GOP congressman taunts Michael Cohen ahead of public hearing
By MICHAEL BALSAMO
Wednesday, February 27
WASHINGTON (AP) — A House Republican taunted former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen ahead of a congressional hearing, suggesting in a tweet that the public appearance will expose damaging personal information about Cohen.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tweeted on Tuesday without offering any evidence that the world is “about to learn a lot” about President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and that Cohen should talk to his wife ahead of his testimony Wednesday.
“Hey MichaelCohen212 – Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? 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 tweet said. It was not clear what prompted the allegation.
Gaetz, a Trump ally, is not a member of the committee questioning Cohen. Still, the tweet was extraordinary because his remarks appeared to be threatening or intimidating a witness on the eve of a highly anticipated public hearing. Gaetz later apologized and said he was deleting the tweet.
Cohen is due to testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee about payments to buy the silence of women who allege they had sex with Trump ahead of the 2016 election. His testimony is expected to be sharply critical of Trump, alleging lying, cheating and criminal behavior.
“We will not respond to Mr. Gaetz’s despicable lies and personal smears, except to say we trust that his colleagues in the House, both Republicans and Democrats, will repudiate his words and his conduct,” Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said in a statement.
Asked whether his tweet to Cohen should be perceived as a threat, Gaetz responded: “Absolutely not.”
“We’re witness testing, not witness tampering, and when witnesses come before Congress their truthfulness and veracity are in question, and we have the opportunity to test them,” he told reporters outside his office.
Later Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tweeted that the Ethics Committee ought to “vigilantly monitor” House members’ “comments made on social media or in the press (that) can adversely affect the ability of House committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties.”
In response, Gaetz said that he also wanted to get to the truth and that he didn’t mean for his tweet to imply a threat.
“While it is important 2 create context around the testimony of liars like Michael Cohen, it was NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did,” Gaetz tweeted. “I’m deleting the tweet & I should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I’m sorry.”
Trump’s fixer-turned-foe was testifying to the Senate intelligence committee behind closed doors on Tuesday when Gaetz fired off his initial tweet, drawing immediate criticism from fellow lawmakers.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., called on the House Ethics Committee to launch an investigation for what he called a “grossly unethical and probably illegal” attempt to intimidate a witness.
Cohen had previously delayed his public testimony, blaming threats from Trump and the president’s attorney-spokesman, Rudy Giuliani, and citing his ongoing cooperation in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Cohen, who was a key power player in the Trump Organization for more than a decade and a fixture in Trump’s political life, is a central figure in the Mueller investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s campaign. He also played a pivotal role in buying the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, who both alleged they had sex with Trump. The president has denied their claims.
Cohen has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations connected to the payments and lying to Congress. Federal prosecutors have said Trump directed Cohen to make the payments during the campaign.
He’s scheduled to begin a three-year prison sentence in May.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman in Washington and Michael R. Sisak in New York contributed to this report.
What to Watch: Cohen’s testimony could deal damage to Trump
By LAURIE KELLMAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — There’ll be much talk of a “rat,” hush money for onetime paramours and the 2016 presidential campaign.
But did President Donald Trump break the law?
That’s the key question Michael Cohen will be expected to answer with documents on Wednesday during a Capitol Hill drama that sounds more like a mobster movie every day. Trump’s formal personal lawyer and “fixer” is set to go public before a Democrat-led House panel and talk about the decade in which he would “take a bullet” for his boss.
“I am no longer your ‘fixer,’ Mr. Trump,” Cohen is to say in prepared remarks .
Cohen, who reports to prison in May under a plea deal, could do damage to Trump’s cherished reputation and brand. He’s expected to talk in detail about what he says is evidence of Trump’s misconduct — perhaps even criminal behavior. Republicans say Cohen can’t be believed; after all, he’s lied to Congress before.
What’s undisputable: Cohen has Trump’s attention half a world away at a summit in Vietnam.
The drama unfolds at 10 a.m. EST on broadcast networks and livestreams. What to watch:
THE WITNESS, SINGING
Cohen, 52, is scheduled to raise his right hand and swear to tell the truth before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. Ahead of his appearance, copies of his prepared statement reached The Associated Press and other news media Tuesday night and offered a preview of scathing remarks directed at Trump.
Trump knew ahead of time that WikiLeaks had emails damaging to his rival Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Cohen says in the prepared testimony. Cohen also suggests that Trump implicitly told him to lie about a Moscow real estate project, the one Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about.
In the prepared remarks, Cohen brands the president a “racist,” a “conman” and a “cheat.” He says that Trump made racist comments about African-Americans and mused that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.
Other topics: Cohen claims Trump inflated assets to make a list of the richest Americans and deflated assets to pay lower taxes on his golf courses. Trump managed a hush money payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal just before the 2016 election, Cohen claims. A key point is whether Cohen has evidence that Trump knew the payments might have violated campaign finance laws.
Telling the truth is a big issue for Cohen, and much about the path forward for Democrats rides on his credibility. Cohen is set to serve prison time for lying to the House and Senate intelligence committees in 2017. Leaving a closed hearing Tuesday, Cohen said he wants to “clear the record and tell the truth.”
THE FORMER CLIENT, WATCHING
From the moment the FBI raided Cohen’s office last April 9, Trump has made clear he cares very much about what federal law enforcement, including special counsel Robert Mueller, might now know.
The president immediately raged about the “disgrace” of the raid and attacked the impartiality of Mueller’s probe.
After Cohen struck his plea deals, Trump on Dec. 16 called Cohen a “rat,” underworld lingo for someone who secretly helps law enforcement investigations. In the same tweet, the president falsely repeated that the FBI broke into Cohen’s office.
Trump denies the allegations and says Cohen lied to get a lighter sentence.
On Tuesday as Cohen testified in the Senate, Trump spokeswoman Sarah Sanders beamed in a distinctly Trump-like statement from Vietnam. She called the week’s events “laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word.”
REPUBLICANS, NOT LAUGHING
They’re aiming alternately to discredit Cohen and suggest they don’t give a care about his testimony.
“I don’t have any desire to go listen to a lying lawyer,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
But there’s plenty of evidence Republicans see Cohen as enough of a threat to go after him. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., set the tone Tuesday with a tweet that taunted Cohen and suggested that the public appearance will expose damaging personal information. Gaetz tweeted, without offering any evidence, that the world is “about to learn a lot” about Cohen and urged him to talk to his wife ahead of his testimony.
Gaetz, a Trump ally, is not a member of the committee questioning Cohen. Still, the tweet was extraordinary because his remarks appeared to be threatening or intimidating a witness on the eve of a highly anticipated public hearing.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement that did not name Gaetz but suggested that the ethics committee “vigilantly” monitor statements that don’t “reflect creditably on the House.” That standard can be a trigger for ethics complaints.
In response, Gaetz apologized and said he was deleting the tweet and should have chosen better words to show his intent.
THE COMMITTEE, QUESTIONING
Look for whether the panel stays within its agreed-upon topics.
What’s OK to ask about, according to Cummings’ memo: Trump’s finances and his compliance with campaign finance laws. That’s a reference to an unanswered question: Whether anyone else involved in arranging the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal could face charges, including Trump Organization executives who prosecutors say reimbursed Cohen for the payoffs. Trump maintains the payments were a private matter, not a campaign expense.
The committee also can ask about “public efforts by the president and his attorney to intimidate Mr. Cohen or others not to testify.”
What’s not OK: Asking about the multiple probes into whether Russia tried to influence the U.S. election and what role, if any, Trump and his associates may have played. Members also are not to ask about “any financial or other compromise or leverage foreign actors may pose over Donald Trump, his family, his business interests or his associates.”
Cohen will be answering those types of questions about Russia this week, but only in closed-door interviews with the two intelligence committees.
THE DEMOCRATS, LISTENING
“Oversight responsibilities” is the phrasing House Democrats tend to use when they talk about investigating the Trump administration. They’re not likely to use the word “impeachment,” but Cohen’s testimony could be part of their decision making on any such proceedings. At issue for them is whether the president broke campaign finance laws or obstructed the investigations.
“When we get him, we’re going to ask him whether President Trump, you know, asked him to lie, directly asked him,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.
Look for how famous Democratic freshmen on the panel comport themselves when, toward the end of what promises to be a long day, they question Cohen. One newcomer on the panel already has blown through the leaders’ words of caution regarding the “i-word.” Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., told supporters last month that the House is going to “impeach the mother——r.”
And this week, she signed a pledge to impeach Trump.
No such effort is underway.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman
Cohen says Trump knew about WikiLeaks email dump beforehand
By MARY CLARE JALONICK and MICHAEL R. SISAK
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer is planning to tell a House committee that Trump knew ahead of time that WikiLeaks had emails damaging to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and that Trump is a “racist,” a “conman” and a “cheat.”
Michael Cohen suggests in prepared testimony obtained by The Associated Press that Trump also implicitly told him to lie about a Moscow real estate project. Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the project, which he says Trump knew about as Cohen was negotiating with Russia during the 2016 election campaign.
The hearing is expected to provide the most damning depiction to date of Trump’s campaign and business operations from a onetime member of the president’s inner circle. It is the latest step in Cohen’s evolution from legal fixer for the president — he once boasted that he’d “take a bullet” for Trump — to a foe who has implicated him in federal campaign finance violations.
Cohen’s claims that Trump had advance knowledge of the emails contradict the president’s assertions that he was in the dark, but it was not clear what evidence Cohen had to support the allegation or even how legally problematic it would be for Trump. Special counsel Robert Mueller has not suggested that mere awareness of WikiLeaks’ plans, as Trump confidant Roger Stone is purported to have had, is by itself a crime.
Cohen says Trump did not directly tell him to lie, but “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.”
Cohen says that “in his way, he was telling me to lie.” He adds that lawyers for Trump had “reviewed and edited” the statement in which Cohen falsely said a proposal for a Trump Tower in Moscow had been abandoned in January 2016. Cohen has since said he continued pursuing the project for Trump for months after that.
In the prepared testimony, Cohen apologizes for his actions. “I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience,” he says.
Trump, at a Vietnam hotel before a planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and unable to ignore the drama playing out thousands of miles away, lashed out at Cohen on Twitter, saying that his lawyer “did bad things unrelated to Trump” and “is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
A judge already has set Cohen’s sentence, and Cohen’s cooperation before Congress will have no bearing on that term.
Cohen, ahead of his appearance, said Tuesday that the American people could decide “exactly who is telling the truth” when he testified before the House Oversight and Reform committee, setting the stage for an explosive public hearing that threatened to overshadow Trump’s summit in Vietnam with Kim.
On WikiLeaks, Cohen says in the prepared testimony that he was in Trump’s office in July 2016 when longtime adviser Roger Stone telephoned Trump. Trump put Stone on speakerphone and Stone told him 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,” according to Cohen.
Trump responded by saying “wouldn’t that be great,” Cohen says.
That month, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee’s server.
“A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time,” Cohen says in the prepared testimony. “The answer is yes.”
Cohen says he does not have direct evidence that Trump colluded with the Russian government during the election, but that he has “suspicions.” Of a meeting in Trump Tower between campaign advisers, including Trump’s oldest son, and a Russian lawyer, Cohen says that Trump had frequently told him that Donald Trump Jr. “had the worst judgment of anyone in the world” and he “would never set up any meeting of any significance alone — and certainly not without checking with his father.”
Cohen, once Trump’s loyal attorney, has turned on his former boss and cooperated with special counsel Mueller’s Russia investigation. He begins a three-year prison sentence in May after pleading guilty to lying to Congress in 2017 and committing campaign finance violations while he was working for Trump.
He met with the Senate intelligence committee for more than nine hours behind closed doors on Tuesday. Cohen said in brief remarks afterward that he appreciated the opportunity to “clear the record and tell the truth” to the panel after acknowledging he lied to the committee in 2017.
It was the first of three days of congressional appearances for Cohen. After the public hearing Wednesday, he will appear before the House intelligence panel Thursday, in private.
Republicans are expected to aggressively attempt to discredit Cohen, given that he has acknowledged lying previously. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement Tuesday it was “laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies.”
One Republican House member did more than just question Cohen’s credibility. Florida Republican Matt Gaetz tweeted Tuesday that the world is “about to learn a lot” about Cohen and suggested he knew of disparaging information that could come out during the hearing. Gaetz later apologized and said he was deleting the tweet.
Gaetz, a Trump ally who talks to the president frequently, is not a member of the committee that was questioning Cohen.
Democrats have been alternately suspicious of Cohen and eager to hear what he has to say. Sen. Mark Warner, the intelligence panel’s top Democrat, suggested in a brief statement to reporters outside Tuesday’s interview that Cohen had provided important information.
“Two years ago when this investigation started I said it may be the most important thing I am involved in in my public life in the Senate, and nothing I’ve heard today dissuades me from that view,” Warner said.
In addition to lying to Congress, Cohen pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations for his involvement in payments to two women who allege they had affairs with Trump.
Federal prosecutors in New York have said Trump directed Cohen to arrange the payments to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in the run-up to the 2016 campaign. Cohen told a judge that he agreed to cover up Trump’s “dirty deeds” out of “blind loyalty.”
Cohen says in his prepared testimony that he lied to the first lady, Melania Trump, about the affairs. Trump has denied that he had the affairs.
“Lying to the first lady is one of my biggest regrets,” he says. “She is a kind, good person. I respect her greatly – and she did not deserve that.”
Cohen also says he will present the committee with a copy of the check Trump wrote from his personal bank account after he became president to reimburse him for the hush money payments. He claims he has other exhibits as well, including some financial statements.
On the matter of racism, Cohen says the president made racist comments “disparaging African-Americans, saying at one point that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
Cohen is not expected to discuss matters related to Russia in the public hearing, saving that information for the closed-door interviews with the intelligence committees. House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings has said he doesn’t want to interfere with Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links to Trump’s campaign.
Members of the Oversight panel are expected to ask questions about the campaign finance violations, Trump’s business practices and compliance with tax laws and “the accuracy of the president’s public statements,” according to a memo laying out the scope of the hearing.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
by Tom H. Hastings
Our National Embarrassment.
Our National Emergency.
There he is, residing for a minute in the White House, a minute that is the longest lucid American nightmare since Watergate.
The day is not complete until Trump has lied to the American people and the world, until he’s insulted any and all critics even when those critiques are deliberative and strictly evidence-based, and even when they are people nearly universally respected, even revered. Ruth Bader Ginsberg? Justin Trudeau? Really? Toss in some misogynist identity slurs, several braggart malignant narcissistic self-congratulating ridiculous claims—even managing to combine them with insulting Samuel L. Jackson—and a few gas lighting redundancies and there isn’t much left on the Trump list of Abusive Things to Do Today. Brilliant.
A waddling, braying, tweeting embarrassment to any and all critical thinking, fact-reliant Americans.
My colleague and I do workshops, sometimes for visiting foreign professionals. Almost no matter their country or countries of origin, I lead with a sincere apology for the Dear Leader who lost the popular vote but still managed to get installed in the most powerful office on Earth.
Here comes a roomful of Kenyan National Police. I apologize for obvious reasons. Most Americans have likely forgotten Trump’s repugnant comment about African “sh—hole” countries. I assure you that Kenyans and other Africans absolutely have not. They appreciate a genuine apology from an American white man. It gets us off on the right foot.
Now comes journalists from some dozen countries, mostly European but a few from the Middle East and one from Asia. None of us have ever met each other. I open with an apology for slights, for insults, for mortifying misstatements and unwarranted UN laughingstock braggadocio emanating from the old white guy who just seems verbally incontinent and whose thumbs seem to have zero impulse control, managing to praise dictators and vilify popular democratic leaders as a matter of course—not to mention his incessant juvenilia about all manner of journalists, from the Wall Street Journal to Katie Couric, for gosh sakes.
This week we see a grifter lawyer, Michael Cohen, turn state’s evidence against his former boss—and even though Cohen, as Trump’s lawyer, was a serial liar, he is presenting Congress with actual forensic evidence that Trump committed felonies, not just in the past, but while in office. Shades of Spiro Agnew.
My father was a psychologist, not I, but clearly, Trump’s claims of fake news are what psychologists call projection. I attest to my own profound confusion at his clumsy hate speech and utter cultural incompetence and frankly, negotiating fails despite his blowhard boasts and his fake autobiography—his next memoir: How to Be a Rotten Role Model for American Youth and the Great Big Butt of International Jokes. My wincing and shaking head let them know that I’m fully as confounded as I am certain they are.
This is what it means to be an American dealing with a fake president spouting cringe worthy claims even as we try to create decent relationships with bewildered people from other lands.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.