ADDS DETAILS THROUGHOUT
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. President Donald Trump knew in advance that Wikileaks would publicly release a trove of emails that he believed would be damaging to his rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign, his former long-time personal lawyer told Congress Wednesday in a series of startling declarations.
Michael Cohen told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee he was in the room when Trump was informed of the then-looming Wikileaks disclosure by Roger Stone, who is awaiting trial on seven criminal charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Wikileaks, the anti-secrecy organization, released thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee in the run-up to the 2016 Democratic National Convention when Clinton was formally nominated as the party’s presidential candidate.
Trump has publicly denied having foreknowledge of the email release.
Mueller is continuing to probe Russian activities to swing the 2016 election in Trump's favor and possible Trump campaign collusion with that effort.
But the disclosure that Trump knew of the Wikileaks email drop before it was carried out was just one of a multitude of bombshell allegations Cohen made before the committee as he painted a picture of his former boss replete with tales of greed, deception and illegality befitting a mob boss.
Cohen, who worked for Trump for roughly a decade, tore into his former employer, whom he is now at odds with, calling him a "racist," a "conman" and a "cheat." Cohen alleged that the Trump organization is staffed by people tasked with ensuring Trump's protection.
That included him, he said, appearing regretful while recounting some of the jobs he carried out for Trump.
One such task -- making hush money payments to two women who alleged affairs with Trump in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election -- was carried out at Trump's direction, Cohen said, producing a copy of a check written by the president to him allegedly for reimbursement for the payments.
That was one of 11 payments made to him over the course of 12 months by Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, under the cover of a non-existent retainer agreement as "part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws," Cohen said.
Cohen, Trump's former "fixer", pled guilty to campaign finance violations tied to the payments to Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels and other crimes last year, including lying to Congress about an effort to build a Trump Tower in Russia and financial violations.
Asked by Rep. Jackie Speier how many times Trump directed him to threaten somebody during the 10 years he worked for him, Cohen said it was probably over 500 times.
Trump, Cohen said, suggested his political campaign would be the "greatest infomercial in political history” and would serve to advance his business interests in the future.
Much of Cohen's testimony was wrapped in partisanship, with Republicans consistently seeking to undercut his statements by repeatedly bringing up that Cohen is headed to jail, in part, for lying to the federal legislature and has a history of lying.
"You’re a pathological liar. You don't know truth from falsehood," Congressman Paul Gosar said during a heated exchange.
Cohen retorted: "Are you referring to me or the president?"
Trump, who is in Vietnam for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, lashed out at his former longtime attorney on Twitter, saying Cohen "did bad things unrelated to Trump".
"He is lying in order to reduce his prison time," he said.
The former attorney is set to serve three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to a raft of charges and is expected to turn himself in to authorities in May.
Cohen further suggested there is another investigation currently ongoing into Trump under the direction of the Justice Department's Southern District of New York, but he did not provide details.