In advance of Michael Cohen’s testimony today, a copy of his opening remarks was leaked out to the press. Much of the media – particularly CNN – were having a field day with this document all morning and it’s easy to see why. Before going to prison, Cohen is obviously preparing to get in some parting shots at the President in the nastiest ways possible. Much of the language in these opening remarks may lead people to wonder how much of it is the unvarnished truth and how much is an effort to damage Donald Trump’s presidency. The point being billed as the “big ticket item” in his remarks, however, is his claim that Trump knew in advance about the Wikileaks dump of hacked emails before they were made public and lied about it to the press. (NBC News)
President Donald Trump knew in advance that WikiLeaks was going to release hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, his former personal lawyer plans to say at an open congressional hearing Wednesday.
Michael Cohen will also call Trump a “con man” and “a cheat” and allege that the president not only lied about his ongoing efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the election but urged Cohen to lie about them without directly saying so, according to a draft of his opening statement obtained by NBC News.
But it is Cohen’s description of a conversation between Trump and longtime adviser Roger Stone days before WikiLeaks released a trove of DNC emails on the eve of the 2016 Democratic National Convention that represents the biggest new allegation.
You can read the full text of the remarks at Politico.
There’s a lot to unpack in there, but I wanted to focus on a few key portions this morning and some of the bizarre aspects of this testimony. One of these is obviously the Wikileaks material I mentioned above. Reporters previously asked Trump if he knew about the document dump in advance and he flatly stated that he did not. Cohen is directly contradicting this. The big questions here all involve why Trump would lie about it.
Even if Cohen’s story is absolutely accurate (and we’re talking about a guy who has been caught lying repeatedly), what purpose would it have served the President to lie about that? First of all, he wasn’t under oath when he denied knowing it, so he didn’t commit perjury. But simply knowing about the document dump in advance, most likely via Roger Stone, doesn’t constitute a crime. Cohen isn’t even suggesting that Trump was working with Wikileaks, the Russians or anyone else. Simply that he knew there was some good oppo coming out about Hillary Clinton. It’s baffling.
The second part of Cohen’s statements I wanted to touch on is the curious language he uses. Rather than answering specific questions or simply providing documents, these opening remarks read more like a character assassination. “He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.” Is this congressional testimony designed to provide information relevant to an investigation or the screeching of a high school kid who didn’t get invited to someone’s birthday party?
The last point I’ll hit here is one that’s not getting much coverage in the press yet. Cohen makes a rather remarkable claim about midway through these prepared statements, suggesting something that many of us (including yours truly) have suspected in the past. He says that Donald Trump never believed that he was going to be the nominee or the president and was conducting the entire campaign as a way to strengthen his brand. Here’s the exact quote:
Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation –only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the “greatest infomercial in political history.”
He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign – for him – was always a marketing opportunity.
Of all the outrageous charges Cohen is leveling, this is not only the most surprising one but also probably the most credible. We’ve heard these stories about other perennial presidential candidates in the past. It’s particularly true about Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, who have both repeatedly either run for president or been the subject of national speculation that they might. Especially in New York City, it’s very good for business if people think you might wind up being president or are being legitimately considered for the job. That makes other people very interested in staying in your good graces and being at the bargaining table with you.
I’ve repeatedly stated my belief that there were few people as surprised at the President’s victory on election night in 2016 as Donald Trump himself. He immediately went into celebration mode, saying he’d been confident all along, but every president does that. Of course, even if he didn’t really expect to win, once the decision was in there was nothing for it but to push forward. Still, after all of this is in the history books I’d be interested in seeing someone sit down with President Trump and ask him that question. Cohen was clearly in a position to know some of Trump’s inner thoughts and musings at the time, so I’m inclined to think that at least this part of his testimony is probably true.