Michael Cohen’s prepared opening statement for his testimony before the House Oversight Committee Wednesday is out — and wow, is it a doozy. The New York Times obtained Cohen’s statement, and posted it online early Wednesday morning.
Perhaps Cohen’s most explosive claim is that he heard Roger Stone tell Trump about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s plans to release hacked emails during the presidential campaign — the most direct allegation yet that Trump was in the loop about WikiLeaks’s plans. Special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating this issue, and has attributed the theft of these emails to Russian intelligence officers.
Cohen makes further claims, with varying levels of corroboration, about Trump’s awareness of the Trump Tower Moscow discussions, the potential setup for Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in New York, purported racist remarks Trump made in private, and various dirty work Cohen did on Trump’s behalf.
According to the opening statement, Cohen also plans to present a copy of a check personally signed by Trump in August 2017 — while Trump was president — to pay Cohen back for the hush-money payoff to porn actress Stormy Daniels.
Cohen was Trump’s loyal personal attorney and “fixer” for over a decade before he came under investigation last year and had a bitter falling out with his former boss. Cohen ended up pleading guilty to financial crimes, bank fraud, campaign finance violations, and lying to Congress. He was sentenced to three years in prison, and he’s scheduled to begin serving that sentence in May.
With no further reason to keep Trump’s secrets, Cohen now seems to want to spill all he knows about Trump, under oath. But of course, he’s already admitted lying to Congress in the past, so he’ll be challenged to corroborate his statements.
Cohen’s big Russia claim
Cohen plans to say that although he does not have “direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia,” he certainly has his “suspicions.”
Most dramatically, Cohen plans to say for the first time publicly that he overheard a call between Trump and Stone on speakerphone in which they discussed WikiLeaks. His account has a few specifics:
- That this call took place in July 2016, days before the Democratic convention
- That Roger Stone claimed to Trump that “he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange” — an allegation that Stone was directly in touch with WikiLeaks
- That Stone went on to claim that, per Assange, there would soon be “a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign” (in Cohen’s phrasing). This would have been shortly before WikiLeaks began posting the Democratic National Committee’s hacked emails — emails that, per Mueller, were hacked by Russian intelligence officers.
The question of what, exactly, Roger Stone knew about WikiLeaks’s plans regarding email leaks has been a mystery for some time. And Mueller’s recent indictment of Stone for lying to Congress did not entirely clear up the matter: The special counsel cited emails in which Stone was trying to get in touch with Assange, but didn’t make any definitive claims about what Stone learned.
But here, Cohen is claiming that Stone seemed to know something, that Stone claimed to have gotten information to Assange directly, and that Stone was telling Trump himself about all this. (Stone has in the past denied doing all of these things.)
Is this “collusion”? The answer may be in the eye of the beholder. Cohen is not alleging that Trump did anything regarding the hacked emails. But this is yet another allegation that someone in Trump’s camp seemed to be aware, to some extent, of Assange’s plans. Of course, so far we only have Cohen’s word on this.
On other topics, Cohen’s opening statement claims that:
- Trump encouraged him to publicly make misleading claims about talks to build a Trump Tower in Moscow
- Trump “did not directly” tell him to lie to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow (contra a recent BuzzFeed report)
- Cohen saw Donald Trump Jr. tell his father about setting up a meeting during the campaign (Cohen claims this may be the infamous meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, but can’t prove it)
- Trump once asked Cohen if he “could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole.”’
And there’s much more. You can read the full opening statement, posted by the Times here.