Some key takeaways from Michael Cohen’s testimony:
1. Michael Cohen brought receipts to corroborate the charges to which he pleaded guilty, i.e., that “Individual-1” — Donald Trump — “coordinated with and directed him” to commit a felony by making hush-money (bribery) payments to Trump’s illicit sexual paramours to “catch and kill” their stories in the closing days of the 2016 campaign.
Cohen provided the House Oversight Committee copies of two of the eleven checks he received to reimburse him for the payments he made from his home equity line of credit run through a shell company LLC he set up to avoid tracing the payments back to Donald Trump. One check is signed by Donald Trump himself, and the other is signed by his son Donald Trump, Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, Chief Financial Officer of the Trump organization.
Cohen testified that Donald Trump, Allen Weisselberg and he devised this criminal scheme, but only he has been charged with the crime to date. It remains to be determined whether “Executive-1” — Donald Trump, Jr. — was a participant in this conspiracy, or whether he was just signing checks that crossed his desk in the normal course of business. As Cohen testified, presently he is the only participant in this criminal conspiracy going to prison for this crime. Donald Trump is an unindicted co-cospirator only because of DOJ policy (although it is possible that a sealed indictment has been filed).
2. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) asked Michael Cohen about the last conversation he had with Donald Trump, which Cohen indicated occurred about two months after the FBI executed warrants on his homes and office. Cohen testified that he could not discuss the details because it is presently under investigation by the Southern District of New York. That indicates to me an obstruction of justice investigation, either witness intimidation — which Cohen testified that Trump and his “TV Lawyer” Rudy Giuliani have done publicly in Tweets and comments to the media — or the dangling of a pardon (one of the charges against Richard Nixon in his articles of impeachment).
Rep. Krishnamoorthi then asked Michael Cohen whether there was “any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven’t yet discussed today.” Cohen again answered, “Yes, and again those are part of the investigation that’s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.”
OK. For what it’s worth, long-time friend of Donald Trump and Michael Cohen, Donny Deutsch, appeared on several cable programs yesterday predicting that the Southern District of New York is building a RICO case against the Trump organization as a criminal enterprise. See, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Michael Cohen Friend: Testimony Was ‘Peek Inside The Criminal Enterprise’ (around the 9:00 minute mark). Based upon the mountains of reporting on the Trump organization that I have been forced to read, this appears to me to be a perfectly sound observation.
It also raises questions about obstruction of justice unrelated to Cohen’s testimony yesterday. House committee thinks it has evidence Trump asked Whitaker to put an ally in charge of Cohen probe:
The House Judiciary Committee believes it has evidence that President Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to put an ally in charge of an investigation into his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, The Wall Street Journal reports.
This follows a report from The New York Times that Trump made this request of Whitaker, asking him whether he could get attorney Geoffrey Berman to head the Southern District of New York’s ongoing investigation, even though Berman is a Trump supporter who donated to his campaign and used to work with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Berman had also previously recused himself from the probe, which has looked into Trump’s inaugural committee and has led to charges against Cohen, who implicated Trump in a crime.
The Judiciary Committee is also reportedly examining whether Whitaker may have committed perjury when he told Congress, “At no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation.” The Washington Post‘s Aaron Blake points out that Whitaker also said no one from the White House contacted him to express “dissatisfaction” with the SDNY probe.
3. Michael Cohen testified that, although Trump did not direct him to lie about the Trump Tower Moscow Project for which Cohen has pleaded guilty for lying to Congress, Trump did encourage him indireclty through “coded language” to lie to Congress about his attempts in 2016 to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. More importantly, Cohen implicated Trump’s personal lawyers — name-dropping Jay Sekulow — having reviewed and made revisions to his prepared false testimony before Congress. Suborning perjury is a crime. Cohen may not be the only Trump lawyer who gets disbarred for unethical misconduct.
4. Michael Cohen also testified that Donald Trump either “inflated” the value of his assets to make him appear more wealthy than he actually is, or “deflated” the value of his assets in order to obtain more favorable tax treatment. This was also done to obtain bank loans. Cohen testified he had knowledge this occurred with a bank loan from Deutshe Bank. In response to questions from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Cohen testified he had knowledge this occurred with insurance coverage as well.
These may be some of the financial crimes that the Southern District of New York is investigating. Potential clams are bank fraud, insurance fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion. (This is precisely the kind of scheme for which Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is now facing lengthy prison time).
Cohen was not asked about what he knows about Russian oligarch money laundering schemes through Trump real estate properties. That is probably within the purview of the Senate and House intelligence Committees, which is closed testimony.
The state of New York also has an ongoing investigation into the Trump Foundation. Cohen testified that Trump directed him to find a straw purchaser to use Trump Foundation funds to acquire a portrait of Trump. “The portrait was purchased by the fake bidder for $60,000,” Cohen testified. “Mr. Trump directed the Trump Foundation, which is supposed to be a charitable organization, to repay the fake bidder, despite keeping the art for himself.”
5. Michael Cohen testified that he was present in July 2016 when Trump’s secretary interrupted to say that Roger Stone was on the line. Trump took the call on the speakerphone. Roger Stone said “that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told him that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” Cohen added, Trump replied, “Wouldn’t that be great.”
The Special Counsel has already interviewed Trump’s secretary, and has obtained phone records from Roger Stone and the Trump Organization, so if there is corroborating evidence, Mueller has it. This goes to the colloquial “collusion” investigation, i.e, a conspiracy to defraud the United States. Foreknowledge alone does not prove the conspiracy claim. Any evidence of cooperation and coordination is still to be determined.
Both Roger Stone and Donald Trump have denied any such conversation, which is why Roger Stone was indicted for lying to Congress, and Donald Trump may have exposure for lying to the Special Counsel. According to CNN, Trump, in his written testimony to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, claimed “that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks, nor was he told about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.” (This reporting is based on leaks; the written interrogatories have not been made public).
As the New York Times reports:
Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor, said that if Mr. Cohen is telling the truth, and if Mr. Trump claimed to Mr. Mueller in his sworn, written testimony that he was not aware of any contacts between Mr. Stone and Mr. Assange, that could be a crime (perjury).
“When you lie in that context, it’s not only perjury but it’s obstruction of justice, too,” Mr. Zeidenberg said.
6. Michael Cohen testified that he overheard a conversation that he later connected to the Trump Tower meeting with Russian representatives in June 2016 based upon subsequent reporting. This is an assumption on Cohen’s part. He did not know about the meeting, nor the context of the conversation he overheard. Nevertheless, 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.’ And I remember Mr. Trump saying: ‘O.K. good. Let me know.’”
This does fit well into the Russia Timeline (PBS), and is consistent with everything we know about Donald Trump having to sign off on everything that occurs in his organization. But it is only a circumstantial piece of evidence.