Ex-lawyer Michael Cohen and Donald Trump on hush money, Moscow plans and WikiLeaks

Updated: Feb 28, 2019, 02:47 PM(IST)

Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney and "fixer" Michael Cohen testified Wednesday before Congress about hush payments to alleged former lovers of the president and a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and said Trump knew in advance about a WikiLeaks document dump that damaged his opponent Hillary Clinton.

Here is where Cohen and his former boss stand on the three key issues:

Michael Cohen on hush money

Cohen was sentenced in December to three years in jail for crimes that included violating campaign finance laws via the hush payments made to Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy model.

Testifying to the House Oversight Committee Wednesday, Cohen submitted a copy of a check issued from Trump's personal account -- after he took office  -- "to reimburse me for the hush money payments I made to cover up his affair with an adult film star and prevent damage to his campaign."

"The President of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws," Cohen stated.

Cohen said the reimbursements were deliberately spread out over 12 months to make them "look like a retainer."


'Payments were private transaction'

In April 2018, reporters asked Trump on board Air Force One if he knew about $130,000 in payments made before the 2016 election to former porn actress Stormy Daniels, to keep her quiet about an alleged affair.

Trump denied any knowledge of the payments, and suggested reporters ask Cohen -- then still his lawyer -- about it.

Trump later changed his account, admitting he reimbursed Cohen for the payments but that they were a "private transaction" unrelated to his campaign.


Trump Tower Moscow

Cohen has also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress when he previously claimed negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow had ended in January of 2016. He later admitted they continued into June 2016, after Trump had become the Republican White House nominee. 

"To be clear, Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it," Cohen told Wednesday's hearing.

Cohen asserted that personal lawyers for Trump reviewed his testimony to Congress in which he lied about the deal.


'Nothing wrong in seeking business opportunities'

Trump has repeatedly argued Russia had no sway over him because he had no business dealings there, as he seeks to deflect suggestions his campaign colluded with Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 

After Cohen changed his story, Trump acknowledged his right-hand man had pursued a deal with the Russians well into 2016, but insisted there was nothing wrong with seeking business opportunities while running for office.

Court filings have since revealed that negotiations continued even longer than Cohen had admitted, through October or even November 2016.


Moscow plans and WikiLeaks

Cohen testified Wednesday that Trump knew in advance -- and welcomed the news -- that WikiLeaks planned to release a trove of sensitive emails hacked from Democratic Party computers by Russian agents.

Cohen said that in July 2016 he heard a phone conversation in which Roger Stone, another long-term associate of the president charged with lying to Congress and witness tampering, had told Trump that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had promised the document dump.

According to Cohen, Trump answered "to the effect of 'wouldn't that be great.'"


Trump 'denies' any wrongdoing

Cohen also said he believed Trump had prior knowledge of a June 2016 meeting between his son Donald Jr, campaign officials and a Russian lawyer peddling "dirt" on Clinton.

This was based on him seeing Donald Jr inform his father, at around that time, "The meeting is all set."

"Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world," Cohen said -- adding that "Don Jr. would never set up any meeting of any significance alone and certainly not without checking with his father."

Trump has denied any knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting, or that he discussed the WikiLeaks release with Stone.


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