Michael Cohen Accuses Trump of Expansive Pattern of Lies and Criminality

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer accused him on Wednesday of an expansive pattern of lies and criminality, offering a damning portrayal of life inside the president’s orbit where he said advisers sacrificed integrity for proximity to power.

Michael D. Cohen, who represented Mr. Trump for a decade, laid out for Congress for the first time a series of deceptions by the president. He charged that Mr. Trump lied to the public about business interests in Russia, lied to reporters about stolen Democratic emails and told Mr. Cohen to lie about hush payments to cover up sexual misconduct.

The accusations, aired at a daylong hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, exposed a dark underside of Mr. Trump’s business and political worlds in the voice of one of the ultimate insiders. Perhaps no close associate has turned on a president in front of Congress in such dramatic fashion and with such high stakes since John Dean testified against President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

“He is a racist. He is a con man. And he is a cheat,” Mr. Cohen said of the president. Mr. Cohen, who has pleaded guilty to lying under oath to Congress, among other crimes, said he did so to protect Mr. Trump. “I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore,” he said.
While the details have been different, his portrait of the president broadly resembles those provided by others who have split with Mr. Trump, including former aides, business associates and even his onetime ghostwriter, who likewise have described a president who bullies, dissembles and cheats to serve his own interests.
But it remained unclear whether Mr. Cohen’s testimony would change the political dynamics of a series of scandals that have already polarized Washington and the country and that could lead to an impeachment battle this year. Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland and the committee chairman, said afterward that Mr. Trump may have committed a crime while in office, but Republicans were unmoved.

Assailing Mr. Cohen as a proven liar, they denounced the hearing as a “charade” and an “embarrassment for our country” orchestrated by partisan Democrats seeking a pretext to try to remove Mr. Trump from office. Democrats said Republicans “ran away from the truth” as they sought to defend a corrupt president who has employed “textbook mob tactics.”

The hearing took place while the president was halfway around the world in Vietnam for a meeting with North Korea’s leader. His family and advisers expressed anger at the timing, arguing that Democrats were undercutting Mr. Trump during sensitive nuclear diplomacy for political gain.

As with so many other moments of the Trump era, the hearing seemed to be as much about partisan theater as fact-finding. Democrats and Republicans set forth their conflicting narratives about the man who once served Mr. Trump, either as a dissembling disgruntled former employee or a fallen sinner trying to redeem himself by coming clean.

Through it all sat Mr. Cohen, 52, with dark circles under his puffy eyes and awaiting a three-year prison term that begins this spring. Apologizing repeatedly to his family, Mr. Cohen portrayed himself as a broken man brought down by hubris, at one point choking up and wiping tears from his eyes at the mention of the effect on his daughter.

Through some five hours of testimony, Mr. Cohen described his years working for Mr. Trump as a trip into a world of deceit in which the now-disbarred lawyer ignored his own conscience to get close to a magnetic person of power.

“Sitting here today, it seems unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong,” Mr. Cohen said. When he met Mr. Trump, he knew him as “a real estate giant and an icon” at the center of the action. “Being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating,” he said.

In private business, Mr. Cohen said he rationalized Mr. Trump’s dishonesty as “trivial,” but as president, he said, “I consider it significant and dangerous.”

The president’s re-election campaign organization dismissed Mr. Cohen as a convicted perjurer who should not be believed. “This is the same Michael Cohen who has admitted that he lied to Congress previously,” Kayleigh McEnany, the campaign’s national press secretary, said in a statement. “Why did they even bother to swear him in this time?”

Republicans on the committee aggressively challenged Mr. Cohen along the same lines. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican, called Mr. Cohen a “fraudster, cheat, convicted felon and, in two months, a federal inmate.”

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