bad things unrelated to Trump” and “is lying in order to reduce his prison time”.

Cohen will soon report to prison for a three-year sentence. At the same time, he is seen as a vital witness for federal prosecutors because of his proximity to the president during key episodes under investigation.

He is the first of six Trump aides charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation to testify publicly about crimes committed during the 2016 campaign and in the months that followed.

Cohen also gave his first-person account of how he arranged hush money payments to a porn actress and a Playboy model who said they had sex with the president.

He testified that he was present for conversations in which Mr Trump denigrated black people as “too stupid” to vote for him.

Mr Trump put Mr Stone on speakerphone as Mr Stone relayed that he had communicated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that “within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” Cohen said.

Damaging emails US officials say were hacked by Russia were later released by WikiLeaks.

Mr Trump responded by saying “wouldn’t that be great,” Cohen said.

Mr Stone disputed that account on Wednesday, and Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Mr Assange, said Mr Stone and Mr Assange did not have the telephone call that Cohen described.

“I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty, of the things I did for Mr Trump in an effort to protect and promote him,” Cohen said.

“I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience. I am ashamed because I know what Mr Trump is.”

Cohen’s claims that Mr Trump had advance knowledge of the emails contradict the president’s assertions that he was in the dark, but it is not clear how legally problematic that could be for Mr Trump.

Mr Mueller has not suggested that mere awareness of WikiLeaks’ plans, as Mr Trump confidant Roger Stone is purported to have had, is by itself a crime.

Cohen also suggested that Mr Trump implicitly told him to lie about a Moscow real estate project.

Cohen has admitted lying about the project, which he says Mr Trump knew about as Cohen was negotiating with Russia during the 2016 campaign.

Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen is sworn in to testify on Capitol Hill (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Underscoring the deeply partisan nature of the proceedings, Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee sought unsuccessfully to block the hearing as it got under way on grounds that Cohen had not provided his opening statement long enough in advance.

Republicans repeatedly pointed out that Cohen had already pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and argued that the sole purpose of the hearing was to bring Mr Trump down.

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