Saturday 20 April 2019

Trump a liar, cheat, racist and conman, says Cohen

Testimony: Michael Cohen. Photo: Reuters
Testimony: Michael Cohen. Photo: Reuters

Rachael Alexander

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, has unleashed a torrent of devastating claims against Mr Trump at the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Below is a selective account of his remarks.

"I am here under oath to correct the record, to answer the Committee's questions truthfully, and to offer the American people what I know about President Trump.

I recognize that some of you may doubt and attack me on my credibility. It is for this reason that I have incorporated into this opening statement documents that are irrefutable, and demonstrate that the information you will hear is accurate and truthful.

Never in a million years did I imagine, when I accepted a job in 2007 to work for Donald Trump, that he would one day run for president, launch a campaign on a platform of hate and intolerance, and actually win. I regret the day I said 'yes' to Mr Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way.

I am ashamed of my own failings, and I publicly accepted responsibility for them by pleading guilty in the Southern District of New York.

US President Donald Trump. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo
US President Donald Trump. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

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. 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. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.

He was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails.

I will explain each in a few moments. I am providing the Committee today with several documents. These include:

:: A copy of a cheque Mr Trump wrote from his personal bank account - after he became president - to reimburse me for the hush money payments I made to cover up his affair with an adult film star and prevent damage to his campaign;

US First Lady Melania Trump. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty
US First Lady Melania Trump. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty

:: Copies of financial statements for 2011-2013 that he gave to such institutions as Deutsche Bank;

:: A copy of an article with Mr Trump's handwriting on it that reported on the auction of a portrait of himself - he arranged for the bidder ahead of time and then reimbursed the bidder from the account of his non-profit charitable foundation, with the picture now hanging in one of his country clubs; and

:: Copies of letters I wrote at Mr Trump's direction that threatened his high school, colleges, and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores.

I hope my appearance here today, my guilty plea, and my work with law enforcement agencies are steps along a path of redemption that will restore faith in me and help this country understand our president better.

Before going further, I want to apologise to each of you and to Congress as a whole. The last time I appeared before Congress, I came to protect Mr Trump. Today, I'm here to tell the truth about Mr Trump.

I lied to Congress about when Mr Trump stopped negotiating the Moscow Tower project in Russia. I stated that we stopped negotiating in January 2016. That was false - our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign.

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 business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie.

There were at least a half-dozen times between the Iowa Caucus in January 2016 and the end of June when he would ask me "How's it going in Russia?" - referring to the Moscow Tower project.

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.

To be clear: Mr Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.

And so I lied about it, too -because Mr Trump had made clear to me, through his personal statements to me that we both knew were false and through his lies to the country, that he wanted me to lie.

And he made it clear to me because his personal attorneys reviewed my statement before I gave it to Congress.

Over the past two years, I have been smeared as "a rat" by the president of the United States. The truth is much different, and let me take a brief moment to introduce myself.

I have come here to apologise to my family, to the government, and to the American people.

Mr Trump is an enigma. 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.

Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation - only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the "greatest infomercial in political history".

He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign was always a marketing opportunity.

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.

He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn't a "shithole". This was when Barack Obama was President of the US.

While we were once driving through a struggling neighbourhood 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.

He asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair, and to lie to his wife about it, which I did. Lying to the First Lady is one of my biggest regrets. She is a kind, good person. I respect her - and she did not deserve that.

I am giving the Committee today a copy of the $130,000 wire transfer from me to Ms Clifford's attorney during the closing days of the presidential campaign that was demanded by Ms Clifford to maintain her silence about her affair with Mr. Trump. This is Exhibit 4 to my testimony.

Mr Trump directed me to use my own personal funds to avoid any money being traced back to him that could negatively impact his campaign. I did that, too. I am going to jail in part because of my decision to help Mr Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted.

As Exhibit 5 to my testimony shows, I am providing a copy of a $35,000 cheque that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1, 2017 - when he was President of the United States -pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me - the word used by Mr Trump's TV lawyer - for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf. This $35,000 cheque was one of 11 check instalments that was paid throughout the year - while he was president.

The president of the United States thus wrote a personal cheque for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.

So picture this scene - in February 2017, one month into his presidency, I'm visiting President Trump in the Oval Office for the first time. It's truly awe-inspiring, he's showing me 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 cheques are coming'. As he promised, I received the first check for the reimbursement of $70,000 not long thereafter.

When I say conman, 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.

During the campaign, Mr Trump said he did not consider Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war Senator John McCain to be "a hero" because he likes people who weren't captured. At the same time, Mr. Trump tasked me to handle the negative press surrounding his medical deferment from the Vietnam draft.

Mr Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur, but when I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery. He told me not to answer the specific questions by reporters but rather offer the fact that he received a medical deferment.

He finished the conversation with the following comment. "You think I'm stupid, I wasn't going to Vietnam."

Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear. But, I have my suspicions.

Sometime in the summer of 2017, I read all over the media that there had been a meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 involving Don Jr and others from the campaign with Russians, including a representative of the Russian government, and an email setting up the meeting with the subject line, "Dirt on Hillary Clinton".

Something clicked in my mind. I remember being in the room with Mr Trump, probably in early June 2016, when something peculiar happened. Don Jr came into the room and walked behind his father's desk - which in itself was unusual. People didn't just walk behind Mr Trump's desk to talk to him.

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 that 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 any significance alone - and certainly not without checking with his father." (© Daily Telegraph London)

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