Updated at 10:26 a.m. ET
Donald Trump apparently blessed the meeting his son took with the Russian delegation to get dirt on opponents in 2016 and welcomed advance word of efforts by WikiLeaks to disrupt the election, his former lawyer told Congress on Wednesday.
Those were only a few of the politically incendiary allegations Michael Cohen made in a landmark hearing before the House oversight committee, although he stopped short of accusing Trump and his camp of full-on conspiracy with the Russian interference in the election.
Cohen did, however, allege that political consultant Roger Stone phoned Trump to tell him before the fact that WikiLeaks intended to release a batch of emails that would embarrass the Democratic National Committee.
Those emails were stolen by Russian intelligence officers as part of a concerted attack on the U.S. election, although it still isn’t clear how much Trump and his camp knew about Russia’s efforts, or whether Russia was behind WikiLeaks.
Cohen also suggested that Donald Trump Jr. may have told his father about the meeting he scheduled at Trump Tower following an offer of help from Russian government — one Trump has denied he knew about at the time.
NPR obtained Cohen’s written opening statement before the hearing. In it, Cohen also makes a number of other accusations against Trump:
- Paying him, while in office, to cover the costs associated with buying the silence of a woman who said she’d had a sexual relationship with Trump years earlier.
- Implicitly instructing him to lie to Congress and the public about the negotiations the Trump business had carried on with powerful Russians about a prospective Trump Tower real estate deal there.
- Instructing him to lie about the medical deferments that Trump received that excused him from the draft in Vietnam. Cohen said Trump had no medical records to back up his story but said he wasn’t “stupid” and had no intention of being drafted.
- Ordering him to find a fake buyer for a portrait of Trump to make it appear the painting had sold for a lot of money and was therefore valuable; actually, Cohen said, Trump used his own money to inflate the sale.
Cohen also faulted Trump for remarks he called racist and for his years as a “conman,” treating nearly everyone as a sucker and using his political aspirations as an “informercial” for himself — not as a way to serve the United States as the holder of its highest office.
Republicans and the White House rejected Cohen’s allegations before he’d even made them, pointing out that he has pleaded guilty to federal charges of lying to Congress and has been sentenced to three years in prison.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., objected to the proceedings on Wednesday before Chairman Elijah Cummings had even delivered his opening statement, leading to a dispute over whether the hearing could continue.
Trump said on Twitter that Cohen is only trying to get an easier prison term, although he has already been sentenced.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders slammed the House oversight committee for giving Cohen a venue to air public complaints against the president when Cohen is a “convicted liar.”
Cohen’s opening statement addressed his history of lying directly — yes, he said, he had lied many times in the past. But that was when he was in Trump’s thrall and those days are over.
“For those who question my motives for being here today, I understand,” he said. “I have lied, but I am not a liar. I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man. I have fixed things, but I am no longer your ‘fixer,’ Mr. Trump.”
Cohen provided members of Congress what what he said were documents that backed up his story, including a check, signed by Trump, that Cohen said was part of the reimbursement for paying off adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
The chicanery that Cohen described included nearly every aspect of Trump’s public life and career, even allegedly including his grades and SAT scores.
Cohen told members of Congress that Trump told him to threaten his former schools with lawsuits if they released records about him to reporters.
A spokesman for Fordham University tells NPR that the school received an initial phone call from the Trump campaign and a follow-up letter from a Trump attorney “reminding us that they would take action against the university if we did, in fact, release Mr. Trump’s records.”
Fordham also said it was a moot point because it was “bound by federal law, and that we could/would not reveal/share any records (as we would not reveal any student records) with anyone except Mr. Trump himself, or any recipient he designated, in writing.”
Trump, meanwhile, was preoccupied with the release of President Barack Obama’s college records.
Republicans condemn the hearing
Trump’s allies called the hearing a political circus.
“This might be the first time someone convicted of lying to Congress has appeared again so quickly in front of Congress,” said the oversight committee’s ranking member, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. “Certainly it’s the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness.”
Republicans also said Cummings and Democrats had become so deranged by their animus toward Trump that they were willing to risk his negotiations in Vietnam.
The president is meeting with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, but his supporters complained about what they called an inappropriate focus away from those high-stakes negotiations and onto Cohen’s accounts.
Cummings called the nature of Cohen’s statement too important not to hear and he said that Americans listening to the hearing should judge for themselves.
NPR reporters Scott Detrow, Ryan Lucas, Tim Mak and Barbara Sprunt contributed to this report.