Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer and self-described fixer for Donald Trump, on Wednesday inveighed against his former boss, calling him a “cheat” and a “liar” and saying he was ashamed for concealing alleged crimes committed by the longtime New York real estate mogul.
Cohen, appearing with his lawyer Lanny Davis sitting behind him, delivered a scathing opening statement to the U.S. House Oversight Committee, which is investigating Trump’s financial dealings and potential conflicts of interest associated with his business empire.
“Today, I am here to tell the truth about Mr. Trump,” Cohen said Wednesday.
In his 20-page prepared testimony, Cohen called Trump a “racist,” “liar” and a “conman.” He said he was ashamed of many things, including “my weakness and misplaced loyalty” and “my own failings.”
“I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr. Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my conscience,” Cohen said in his statement.
Cohen refuted Trump’s statements during the presidential campaign that he had nothing to do—at all—with Russia. “To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.”
Cohen last year pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal district court to charges that included lying to Congress about the timeline of the real estate project in Russia that Trump was pursuing during the presidential campaign. Cohen had said talk of the hotel project ended in January 2016 when, in fact, those discussions, which allegedly involved Trump, continued for many months afterward.
Cohen told the House panel that “Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it.”
Trump, tweeting from Vietnam on Wednesday, where he was traveling for talks with North Korea, said: “He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
Cohen, in his written testimony, described Trump as “intoxicating.” He said: “When you were in his presence, you felt like you were involved in something greater than yourself—that you were somehow changing the world.” He said he “touted the Trump narrative for over a decade. That was my job. Always stay on message. Always defend. It monopolized my life.”
“Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great,” Cohen testified. “He had no desire or intention to lead this nation—only to market himself and to build his wealth and power.”
Cohen’s planned testimony Wednesday was expected to focus partly on his role in facilitating hush-money payments to an adult actress named Stephanie Clifford, who has claimed a sexual affair with Trump before he became president. Cohen last year pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations tied to the payment of $130,000 to Clifford, who performs as Stormy Daniels.
“I am going to jail in part because of my decision to help Mr. Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted a few days later,” Cohen said in his testimony.
House Republicans immediately set to work painting Cohen as a liar, casting doubt on the credibility of his testimony. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the ranking member on House Oversight, on Wednesday called Cohen “a guy who can’t be trusted.” Jordan noted Davis’ role, saying he was a longtime friend and operative for the Clintons.
“This is the Michael Cohen hearing presented by Lanny Davis. That’s right, Lanny Davis choreographed the whole thing,” Jordan said.
Cohen acknowledged his shortcomings. “For those who question my motives for being here today, I understand I have lied, but I am not a liar,” Cohen said. “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 is expected to report to federal prison, to begin serving a three-year sentence, on May 6. When he gets out, he’ll have to find work that doesn’t involve being a lawyer. A panel of New York justices disbarred Cohen for his felony convictions.