- Michael Cohen testified in front of Congress on Wednesday for over seven hours.
- During this testimony, he called Trump a “racist,” a “cheat,” and a “conman.”
- He brought documents, checks and evidence to support claims he made about potential finance violations Trump may have made during his presidency and campaign.
What Happened During the Testimony?
On Wednesday, Michael Cohen, former lawyer to president Donald Trump, testified before Congress as a witness to Trump’s possible criminal conduct.
Last year, Cohen pled guilty to eight felony charges that are due to send him to prison for three years starting in May. His testimony ran over seven hours, and in the opening statements, which were also released prior to him taking the stand, Cohen called Trump “racist,” a “cheat,” and a “conman.”
Cohen Calls Trump Racist
Cohen said that he was “ashamed” to know who Trump is. He said that during Barack Obama’s presidency, Trump asked him if he “could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole.’”
In January of 2018, Trump also faced criticism for the use of the phrase “shithole” when discussing immigration. He allegedly asked, “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?”
Cohen then told a story about the two driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago. He claimed that Trump made derogatory remarks about the people living there.
“He commented that only black people could live that way,” Cohen said. “And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid. And yet I continued to work for him.”
Cohen Says Trump is a Cheat
Cohen then called Trump a cheat and brought documents as evidence to support his claims.
He handed in copies of financial statements from 2011 through 2013 that Trump gave to Deutsche Bank and Forbes to inquire about a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills. He claimed these documents show that Trump tried to inflate his assets so he could be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and that he deflated assets to reduce his real estate taxes.
Cohen also said that while Trump claims he is under audit for his 2016 tax returns, he does not believe that Trump is under audit. He thinks Trump does not want to release his taxes because a real audit could result in penalties.
Cohen then brought a copy of an article about a portrait of Trump being auctioned, with Trump’s handwriting on it. He claimed that Trump directed him to fake a bidder to buy the portrait for $60,000 to ensure that it was the most expensive item purchased at the auction. Trump ended up keeping the portrait for himself and repaid the fake bidder with fund from the Trump Foundation, his charitable organization.
Cohen Claims Trump is a Conman
Cohen went on to call Trump a conman, and brought up the alleged affair with Stormy Daniels. He turn over a copy of a $130,000 wire transfer that went to Daniels to “maintain her silence about her affair with Mr. Trump.”
He also turned over two checks for $35,000 each that Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr. gave him to reimburse hush money payments. Cohen said he received a total of 11 reimbursement checks while Trump was president.
“The President of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws,” Cohen said during the testimony.
When asked about the signatures on the second check, Cohen said that both Trump Jr. and Allen Weisselberg, Cheif Financial Officer to the Trump Organization, signed their names. In doing so, he is implicating Trump Jr. and Weisselberg in paying off Daniels, a campaign finance violation that he was charged with himself.
Cohen also claimed that there were numerous occasions in which Trump told him to make threats on his behalf. He said that Trump told him to threaten his former schools, colleges, and the College Board with legal action to prevent them from releasing his grades and SAT scores. He brought a letter he sent to Fordham University as proof.
He also said that over the last 10 years, Trump has asked him to threaten an individual or entity over 500 times.
Trump Lashes Out at Rep. Elijah Cummings, Reverend Al Sharpton
- President Donald Trump criticized Rep. Elijah Cummings on Twitter Saturday, saying that his district, which includes parts of Baltimore, is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and “the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States.”
- Many responded condemning Trump’s tweets, with some calling them racist, and others pointing out factual inaccuracies.
- Trump doubled-down by calling Cummings a racist on Sunday. He later went after Reverend Al Sharpton on Twitter after Sharpton said he was going to Baltimore Monday morning.
Trump Criticizes Reverend Al Sharpton
President Donald Trump condemned civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton on Twitter Monday morning amid backlash over tweets the President made regarding Rep. Elijah Cumming (D-MD) over the weekend.
Trump targeted Sharpton after the famous activist and MSNBC host tweeted that he was “headed to Baltimore.”
The president retweeted the reverend’s post and added his own statement “Al is a con man, a troublemaker, always looking for a score,” Trump wrote, adding, “Hates Whites & Cops!”
Sharpton responded to Trump in a tweet. “I do make trouble for bigots,” the reverend wrote. “If he really thought I was a con man he would want me in his cabinet.”
Trump Goes After Cummings
Trump’s remarks condemning Sharpton come after the president faced criticism for a number of tweets he made this weekend attacking Rep. Cummings, who represents part of Baltimore.
Cummings has been an open critic of the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis at the border. Earlier this month, Cummings referred to the treatment of migrant children at the border “government-sponsored child abuse.”
Cummings is also the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which is leading multiple investigations into Trump and his administration. On Thursday, the committee voted to subpoena all work-related emails and texts that Trump administration officials had sent from private accounts.
The vote was part of an ongoing probe that expanded after a lawyer for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner said they both used personal accounts for official business, which notably is illegal under federal records laws.
Trump seemed to have both these factors in mind when he took to Twitter Saturday morning.
“Rep, Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous,” Trump wrote.
“Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” the president continued. “If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place”
In a separate tweet, Trump seemed to indicate that Cumming’s district was stealing or embezzling money. He also added that the district is “considered the worst run and most dangerous anywhere in the United States. No human being would want to live there.”
Trump continued to tweet similar things at Cummings on and off for the rest of the day, at one point writing, “He does NOTHING for his very poor, very dangerous and very badly run district! Take a look…. #BlacksForTrump2020.”
Cummings responded to the president’s attacks on Twitter, later that day.
“It is my constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch,” he wrote. “But, it is my moral duty to fight for my constituents.”
A number of people take to Twitter to defend Cummings and condemn Trump’s tweets. Some, like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, called Trump’s tweet’s racist. “We all reject racist attacks against him and support his steadfast leadership,” she wrote on Twitter.
Politicians from Maryland and Baltimore specifically also took to Twitter. Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young said in a statement on Twitter that Trump’s “rhetoric is hurt and dangerous to the people’ he’s sworn to represent.”
“Mr. Trump, you are a disappointment to the people of Baltimore, our country, and the world,” he added.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) also chimed in, telling The Washington Post, “This is an example of the racist bully we have as a president, lashing out at Elijah Cummings for speaking the truth and for standing up to the president and his policies.”
“And the president just can’t take that and lashed out in a way that clearly had racial overtones,” he continued. “Elijah Cummings’s district is very diverse. It has lower-income neighborhoods that need a lot of help. And it has very wealthy areas.”
On that note, others pointed out factual inaccuracies in Trump’s claims about Cummings district. Political pollster Nate Silver cited demographics from the “Biggest US Cities” website in a Twitter post to note that Cummings district has many middle and working-class areas.
“MD-7 is the 2nd-wealthiest majority-black district in the country ($58K median household income, per my data; MD-4 is first),” Silver wrote. “Also the 2nd-most well-educated majority-black district (37% bachelors’ degree+; GA-4 is first).”
The Washington Post, also pointed out that the FBI’s 2017 crime report ranked Baltimore the third most dangerous city in the U.S., not the first.
Others, however, defended Trump’s remarks or played down what he said.
Speaking with Fox News Sunday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney came to the president’s defense.
“When the president hears lies like that, he’s going to fight back,” Mulvaney said. “It has absolutely zero to do with race. This is what the president does. He fights, and he’s not wrong to do so.”
Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) did not say much about the tweets during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, but he did turn the criticism back to Cummings.
“I didn’t do the tweets,” he said. “I can’t talk about why he did what he did, but I’m very disappointed in people like Congressman Cummings, who is attacking Border Patrol agents that are trying to do their job when the Democrats won’t give them the resources to do it.”
Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), one of the four Republicans who voted to condemn Trump’s tweets telling four American Congresswomen to “go back” to the countries they supposedly came from, also downplayed the most recent tweets in an interview on ABC’s This Week.
“I think these tweets are different from the ones a few days ago or a few weeks ago,” Hurd said.
Trump responded to the attacks by doubling down on Sunday in a series of tweets.
He specifically responded to Pelosi’s remarks, and blamed the Democrats for playing the “race card.”
“Someone please explain to Nancy Pelosi, who was recently called racist by those in her own party, that there is nothing wrong with bringing out the very obvious fact that Congressman Elijah Cummings has done a very poor job for his district and the City of Baltimore,” Trump wrote.
In a later tweet, Trump referred to the African American representative as “racist Elijah Cummings.”
A number of people have compared Trump’s statements about Cummings and Baltimore to other remarks he has made in the past. In a now-viral video, CNN host Victor Blackwell, a native of Baltimore, noted that Trump often uses the term infestation when talking to minorities.
Blackwell specifically noted Trump’s tweets from a few weeks ago where he said that the four progressive Congresswomen known as the Squad should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Aaron Rupar of Vox also echoed that, posting screenshots of other times Trump has used that same language. Rupar included examples like in 2018, when Trump referred to sanctuary cities in California as “crime infested.”
He also included a 2017 attack on African American Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), where the president wrote that Lewis should focus on the “burning and crime-infested inner-cities of the U.S.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (Fox News)
Key Takeaways From Mueller’s Congressional Testimonies
- Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress about the findings of his two-year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential efforts by President Donald Trump to obstruct that investigation.
- Mueller largely stuck to the language of his report, as he had promised he would do earlier if asked to testify.
- Here are several key takeaways from Mueller’s testimonies.
Mueller Testifies Before Congress
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave his highly anticipated testimonies before two House committees Wednesday, speaking for nearly seven hours.
Mueller’s first testimony was before the Judiciary Committee, where the questions mostly focused obstruction of justice and the whether or not a sitting president can be indicted.
His second testimony was before the Intelligence Committee, where questions focused more on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The former special counsel, for his part, kept his responses short and fairly limited. He gave many yes or no answers, often referring the questioner back to the report, or saying he was not able to talk about the matter legally.
According to CNN, Mueller declined to answer a question or deferred a total of 206 times throughout both hearings.
Following the initial release of the report, Mueller had said before that he did not want to testify before Congress and if he did, he would stick to the report.
His ability to give answers was also further complicated by the Justice Department, which told him he could not answer a wide range of questions.
Most notably, the Department informed Mueller that he was not allowed to answer questions about people who have not been charged with illegal activities, which made it complicated o talk about Trump and his family.
Now that we have Mueller’s testimonies regarding the findings of his investigation, let’s look at some of the key takeaways from the hearings.
Obstruction of Justice & Exoneration
Mueller started his day on Capitol Hill fielding questions from the House Judiciary Committee.
The Chairman of that Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) pressed Mueller on his conclusions as to whether or not President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice.
“The report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice, is that correct?” asked Nadler. Mueller responded saying Nadler was correct.
“What about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Nadler continued.
“No,” Mueller replied.
“Your investigation actually found, quote, ‘multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian interference and obstruction investigations.’ Is that correct?” Nadler asked, to which Mueller responded that it was.
Another notable line of questioning about obstruction and indictments came from Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).
‘Sessions was being instructed to tell the special counsel to end the existing investigation into the president and his campaign,’” Lieu read from Mueller’s report. “That’s in the report, correct?” Mueller concurred.
“That would be evidence of an obstructive act because it would naturally obstruct their investigation, correct?” Lieu continued.
“Correct,” Mueller responded.
Questions of Indictment
Lieu later continued to discuss the Department of Justice rule that a sitting president cannot be indicted, which is based off a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).
“I believe any reasonable person looking at these facts could conclude that all three elements of the crime of obstruction of justice have been met,” he said. “And I’d like to ask you the reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?”
“That is correct,” Mueller answered. He later walked that statement back during his opening statements in front of the Intelligence Committee.
“I wanted to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu,” he said in his opening statement. “It was said, and I quote, ‘you didn’t charge the president because of the OLC opinion.’ That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report and as I said in the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”
There was a lot of media focus on that exchange and Mueller’s clarification, but the question Lieu asked Mueller before is also fascinating. In answering Lieu’s question, Mueller confirmed that Trump asked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the investigation.
He also seemed to agree with Lieu’s analysis that that would be evidence of an obstructive act.
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) struck a similar tone in a question he posed to Mueller. “So it’s fair to say the president tried to protect himself by asking staff to falsify records relevant to an ongoing investigation?” he asked.
“I would say that is generally a summary,” the special counsel responded.
Regarding the question of whether or not a president could theoretically be indicted once they leave office.
Another one of the most notable moments during Mueller’s testimony in the Judiciary Committee came from this line of questioning from Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO).
Buck asked Mueller if he had found “sufficient evidence to convict President Trump or anyone else with obstruction of justice.”
Mueller responded that his team “did not make that calculation,” because the OLC opinion “indicates that we cannot indict a sitting president. So one of the tools that a prosecutor would use is not there.”
Later, Buck asked, “could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?”
“Yes,” Mueller responded.
Trump’s Answers to Mueller’s Questions
Mueller’s testimony at the Intelligence Committee hearing focused more on the portion of his report concerning Russian intervention in the 2016 election.
One of the most talked-about sound bites from that hearing came during questioning from Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). Demings asked a series of questions about Trump’s answers to Mueller’s questions during the investigation.
Mueller never interviewed Trump in person, but Trump gave written answers to Mueller’s questions.
“According to the report there were follow-up questions because of the president’s incomplete answers about the Moscow project,” Demings asked. “Did the president answer your follow up questions either in writing or orally?”
“No,” Mueller said.
“He did not,” she continued. “In fact, there were many questions that you asked the president that he simply didn’t answer, isn’t that correct?” Mueller responded that it was true.
“And there were many answers that contradicted other evidence you had gathered during the investigation, isn’t that correct Director Mueller?” she asked.
“Yes,” the special counsel answered.
“Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say that the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did his answers show that he wasn’t always being truthful?” Demings asked shortly after,
“There — I would say generally,” he responded.
WikiLeaks & Russia
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) asked the special counsel a series of questions about WikiLeaks.
He asked Mueller if he would agree with an assessment made by Mike Pompeo when he was the director of the CIA that WikiLeaks is a “hostile intelligence service,” to which Mueller responded, “Absolutely.”
Quigley then read some statements Trump has made in the past about WikiLeaks.
“‘This just came out… WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks,’ Donald Trump, October 10, 2016, ‘This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart, you gotta read it,’ Donald Trump, October 12, 2016. ‘This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,’ Donald Trump, October 31, 2016. ‘Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks,’ Donald Trump, November 4, 2016. Do any of those quotes disturb you, Mr. Director?” he asked.
“Well, problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays, in terms of some, I don’t know, hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity,” Mueller responded.
Finally, Mueller also had a now-viral sound-bite about Russian interference in the election during questioning from Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), who asked, “in your investigation, did you think this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election, or did you find evidence to suggest they’ll try to do this again?”
“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller responded. “The doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Time) (Fox News)
Senate to Vote on 9/11 Victims Fund Bill
- Comedian Jon Stewart and Sen. Rand Paul took swipes at each other this week amid Paul’s efforts to stall a bill that would reauthorize funding for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund (VCF).
- The House passed a version of the bill July 12 after Stewart, a long-time advocate for VCF funding, gave testimony before a House committee that later went viral.
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand brought the bill to the Senate floor for a unanimous consent vote Wednesday
- But the vote failed when Paul objected and argued that funding should be cut from other areas to offset the funding for VCF.
- Another vote on the bill is set for early next week.
Senate Vote Rescheduled
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and comedian Jon Stewart exchanged heated remarks this week after Paul blocked a bill that would reauthorize the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund from passing on Wednesday.
The VCF was originally formed by Congress after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 in order to assist the families of people who died or were injured. Funding for the VCF was last reauthorized by Congress in 2015, with funds set to expire December 2020.
However, earlier this year VCF administrator Rupa Bhattacharyya announced that the fund did not have enough money to pay either existing or anticipated claims.
The House voted earlier this month, 402 to 12, to reauthorize the bill through 2092 after comedian and long-time VCF advocate Jon Stewart delivered a powerful testimony during a House committee hearing.
Despite the overwhelming support in the House, many were concerned about objections from the Senate.
On Wednesday, Sen. Paul prevented the Senate from voting on the reauthorization by unanimous consent. Under Senate rules, any one Senator can purpose that a measure is approved by unanimous consent, but that request can also be rejected by a single Senator.
Paul argued that funding should be cut from other areas to offset the money that would be allocated to the VCF. He also added that he would be proposing an amendment.
Sen. Mike Lee also placed a procedural hold on the bill.
Jon Stewart Responds
Paul and Lee’s efforts to stall the VCF reauthorization drew the ire of many, including Jon Stewart, who voiced his frustration on Wednesday while speaking to Fox News host Bret Baier.
“It’s absolutely outrageous,” Stewart said. “And you’ll pardon me if I’m not impressed in any way by Rand Paul’s fiscal responsibility virtue signaling.”
“Bret, this is about what kind of society do we have,” he continued. “At some point, we have to stand up for the people who have always stood up for us, and at this moment in time, maybe cannot stand up for themselves, due to their illnesses and their injuries. And what Rand Paul did today on the Senate was outrageous.”
“He is a guy who put us in hundreds of billions of dollars in debt,” he added, noting how Paul voted for President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut.
“And now he’s going to tell us that a billion dollars a year over 10 years is just too much for us to handle?“
Rand Paul Responds
Paul responded to Stewart’s retorts while speaking to Fox News host Neil Cavuto Thursday.
“I know Jon Stewart, and Jon Stewart is sometimes funny, sometimes informed, but in this case, he’s neither funny nor informed,” the Senator said, going on to argue that he has spent his whole Senate career “putting forward “pay-fors anytime spending is expanded.”
“So he’s really not informed and his name-calling just sort of exposes him as a left-winger, part of the left-wing mob that really isn’t using his brain and is willing to call people names,” he continued.
“Its really kind of disgusting, because see he pretended for years when he was on his comedy show to be somebody who could see both sides and see through the B.S. on both sides. Well, now he is the B.S.”
Both Paul and Lee argued that the reauthorization bill should be passed through an amendment vote and not a unanimous consent vote.
“Not blocking the 9/11 bill – simply asking for a vote on an amendment to offset the cost,” Paul said in a tweet on Wednesday.
An amendment proposed by Lee would give the VCF finite funding of $1 billion a year for 10 years, rather than providing indefinite funds through 2094, like the House bill.
“Since 2011, the 9/11 Victims Fund has always had finite authorizations, and by all accounts it has an excellent record avoiding waste and abuse,” Lee said in a statement on Thursday. “These two things are not coincidental. They go together.”
Others argue that the limited terms set out by Lee’s amendment would just set Congress up for another reauthorization debate in 10 years.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who brought the bill to the floor for the unanimous consent vote, the called Lee’s amendment “unbelievably callous.” She also told the Senators “to stop these political games and pass this bill now.”
Paul also proposed an amendment, though it is not immediately clear how it would change the bill, according to reports.
After negotiations, Gillibrand and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made a joint announcement Thursday saying that the Senate is set to vote on the bill early next week.
They also said that they would oppose both of the amendments put forward by Paul and Lee. Both Senators expect the bill to pass before the Senate leaves for recess in August.
“Senator Paul may have turned his back on our first responders today, but now we have a filibuster-proof bipartisan support of 73 cosponsors in addition to myself,” Gillibrand said.