Dispatch February 27, 2019

Cohen Testimony Takeaways

Michael Cohen’s testimony reinforced just how open-and-shut the case for collusion has become. In his seven hours before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen provided answers to some of the key questions remaining in the Russia investigation.

The biggest new information in Cohen’s testimony: Donald Trump personally knew about collusion.

  • On July 18 or 19, 2016—a few days before WikiLeaks began publishing emails from the DNC—Roger Stone called Trump’s office to inform him that Stone “had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” (Stone has said that Cohen’s testimony is false.)
  • The Trump team could have alerted law enforcement, the intelligence community, or the American people. Instead, Trump responded “by saying something to the effect of ‘wouldn’t that be great,’” and kept lying to the American public about Russian meddling and his campaign’s contacts with the Kremlin.
  • This is the first direct confirmation that Trump himself personally knew about this collusion with the Kremlin—and raises some questions about his public request on July 27 for Russia to find Clinton’s “missing emails.”

The Trump campaign knew for months that Russia had hacked their opponents with the intention of helping Trump win the election.

  • In April, the Kremlin-linked professor Joseph Mifsud told Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that Russia had dirt on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” and planned to release them to hurt her candidacy.
  • Later, Rob Goldstone, an emissary of the Kremlin-linked oligarch Aras Agalarov, offered Trump Jr. dirt on Clinton “as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” on June 3.
  • By July, the public had also learned of that effort, thank to The Washington Post’s June 14 report that Russian operatives had hacked the DNC.

After the hack, the Trump team continued its undisclosed contacts and meetings until almost the day Trump took office.

  • Between Roger Stone’s heads-up and Trump’s inauguration, members of his team had at least 47 more secret contacts with Kremlin-linked individuals, including at least 11 meetings in person or over Skype.
  • Not only that, the Trump team allegedly actively sought to exploit Stone’s backchannel to WikiLeaks, directing him to reach out to Assange later in July and talking again about WikiLeaks in October.
  • Stone wasn’t the only member of Trump’s team to communicate with WikiLeaks: Trump Jr. also exchanged several direct messages with the organization’s Twitter account beginning in September.

Cohen’s testimony may mean Trump isn’t just on the hook for collusion—he also may be guilty of perjury. In his answers to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump reportedly wrote that he hadn’t had advance knowledge from Roger Stone about WikiLeaks, which Cohen directly contradicted.

Other notable moments that could have implications for the Russia investigation:

  • Cohen testified that Trump likely knew about the June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower. Cohen recounted an unexpected moment in early June when Donald Trump Jr. came into his father’s office in early June to tell him that “the meeting is all set.” That’s also a direct contradiction of Trump’s answers to Mueller, in which Trump reportedly wrote that his son didn’t tell him anything about the meeting at the time.
  • Cohen claimed Trump likely committed bank fraud, inflating his net worth in a loan application to Deutsche Bank, and insurance fraud, manipulating his assets’ values for insurance companies. That testimony is more than enough reason for House Democrats to begin subpoenaing his tax returns and other financial records, including those related to his relationship with Deutsche Bank.
  • Cohen poured cold water on Trump’s repeated efforts to distance himself from Felix Sater. He provided new details about Sater’s proximity to Trump and asserting that Trump’s claims in a 2013 deposition that he wouldn’t even recognize Sater was at best misleading and, “at worst, lying under oath.”
  • Cohen confirmed that the president’s legal team helped him prepare for the 2017 testimony in which he lied to Congress. He asserted that Trump lawyers Jay Sekulow and Abbe Lowell edited the written answers he provided to Congress and were partially responsible for its inaccuracy.
  • Cohen revealed there is an ongoing Trump investigation. Asked about his most recent conversations with the president, Cohen said it occurred roughly two months after investigators raided his home, office, and hotel room in June 2018—but that he couldn’t provide any details because those interactions were part of an ongoing investigation by the Southern District of New York.