Michael Cohen testified for hours Wednesday in the U.S. House about his decade-long relationship with Donald Trump, telling lawmakers about his role as a personal lawyer to the New York businessman and how major companies sought his help to decipher the “enigma” of the Republican president and Washington outsider.
Cohen, testifying before the House Oversight Committee, was asked about various contracts he inked with companies that wanted his help in advocating on their behalf in the Trump administration. Prosecutors said Cohen earned more than $4 million from those contracts in the early months of the new administration.
On Wednesday, appearing as a disgraced and newly disbarred former lawyer before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cohen detailed how the drugmaker Novartis presented him with a contract proposing that he lobby and provide access to government officials, including Trump. Cohen said he crossed out that portion of the proposed contract, writing that he would not lobby or “do government relations work.”
“A multibillion-dollar conglomerate came to me looking for information, not something that’s unusual here in D.C., looking for information, and they believed that I had a value,” Cohen said. “And the value was the insight I was capable of offering them, and they were willing to pay.”
When U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, suggested that he had effectively operated as an unregistered lobbyist, Cohen replied that the final contract spoke for itself.
Cohen’s corporate engagements created controversy for his clients and were cited by critics as examples of shadow lobbying. Novartis’ former chief executive, Joseph Jimenez, retired in 2017 amid scrutiny of the company’s engagement with Cohen. At AT&T, the top in-house lobbyist retired in 2018 after the company’s $600,000 in payments to Cohen drew criticism.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson last year called Cohen’s hiring a “big mistake.” “In this instance, our Washington, D.C., team’s vetting process clearly failed, and I take responsibility for that,” Stephenson said last year.
Under questioning Wednesday from Meadows about his $1.2 millions in payments from Novartis, Cohen said he was not hired for access but based on his “knowledge of the enigma Donald Trump.”
Pressed by Meadows about the number of times he consulted, Cohen eventually answered that he spoke with Novartis on six occasions. “Six times? Wow. $200,000 a call,” Meadows said.
Cohen’s testimony came a day after he was formally disbarred in New York. Last year, he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, along with several other federal charges tied to his facilitation of hush-money payments to an adult film actress who alleged a sexual affair with Trump. Cohen is expected to begin serving a three-year prison sentence in May.
“You are a lawyer, right?” asked U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
“As of yesterday, I am no longer a lawyer,” Cohen replied.
A Question of Credibility
From the outset of Wednesday’s hearing, Republicans sought to discredit Cohen as a serial liar. U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, traced Cohen’s turn against Trump to the fact that he did not receive a White House job.
Cohen said he was “extremely proud” to serve as the president’s personal attorney and had, in fact, rebuffed an offer to serve under then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn.
“I did not want to go to the White House. I was offered jobs. I can tell you a story of Mr. Trump reaming out Reince Priebus because I had not taken a job where Mr. Trump wanted me to, which was working with Don McGahn at the White House general counsel’s office,” Cohen said.
Cohen admitted lying in the past but insisted his testimony Wednesday was truthful.
How Cohen Connected With Lanny Davis
Cohen told lawmakers that his lawyer, Lanny Davis, was representing him pro bono—at least for now. Davis, a former lawyer and aide to President Bill Clinton, has served as chief counsel for Cohen, succeeding Steve Ryan, a McDermott Will & Emery partner. Cohen testified that Ryan referred him to Davis.
Cohen said Davis and Michael Monico, of Chicago’s Monico & Spevack, prepared him for Wednesday’s congressional hearing. Cohen brought on Monico and Barry Spevack in January in advance of the hearing.
“This is the Michael Cohen hearing presented by Lanny Davis. That’s right, Lanny Davis choreographed the whole darn thing. The Clintons’ best friend, loyalist, operative. Lanny Davis put this all together,” Jordan said during one exchange.
One Republican appeared puzzled that Davis would represent Cohen without compensation.
“So he’s doing all this work for nothing?” U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Georgia, asked.
“Yes sir, and I hope so,” Cohen responded.
“I kind of doubt it,” Hice said.
Under questioning from Jordan later in the hearing, Cohen said he expects to pay Davis once he starts to earn a living again.
“He’s going to wait three years? Wow,” Jordan said. He added: “That’s a first. I’ve never known a lawyer to wait three years to get paid.”
Cohen replied: “I guess he thinks it’s important.”