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Cohen is ready to accuse Trump of deceit, racist comments, sources say
[WASHINGTON] Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, is prepared to depict his former boss as a liar and possible criminal who manipulated his financial statements and frequently made racist remarks, a person familiar with his planned testimony to Congress said.
Cohen, who once said he'd take a bullet for Mr Trump, is expected to describe in vivid detail what he says are Mr Trump's improper business practices and crude comments, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of Cohen's public testimony on Wednesday.
Cohen is also expected to present documents to support his claims related to alleged criminal conduct and financial improprieties, the person said. Cohen declined to comment.
But Cohen's credibility will be on trial over three days on Capitol Hill after he pleaded guilty to nine felonies, including lying to Congress. He also has been disbarred in New York, according to a state appeals court filing made public Tuesday.
"Disgraced felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress and making other false statements," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Tuesday. "It's laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies."
Cohen testified behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee for hours on Tuesday and will do the same on Thursday before the House Intelligence panel. Questions will focus in part on his role in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
The main event for the public will be Wednesday, when he testifies in an open session of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Cohen, who is scheduled to report to prison on May 6, will face questions from Democrats about Mr Trump's business deals and hush-money payments - and from Republicans who maintain that nothing he says can be trusted.
Cohen is poised to say that Mr Trump lies about his net worth and the value of his assets when it suits him, was deeply involved in Cohen's hush-money payments to women who claimed extramarital affairs with him and was regularly kept apprised in 2016 of Cohen's efforts to help build a luxury Trump tower in Moscow, the person said. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times reported earlier on Tuesday on Cohen's intended testimony.
"At this point in time," Cohen said on Tuesday evening after his Senate session had ended, "I really appreciate the opportunity that was given to me to clear the record and to tell the truth and I look forward to tomorrow to being able to in my voice to tell the American people my story and I'm going to let the American people decide exactly who's telling the truth."
‘STORY TO TELL'
Even before he testifies, Cohen's appearance is generating sharp debate along party lines.
"Obviously, he has a story to tell and he wants to tell it. And I want him to tell it," said Democrat Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat and the chairman of the Oversight subcommittee on government operations. When it comes to Mr Trump's businesses and Mr Trump personally, Connolly said, "This is not just some marginal figure."
But Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Oversight panel's top Republican, says there's nothing to be gained.
"That's right," Mr Jordan said in a tweet. "Oversight Dems first big witness: a guy going to prison in two months for LYING TO CONGRESS."
Cohen has admitted that he lied to Congress last year when he testified that the proposed Trump tower in Moscow had been scrapped in January 2016. In fact, he said, the talks continued through June of that year, well into Mr Trump's presidential campaign.
Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, has circulated a memo that spells out an agreement on what topics can be discussed during his panel's public hearing.
He said on Monday night the list is based on consultations with Mueller, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and Justice Department officials from the Southern District of New York. "So we're going to be strictly limiting our questions to those items," he said.
Cohen won't be allowed to discuss matters still under investigation by Mr Mueller, who's almost finished with his probe into whether Mr Trump or anyone close to him was involved in Russian interference in the 2016 election. Cohen also cannot talk about "any financial or other compromise or leverage foreign actors may possess" over Mr Trump, his family, his business interests, or his associates, according to the memo.
But Cohen can discuss topics including: Mr Trump's debts and payments and any ties to efforts to influence the 2016 election; Mr Trump's compliance with financial disclosure requirements, campaign finance laws and tax laws; Mr Trump's businesses, including his hotel in Washington; and potentially fraudulent or inappropriate practices by the Trump Foundation.
Within those parameters, Mr Connolly said, he and other Democrats have a lot to pursue.
Mr Connolly said he mainly intends to press Cohen on his claim that Mr Trump - identified in court filings as "Individual-1" - directed him to make payments to two women to conceal alleged affairs with them.
Intimately familiar with the inner workings of the company and its executives, Cohen could shed light on Trump Organization practices that Democrats have been eager to explore, such as details on what the company told prospective lenders when applying for loans.
His work on Mr Trump's behalf already has exposed the company to unwanted scrutiny.
Last year, federal prosecutors in Manhattan unearthed evidence that at least three Trump Organization employees were involved in an effort to reimburse Cohen for his hush-money payment to one of the women who claimed an affair with Mr Trump, court documents show. The Trump Organization has steadfastly denied allegations of impropriety.
In a television appearance on Sunday, Mr Schiff, a California Democrat, said there's "a great deal" his committee wants to learn from Cohen behind closed doors, where the topics won't be so limited.
Schiff said that starts with why Cohen lied to Congress previously, and whether those lies go beyond "what he told us about Moscow Trump Tower into other areas as well."
"Who would have been aware of the false testimony that he was giving? What other light can he shed now that he's cooperating on issues of obstruction of justice or collusion? What more could he tell us about the Trump Tower New York meeting or any other issues relevant to our investigation," Mr Schiff said on ABC's "This Week."
The meeting he referred to was a June 2016 encounter between Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and others involved in the campaign with a Russian lawyer who was expected to offer damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate.
Yet Mr Jordan and other Oversight Committee Republicans have made it clear they will press Cohen about what they say are his own "criminal activities" that he hasn't disclosed.
They say that includes lucrative consulting contracts that he obtained by dangling his association with Mr Trump, with little evidence he ever did much in return.
Mr Jordan said Democrats are allowing Mr Cohen "to avenge his grudge with the president and further feed his insatiable desire for celebrity while being a patsy for political aims of the far left," which he says include impeaching the president.