WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer is preparing to tell a House committee Wednesday that Trump knew ahead of time that WikiLeaks had emails damaging to his rival Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and that he 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 election.
Cohen says Trump did not directly tell him to lie, but that “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 said that “in his way, he was telling me to lie.”
In the testimony, Cohen apologizes for his actions and says “I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience.”
On WikiLeaks, Cohen says he was in Trump’s office in July 2016 when his longtime adviser Roger Stone called Trump. He says Trump put Stone on speakerphone and Stone said that “within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
Trump responded by saying “wouldn’t that be great,” according to Cohen.
“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 testimony. “The answer is yes.”
Cohen also says that Trump made racist comments about African-Americans, saying at one point that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid. Cohen says that he and Trump once drove through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago and that Trump remarked that only black people could live that way.
He also says Trump once asked him to name a country run by a black person that wasn’t falling apart, though he says Trump used a vulgarism. At the time Barack Obama was America’s president.
Looking ahead to his public testimony, Cohen said Tuesday that the American people can decide “exactly who is telling the truth” when he appears Wednesday before the House Oversight and Reform committee, setting the stage for an explosive public hearing that threatens to overshadow Trump’s summit in Vietnam with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Cohen, once Trump’s loyal attorney and fixer, has turned on his former boss and cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. He begins a three-year prison sentence in May after he pleaded 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 he appreciated the opportunity to “clear the record and tell the truth” after acknowledging he lied to the committee in 2017.
It was the first of three consecutive days of congressional appearances for Cohen. After the public hearing Wednesday, he will appear before the House intelligence panel Thursday, again speaking 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. The Trump ally offered no evidence to support his remarks and waved off the notion that he appeared to be threatening or intimidating a witness.
After a barrage of criticism, Gaetz apologized and said he was deleting the tweet and should have chosen better words to show his intent.
Lanny Davis, one of Cohen’s lawyers, said in a statement that he wouldn’t respond to 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.”
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.”
In his prepared testimony, Cohen 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.
Trump has denied the allegations and said Cohen lied to get a lighter sentence.
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 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.
By MARY CLARE JALONICK and MICHAEL R. SISAK | Associated Press
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Lisa Mascaro contributed from Washington.