Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Michael Cohen says prosecutors investigating 'wrongdoing or illegal acts’ involving Donald Trump

Former Trump lawyer drops bombshells, including payments to Stormy Daniels and Russian meetings

US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen told a Congress hearing on Wednesday that federal prosecutors in New York were investigating criminal claims against Mr Trump.

Cohen, who pleaded guilty last summer and will serve three years in jail starting in May, said the last time he and Mr Trump or an agent of the US President communicated was about last autumn.

He said he could not comment further because it was part of an investigation.

Cohen was then asked if there was any other wrongdoing or illegal act involving Mr Trump that he had not discussed with the committee.

"Yes," he answered. "And again, those are part of the investigation that's being looked at by the Southern District of New York."

The hearing shed light on Mr Trump's world before he become president.

Cohen worked for Mr Trump for 10 years and offered details into the hush money paid for adult film star Stormy Daniels and the "Moscow Project" that he was seeking in Russia.

He also revealed that Mr Trump knew and welcomed the WikLeaks' email dump in 2016 to hurt his rival Hillary Clinton.

In his testimony, Cohen accused the US President of lies, covering up private dealings with Russia and being “a racist and a conman”.

He said Mr Trump told him to pay hush money to adult movie actress Stephanie Clifford, also known by her stage name Stormy Daniels, to cover up an affair.

One of the cheques Mr Trump gave to Cohen, which he included in documents for the committee, was for $35,000 (Dh128,560) and signed in August 2017 after the new president took office.

The hearing immediately became heated after a failed attempt by Republican members to delay it.

"I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience," Cohen said.

"I am ashamed because I know what Mr Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.”

Cohen said Mr Trump knew of the WikiLeaks email dump before it happened.

He said that in 2016, Roger Stone, another confidant of Mr Trump, called him while Cohen was in the room and the president put him on speakerphone.

"Mr Stone told Mr Trump that he had just got off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr Assange told Mr Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign,” Cohen said.

He said Mr Trump responded: "Wouldn't that be great."

Asked by former head of the Democratic National Committee Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz if Mr Trump "explicitly or implicitly authorised Mr Stone to make contact with WikiLeaks”, Mr Cohen said he was not aware of it.

He said Mr Trump was “happily taking Mr Stone’s calls”, which were frequently.

Cohen avoided using the word “collusion” in referring to Mr Trump’s dealings with the Russians and his knowledge of WikiLeaks.

epa07401687 Michael Cohen, former attorney to US President Donald J. Trump, is sworn in before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, USA, 27 February 2019. Cohen is scheduled to testify before three congressional committees over three days. Lawmakers plan to grill the convicted felon over the Trump Tower Moscow project, and Cohen's facilitation of hush money payments to two women who alleged to having affairs with Trump before he took office. EPA/SHAWN THEW
Michael Cohen is sworn in before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. EPA

But he said Mr Trump had knowledge of every significant meeting his campaign officers had, including those by his eldest son Donald Jr, who met a Russian who was reportedly offering dirt on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Cohen said Mr Trump did not have much confidence in Donald Jr's judgment.

He said there was something odd about Mr Trump's "back and forth praise with Russian President Vladimir Putin".

"I'm not really sure that I can answer that question in terms of collusion," Cohen said.

Ahead of the election on July 22, 2016, whistleblower website WikiLeaks released more than 19,000 emails and 8,000 attachments from the Democratic National Committee's email servers.

The details of the emails spread sparked conspiracy theories and became decisive in the campaign.

Among other allegations, Cohen said Mr Trump asked him to lie at least half a dozen times about his business with Russia, and in covering up the Stormy Daniels affair.

He said the US President asked him to lie to the first lady Melania Trump about it, something Cohen told the committee he now regretted.

Before the hearing, Mr Trump, who is in Hanoi meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, attacked his former lawyer.

“Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately)," he tweeted. "He had other clients also.

"He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying and fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying to reduce his prison time.”

Republicans in Congress also criticised the hearing, with Senator Lindsey Graham calling it a new low.

"Holding hearings with Michael Cohen while President @realDonaldTrump negotiates with North Korea about giving up their nuclear arsenal," Mr Graham tweeted.

"Democrats' hatred of Trump is undercutting an important foreign policy effort and is way out of line.”

Updated: February 28, 2019 01:01 AM

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