Con man. Cheat. Liar. Poseur. Draft dodger. Philanderer. Bully. The jaw-dropping litany of "dirty deeds" that Michael Cohen ascribed to his former boss, Donald Trump, in an electrifying congressional hearing was long and lurid. But the biggest worries for Trump may come from what Cohen held back from his testimony.
Cohen revealed he is cooperating with an investigation by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office into alleged criminal acts that have not yet been publicly disclosed.
The probe, Cohen said cryptically during questioning, also includes looking at a communication he got from the president or an intermediary within two months after the FBI's April 2018 raid against Cohen, which opened a new front in the Trump scandals. "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," the president's ex-fixer said.
'Lied to the first lady' and more
That's all on top of the alleged "criminal conduct" by the president Cohen portrayed in explicit detail, including intimate involvement by Trump in the scheme to pay $130,000 in hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels to bury her story about their adulterous affair, conceal the transactions and falsely deny that Trump cheated on his wife when the story began to come out.
"Not only did I lie to the American people, I lied to the first lady," Cohen said. "When the president called me, I was sitting in a car with a friend of mine, and he had me speak to her," referring to Melania Trump.
Cohen also said he was present and listening on speakerphone when Trump learned from confidant Roger Stone about WikiLeaks' plan to reveal hacked Democratic emails. Additionally, he said Trump implicitly told him to lie to Congress — one of the crimes for which Cohen is going to prison — about the pursuit of a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow long into the 2016 campaign, and that Trump lawyers edited and changed his prepared testimony. They denied that.
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee hammered at Cohen as a confessed liar, but did little to directly rebut the details of his stories. Commenting during the hearing for ABC, Trump ally Chris Christie said, "There hasn't been one Republican yet who's tried to defend the president on the substance. I think that's something that should be concerning to the White House." For a roundup of the Cohen drama, see Newsday's story by Tom Brune.
Venality meets vanity
Sleazy business practices and accounting sleight of hand were standard operating procedure at the Trump Organization where Cohen served for 10 years, he testified.
“It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes," Cohen said. When Trump sought a loan from Deutsche Bank to finance a bid to buy the Buffalo Bills in 2014, he padded his net worth estimate by $4 billion, according to statements Cohen provided the committee.
When a portrait of Trump was being auctioned at a charity event, Cohen said, his boss "directed me to find a straw bidder" to buy it "to ensure that his portrait, which was going to be auctioned last, would go for the highest price of any portrait that afternoon." Then, Cohen said, Trump directed his charitable foundation to reimburse the bidder for $60,000 and obtained the painting to hang in one of his country clubs.
It's the third reported instance of Trump using the foundation's funds to buy portraits of himself, The Washington Post reported. Two others are part of an investigation by the New York attorney general's office into the alleged self-dealing through the charity.
Janison: Goony tunes
Cohen testified he wasn't being melodramatic when he expressed fear for his family after Trump tweeted attacks on him to Trump's tens of millions of followers.
When Trump said during the campaign he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose voters, he wasn't joking, Cohen said. "He's telling you the truth. You don't know him, I do."
Knowing him, Cohen said, was why he got the message that Trump wanted him to hide the truth from Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow efforts, even if he didn't say so directly.
"He doesn't give you orders. He speaks in a code. And I understand the code, because I've been around him for a decade,” Cohen explained.
The Republicans tried to portray him as sleazy and evasive. But as a matter of character and conduct, writes Newsday's Dan Janison, Cohen didn't sound as if he was describing his former liege as anyone other than the Trump we've come to know.
Yep, that sounds racist
Cohen testified that looking back on his years of loyalty to Trump, “I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is.” That included his silence, until now, on what he described as Trump's racism.
"He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn't a ‘[expletive]' ” Cohen said, "This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States.
"While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way,” Cohen continued. “And he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
In an attempt to defend Trump, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) introduced Lynne Patton, an African-American who was appointed by Trump as the New York — New Jersey regional administrator for HUD. That led to an explosive exchange when Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) accused Meadows of using a black woman as "a prop."
No collusion? Maybe collusion
Cohen said he had no “direct evidence” that Trump or his aides colluded with Russia to get him elected, but he has "suspicions."
Not long before Donald Trump Jr..'s Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, Cohen said he was with Trump when "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."
Next, Cohen said, "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.’ ”
Looking back on that, Cohen said, he considered "that Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world," and that "Don Jr. would never set up any meeting of any significance … without checking with his father."
Good night, Vietnam
Cohen said Trump enlisted him to deflect persistent questions about the medical deferment that kept him from getting drafted during the Vietnam War.
“Mr. Trump claimed it was because of a bone spur,” Cohen said, “but when I asked for medical records, he gave me none and said there was no surgery.” He added, “He finished the conversation with the following comment: ‘You think I'm stupid? I wasn't going to Vietnam.’ ”
In light of the testimony, it may not have been Trump's wisest move to tweet a potshot hours earlier, and with no apparent recent provocation, at Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who admitted misleading voters that his service in the Marines included a Vietnam stint.
"I have now spent more time in Vietnam than Da Nang Dick Blumenthal, the third rate Senator from Connecticut (how is Connecticut doing?)," the tweet said.
What's in it for Mikey
Under GOP questioning, Cohen wouldn't rule out the possibility of signing on to book, movie, and TV deals about his life with Trump.
"I have spoken to people who have sought me out regarding a movie deal," he said. He joked with Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.). "If you want to tell me who you would like to play you, I'm more than happy to write the name down," Cohen said. In "Saturday Night Live" sketches, the role of Cohen has gone to Ben Stiller.
Cohen also acknowledged that he's hoping his ongoing cooperation with Southern District investigators results in a reduction of his 3-year prison sentence. Before his sentencing in December, those prosecutors told the judge Cohen had failed to provide enough cooperation.
Trump tweeted from Hanoi before the hearing: "He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time."
Trump Jr. and assorted Trump allies also accused Cohen of lying when he said he never wanted a White House job after Trump was elected. That testimony also contradicted multiple news reports over the past year.
Kim-Trump talks fail
As widely expected all along, Trump came away from his first trip to Vietnam without reaching any new understanding with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
"Sometimes you have to walk," Trump said after the summit ended abruptly. "I'd much rather do it right than do it fast."
Kim was unwilling to commit to eliminating its nuclear arsenal but insisted on the U.S. lifting sanctions, Trump said at a news conference. It marks a fresh failure for him on the diplomatic front.
Trump also answered a question on Otto Warmbier, the U.S. student who had been imprisoned by the Kim regime but died after being returned home in 2017 in a coma.
Kim, Trump said, "tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word.” It's the same language he has used to give face-saving passes to authoritarians in Russia and Saudi Arabia.
What else is happening:
- The White House blocked reporters from Reuters, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and the Los Angeles Times from covering the beginning of a Trump-Kim dinner after some of them lobbed questions at Trump about Cohen.
- Another tidbit from Cohen's testimony: He said Trump directed him to "threaten his high school, his colleges and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores." Fordham University confirmed it received such a letter. In 2012, Trump assailed Obama for not releasing his college records, calling him a "terrible student."
- Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is under investigation by the Florida Bar for his bizarre tweet on the eve of Cohen's appearance threatening to tell his wife "about your girlfriends." Gaetz apologized after being chastised by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
- Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday, their first face-to-face encounter since the October 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The White House has played down evidence of the prince's complicity in the slaying.
- Chirlane McCray told Politico "the timing is not exactly right" for her husband, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, to run for president in 2020. But she said he would “be a great president.”