Michael Cohen offered a damning picture of Donald Trump Wednesday, telling the House Oversight Committee that the president is a “con man,” a “cheat” and a “racist,” who encouraged him to lie to Congress and the American people.
Cohen, who has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, told the panel that Trump knew in advance that WikiLeaks was planning to release hacked Democratic emails in 2016 and was personally involved in illegal hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.
The searing account had America riveted. All three major broadcast networks broke from their regular daytime programming for wall-to-wall testimony coverage. At one point, eight out of the Twitter’s 10 trending topics were related to Cohen’s testimony.
Here are some of the most explosive moments from Wednesday’s testimony.
1. It’s “possible” the entire Trump family was compromised by Russia before the election
Cohen told Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida, that Trump, his daughter Ivanka and son Donald Jr. were involved in the Russian Trump Tower plans.
“Is it possible the whole family is conflicted or compromised with a foreign adversary in the months before the election?” Wasserman Schultz asked.
“Yes,” Cohen said. “The company was involved in the deal, which meant that the family was involved in the deal.”
2. Broadcast networks go live
Cohen’s hearing was carried live on cable news outlets CNN, MSNBC and Fox News as well as all the major networks.
ABC, CBS and NBC all broke from their regular morning programming and aired the testimony live.
Translation: This is a big deal.
At one point eight out of Twitter’s 10 trending topics were related to Cohen’s hearing. Among the top hashtags: “Cohen,” “Jim Jordan,” “Mark Meadows,” “Mr. Trump” and “TheRepublicans.”
Even Stormy Daniels was tweeting.
Daniels, a porn actress who said she had an affair with Trump in 2006, said in a later statement that she was “proud” of Cohen for “finally beginning to tell the truth about what you did, and trying to repair some of the harm you have caused.”
“I can hear the pain and regret you feel for betraying your family and your country My heart goes out to you and your family,” she added.
3. “Shame on you!”
A heated exchange between Cohen and Rep. Jim Jordan flared up, with Cohen chastising the Republican congressman for mischaracterizing his words.
“Cohen’s consciousness of wrongdoing is fleeting, his instinct to blame others is strong,” Jordan said. “His remorse is nonexistent. He just debated a member of Congress saying I really didn’t do anything wrong…”
That seemed to hit a nerve with Cohen, who interrupted: “Mr. Jordan, that’s not what I said. And you know that’s not what I said … I said that I pled guilty and I take responsibility for my actions … Shame on you, Mr. Jordan. That’s not what I said. Shame on you!”
"Shame on you, Mr. Jordan," Cohen says in heated exchange with Rep. Jim Jordan. "I take responsibility for my mistakes, all right? I am remorseful, and I am going to prison." https://t.co/4McXejykRV pic.twitter.com/aADwtPmhZG
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 27, 2019
4. Cohen: I was involved in “catch and kill episodes”
Cohen said he had been involved in “several” efforts to “catch and kill” negative stories about Trump, referring to the practice where tabloids buy rights to stories for the purpose of burying them.
“I was involved in several of these catch and kill episodes,” Cohen told the committee.
“These catch and kill scenarios existed between David Pecker and Mr. Trump long before I started working for him in 2007,” he said.
Pecker is the CEO of The National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc. In December AMI admitted it paid $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to silence her from talking about what she said was an extramarital affair with Trump before he became president.
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen: "I was involved in several of these catch-and-kill episodes. But these catch-and-kill scenarios existed between David Pecker and Mr. Trump long before I started working for him in 2007."
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) February 27, 2019
5. Cohen and Rep. Mark Meadows argue about whether Trump is a racist
In one of the more dramatic moments during Wednesday’s hearing, Republican Rep. Mark Meadows introduced Lynne Patton, a current Department of Housing and Urban Development official and former longtime Trump Organization employee, in an effort to push back on Cohen’s assertion that Trump is a “racist.”
“She says that as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama that there is no way that she would work for an individual who was racist. How do you reconcile the two of those?” Meadows asked.
Cohen shot back: “And neither should I as the son of a Holocaust survivor.”
Meadows brings African American party planner, Lynne Patton, who worked for Trump org (and now runs part of HUD) to refute racism allegations. pic.twitter.com/x22GDtr6H3
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) February 27, 2019
6. “Are you referring to me or the president?”
Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona, said Cohen is “a pathological liar.”
“Sir. You’re a pathological liar,” he told him. “You don’t know truth from falsehood.”
Cohen replied: “Sir, I’m sorry. Are you referring to me or the President?”
7. Cohen to pro-Trump committee members: “I did the same thing that you’re doing now”
Cohen said he contributed to the “silliness” in Congress these days.
“I’m responsible for your silliness because I did the same thing that you’re doing now for 10 years,” he said, addressing Republican members of the committee who attacked his credibility.
“I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years,” he said.
Cohen: "I'm responsible for your silliness because I did the same thing that you're doing now for ten years. I protected Mr. Trump…I can only warn people the more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I'm suffering" pic.twitter.com/smNHbWzmVK
— Tom Namako (@TomNamako) February 27, 2019
8. Cohen calls out Republicans for not asking a single question about Trump
During another heated exchange with Rep. Jordan, Cohen pointed out that Republican committee members had avoided any questions about President Trump.
“All I wanted to say is I just find it interesting, sir, that between yourself and your colleagues that not one question so far since I’m here has been asked about President Trump,” he said. “That’s actually why I thought I was coming today. Not to confess the mistakes that I’ve made.”
9. Cohen leaves the door open for book, TV and movie deals
Cohen told the committee he’d been offered book, TV and even movie deals, but had not taken any of them.
When asked if he’d commit to not pursuing those deals, Cohen refused.
“I have spoken to people who have sought me out regarding a movie deal,” he said.
When Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., asked if he would commit to refuse the deals, Cohen said, “No.”
10. Cohen denies Trump ever struck Melania in an elevator
Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, asked Cohen whether it was true that a video showing Trump hitting First Lady Melania Trump in an elevator was being shopped around to news outlets.
“The story goes that he struck Melania in that elevator because there’s a camera,” Cohen told her. “I’m sure it’s not true. … I don’t think that he struck Mrs. Trump, ever.”
“Mr. Trump would never, in my opinion,” he added.
Cohen also said that he did not believe Trump had a “love child” with a former housekeeper.
In August, a former Trump World Tower doorman said Trump had an affair with a housekeeper, which resulted in a child.
Pressed by Speier about how many times he’d threatened people at Trump’s request, Cohen said it was more than 500 times.
11. Cohen doubts Trump’s tax returns were ever audited
Coming back from the break, Cohen was asked whether it was true that Trump had been audited by the Internal Revenue Service in 2016.
During the 2016 presidential race, Trump had repeatedly said that he could not release his tax returns because he was in the midst of an IRS audit.
Cohen said that Trump feared public scrutiny of his financial documents would lead to an IRS audit and penalties, leading Cohen to believe he was not under audit at the time.
According to Cohen, Trump said he didn’t want tax experts running through his tax return because they would “start ripping it to pieces and then he’ll end up in an audit and he’ll ultimately have taxable consequences, penalties and so on.”
"I presume that he’s not under audit,” Michael Cohen says about President Trump’s taxes.
Cohen also says Trump never wanted to release his tax returns because he didn't want “an entire group of think tanks that are tax experts" running through them. https://t.co/8YtmjUeBa6 pic.twitter.com/yRSIvdKXfu
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) February 27, 2019
12. AOC grills Cohen
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman Democrat from New York, spent her time grilling Cohen on whether Trump falsely inflated the value of his assets when it benefited him financially.
Cohen said that Trump had at times upped the value of his assets to insurance companies, while downplaying the value of some of his properties to get more tax breaks.
“Where would the committee find more information on this?” Cortez asked. “Do you think we need to review his financial statements and tax returns in order to compare them?”
“Yes,” Cohen replied, “and you would find it at the Trump Org.”
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 27, 2019
13. Cohen fears Trump won’t relinquish power if he loses the 2020 election
In his closing remarks, Cohen gave a chilling warning to the American people.
“My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything — my family’s happiness, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honor, my reputation and soon my freedom,” he said. “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today.”
He then directly addressed the president with a series of pointed remarks.
“We honor our veterans, even in the rain,” Cohen said, referring to Trump’s decision to scrap a visit to a cemetery for fallen American soldiers due to weather. “You don’t use the power of your bully pulpit to destroy the credibility of those who speak out against you. This behavior is churlish. It denigrates the office of president of the United States and it is simply un-American.”
“I pray the country does not make the same mistakes I have made,” he said.
Michael Cohen delivers a scathing denunciation of Trump in his closing remarks, speaking directly to Trump and saying that Trump's actions denigrate the office of the president and are "simply un-American." Via CSPAN pic.twitter.com/6ZSTHXjquZ
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 27, 2019