- The House Intelligence Committee on Monday released the transcripts of Michael Cohen’s closed-door testimony to the committee in February and March.
- Cohen painted a damaging portrait of just how far people in President Donald Trump’s orbit went to thwart the FBI’s Russia investigation and other criminal and congressional probes related to Trump.
- Cohen implicated at least four Trump associates in potential wrongdoing: Jay Sekulow, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., and an unnamed intermediary who is the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation.
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Michael Cohen has long been considered one of the most dangerous cooperating witnesses against President Donald Trump and his associates.
He is serving a three-year prison sentence after admitting to multiple crimes as part of two federal investigations, including lying to Congress, violating election laws, tax evasion, and bank fraud.
After pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, Cohen implicated the president in a number of crimes. Most notably, Cohen told federal prosecutors that Trump was involved in campaign-finance violations related to payments made to two women during the 2016 election.
He also testified that he believed Trump had advance knowledge of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and two Russian lobbyists, and he suggested Trump may have known ahead of time about WikiLeaks’ plans to publish troves of hacked Democratic emails during the election.
But this week, the House Intelligence Committee released two previously unseen transcripts of Cohen’s testimony to the panel, which highlighted how legally treacherous to Trump’s orbit Cohen is as a witness in the obstruction-of-justice investigation, too.
Cohen implicated at least four people close to the president in potential wrongdoing in his House testimony: Trump’s defence lawyer Jay Sekulow; Trump’s lead defence attorney, Rudy Giuliani; Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.; and an unnamed intermediary Cohen said is well-connected to the White House.
Jay Sekulow: A ‘global pardon’ to ‘shut this whole thing down’
At the center of the web is Sekulow, Trump’s longtime personal defence attorney who handled the president’s response to the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Cohen told the committee earlier this year that Sekulow instructed him to lie to Congress about the now defunct Trump Tower Moscow proposal.
Cohen said Sekulow told him to falsely testify to Congress in August 2017 that the Trump Organisation scrapped the Moscow project by January 2016.
When House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff asked Cohen whether Sekulow knew he was lying when he misrepresented the timeline of negotiations, Cohen replied, “Yes, sir.” He added that Sekulow asked him to say the deal ended in January 2016 to “stay on message.” He also provided documents to the committee that he said showed how Sekulow edited his testimony.
Cohen told FBI prosecutors and the House panel the negotiations continued through June of that year, and he said he briefed Trump and his family members several times on its status.
During the February hearing, Cohen also testified that Sekulow told him the president was considering giving out a “global pardon” to “shut this whole thing down.”
The pardon discussions weren’t always specific to him, Cohen said.
Though Cohen said Sekulow didn’t discuss specific people with him, he reiterated that it was a “global sort of discussion,” which he understood to refer to him, as well as others who had already been charged at the time by Mueller.
Those conversations, he said, began before his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on October 24, 2017, and continued through June 2018, about two months after the FBI raided his property.
Cohen testified that Sekulow implied to him that the president was aware of their discussions. When asked why he believed Sekulow floated the idea of a pardon to him, Cohen replied: “To shut down the investigation.”
Sekulow’s lawyers released a statement denying Cohen’s claims and accused him of fabricating his testimony.
Rudy Giuliani: A critical ‘communication channel’ between Cohen and Trump
Cohen also mentioned Giuliani, the former New York mayor who became Trump’s lead defence lawyer shortly after the FBI raid.
Cohen testified to the House committee that he spoke with a white-collar defence lawyer named Robert Costello in April 2018. Costello reached out to Cohen and cast himself as being a well-connected lawyer with a “back channel” to the White House. That month, Costello emailed Cohen and said, “I spoke with Rudy. Very Very Positive. You are ‘loved.'”
Costello later wrote to Cohen that Giuliani believed the “communication channel” was critical. He added, “Sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places.” Cohen told the committee he believed Costello was referring to the president.
Donald Trump Jr.: A key player accused of misleading Congress and engaging in a criminal conspiracy of ‘financial fraud’
Cohen also threw the spotlight on Trump Jr., Trump’s eldest son who is a key player in multiple threads of the Russia inquiry.
Trump Jr. has come under intense scrutiny for what Democratic lawmakers believe was an attempt to mislead Congress about his knowledge of the Trump Tower Moscow deal.
He told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2017 that he was only “peripherally aware” of the project. When Cohen was asked this year whether it would be correct to say Trump Jr. had only a “vague” or “passing” recollection of the project, he replied that it would be “inaccurate” to characterise his knowledge that way.
Trump Jr. was also one of three top campaign officials – the others were then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner – who attended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian lobbyists that was pitched as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump’s candidacy.
In February, Cohen told the House Oversight Committee Trump had advance knowledge of the meeting. He recalled being in the room with Trump in early June 2016 when Trump Jr. walked in and told his father, “The meeting is all set.” Cohen added that he remembered Trump responding, “OK good … let me know.”
Cohen went into more detail during his closed-door testimony before the intelligence committee, telling the panel in February that he overheard Trump Jr. tell Trump before the meeting that it “had been set up.”
Cohen also suggested Kushner’s and Manafort’s attendance signalled Trump’s knowledge of the meeting because “he would never let Don [Jr.] do that by himself.”
Cohen also implicated Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organisation’s chief financial officer, in a criminal conspiracy of “financial fraud” stemming from their involvement in facilitating hush-money payments in the lead-up to the election to women who said they had affairs with Trump.
An unnamed intermediary: ‘Close to’ to the president and the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation
Cohen also shed more light to the House committee about his communications with an unnamed “intermediary” who was connected to someone Cohen said was “close to” Trump.
When Schiff asked Cohen whether the intermediary’s contact was “close enough to the president to be able to make the case for a pardon,” Cohen replied, “Yes, sir.”
He also said the intermediary reached out to him after the FBI raid and that they had “at least 10, maybe more” conversations about a presidential pardon. The communications continued until June 2018, Cohen testified.
The president’s former fixer added that he cut off contact with the intermediary because of a change in his circumstances. Cohen said he couldn’t say more because it could give away the identity of the person he communicated with.
Earlier in February, Cohen said he could not name the person because they were the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation by the Southern District of New York into “wrongdoing or illegal acts” involving Trump that have not yet been revealed.
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