NEWS
27/02/2019 4:17 PM AEDT | Updated 28/02/2019 3:34 AM AEDT

Michael Cohen Delivers Withering Testimony: Trump A ‘Racist,’ ‘Conman,’ ‘Cheat’

Michael Cohen told a congressional committee on Wednesday that his former boss, President Donald Trump, is a con man and racist who regularly lied to the American people.

The attorney, who once served as Trump’s right-hand man, appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Wednesday in a widely publicized hearing. In his opening remarks, Cohen said Trump indirectly told him to lie about his involvement in a real estate project in Moscow

Read Cohen’s opening statement in full here.

“In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing,” Cohen testified. “In his way, he was telling me to lie.”

Cohen noted that Trump asked “at least a half-dozen times” during the campaign, “‘How’s it going in Russia?’ — referring to the Moscow Tower project.”

Cohen pleaded guilty last year as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying he lied to Congress about the extent of his conversations with a Russian real estate company during the campaign as part of the Trump Tower project. He also pleaded guilty to using campaign funds to silence two women who claimed they had extramarital affairs with Trump. He has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Cohen’s testimony, expected to continue through most of the day, represents a complete and dramatic break with his longtime employer, outlining a long history of dirty tactics used by Trump during his real estate career and in his bid to become president. Among other revelations, Cohen said Trump had been directly told by his longtime friend Roger Stone that WikiLeaks was preparing to release damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival in the presidential race.

“Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he 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,” Cohen said in his opening statement. “Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect, ‘Wouldn’t that be great.’”

Stone has denied the conversation happened, but was recently indicted on charges of lying to Congress and obstruction of an official proceeding.

Cohen provided several documents to back up his remarks, including a copy of a check signed by Trump to reimburse him for the hush money payments. Cohen said the document was signed after Trump became president.

CNN reportedly obtained a copy of the check, made out to Cohen for the amount of $35,000. It’s dated Aug. 1, 2017, and appears to bear Trump’s signature.

“For those who question my motives for being here today, I understand,” Cohen testified. “I have lied, but I am not a liar. 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.”

Early Wednesday, from Vietnam, Trump posted a tweet to disparage his former fixer:

Wednesday’s testimony is taking place at the same time Trump is having dinner with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam. The pair are holding their second summit to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear program, although it’s unclear what sort of compromises the White House would be able to wrangle.

Cohen’s testimony is proving divisive in Washington. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) drew fire after obliquely threatening Tuesday to reveal damaging information about the lawyer.

“Hey @MichaelCohen212 - Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat,” Gaetz wrote on Twitter. “I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”

The comment sparked outrage, with former government ethics officials saying it amounted to witness tampering ahead of what’s sure to be an explosive hearing. Gaetz later deleted the tweet.

Hayley Miller contributed reporting.

This article has been updated with Cohen’s opening statement to the committee.