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By NBC News
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's longstanding former lawyer and fixer, testified Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee. These are his prepared remarks as published by the committee before speaking:
Chairman Cummings, Ranking Member Jordan, and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me here today.
I have asked this committee to ensure that my family is protected from presidential threats and that the committee is sensitive to questions concerning ongoing investigations. Thank you for your help and for your understanding.
I am here under oath to correct the post, to answer the committee's questions truthfully and to offer the American people what I know of President Trump.
I recognize that some of you may doubt and attack me on my credibility. That is why I have incorporated documents into this opening statement that are irreversible and show that the information you want to hear is accurate and truthful.
Never for a million years did I imagine when I accepted a job in 2007 to work for Donald Trump that he would one day run for president, launch a campaign on a platform of hate and intolerance and actually win. I'm sorry the day I said "Yes" to Mr. Trump. I regret all the help and support I gave him along the way.
I am ashamed of my own mistakes and have publicly accepted the responsibility for them by being guilty of the Southern District of New York.
I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty – of the things I did for Mr. Trump in an attempt to protect and promote him.
I am ashamed that I chose to participate in hiding Mr Trump's illegal actions instead of listening to my own conscience.
I'm ashamed, because I know what Mr Trump is.
He is racist.
He's a conman.
And he's a cheat.
He was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone spoke to Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop on Democratic National Committee emails.
I will explain every few moments.
I give the committee more documents today. These include:
– A copy of a check that Mr Trump wrote from his personal bank account – after becoming president – to refund me for the big cash payments I made to cover his affair with an adult movie star and prevent damage to his campaign;
– Copy of the financial statements for 2011, 2012 and 2013 which he provided to such institutions as Deutsche Bank;
– A copy of an article with Mr Trump's handwriting on what reported the auction of a portrait by itself – he arranged the bidder beforehand and then the bidder refunded from his non-profit charitable foundation with image now hanging in one of his country clubs; and
– Copies of letters I wrote on Mr. Trump's direction threatened his high school, colleges and college so as not to release his characters or SAT scores.
I hope my appearance here today, my guilty plea, and my work with law enforcement agencies are steps along a path of redemption that will restore faith in me and help this country understand our president better.
Before I move on, I apologize for each of you and for Congress as a whole.
Last time I performed before the congress, I came to protect Mr. Trump. Today I am here to tell the truth about Mr Trump.
I lied to Congress about when Mr Trump stopped negotiating the Moscow Tower project in Russia. I said we stopped negotiating in January 2016. It was wrong – our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign.
Mr. Trump didn't tell me directly to lie to Congress. He doesn't work that way.
In conversations we had during the campaign, while actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me that there is nothing in Russia and then go lie to the American people by saying it same thing. In his way, he told me to lie.
There were at least half a dozen times between Iowa Caucus in January 2016 and late June when he asked me "How is it going in Russia?" – refers to the Moscow Tower project.
You must know that Mr. Trump's personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress on the time of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it.
To be clear: Trump knew and managed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he was responsible for making hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow property project.
And then I also lied about it – because Mr Trump had made it clear to me that by his personal statements to me, we both knew were false and through his lies to the country that he wanted me to lie. And he made it clear to me because his personal lawyers reviewed my opinion before giving it to Congress.
Over the past two years, I have been smeared as "a rat" by the US President. The truth is very different and let me briefly introduce myself.
My name is Michael Dean Cohen.
I am a blessed man for 24 years and a father of an incredible daughter and son. When I married my wife, I promised her that I would love her, cherish her, and protect her. As my father said countless times throughout my childhood, "you my wife and my children are the air I breathe". To my Laura, my Sami and my Jake, there's nothing I wouldn't do to protect you.
I have always tried to live a life of loyalty, friendship, generosity and compassion – qualities, my parents in my siblings and me since childhood. My father survived the Holocaust thanks to the compassion and selfless action of others. He was helped by many who sat down in the way of doing what they knew was right.
Therefore, my first instinct has always been to help them in need. Mom and Dad . I'm sorry I let you down.
So many people who know me best would say I am the person they would call at. 3 if they needed help. I am happy to be an emergency contact for many of my children's friends as they grew up because their parents knew I would lose everything and look after them as if they were my own.
But last fall, I pleaded with the Federal Government for crimes in favor of, in the direction of and in coordination with Individual No. 1.
For the record: Individual # 1 is President Donald J. Trump.
It is painful to admit that I was motivated by ambition at times. It is even more painful to admit that I often ignored my conscience and acted loyal to a man when I didn't have it. Sitting here today, it seems incredible that I was so fascinated by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew was completely wrong.
That's why I've come here to apologize to my family, government, and American people.
So let me tell you about Mr. Trump.
I knew him very well and worked very closely with him for more than 10 years as his Executive Vice President and Special Counsel and then personal lawyer when he became president. When I first met Mr. Trump, he was a successful entrepreneur, a property giant and an icon. Being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating. When you were in his presence, you felt that you were involved in something bigger than yourself – that you somehow changed the world.
I finish using the Trump story for over a decade. That was my job. Always stay alert. Always defend. It monopolized my life. First, I mostly worked on real estate development and other business transactions. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Trump me into his personal life and private relationships. Over time, I saw his true character revealed.
Mr. Trump is a riddle. He's complicated, like me. He has both good and bad, just like all of us. But the bad way outweighs the good, and since he has taken a position, he has become the worst version of himself. He is capable of acting kindly, but he is not friendly. He is capable of committing acts of generosity, but he is not generous. He is capable of being loyal, but he is fundamentally disloyal.
Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his mark good, not to make our country good. He had no desire or willingness to lead this nation – only to market and build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say that this campaign should be the "biggest infomercial in political history."
He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win election elections. The campaign – for him – was always a marketing opportunity.
I knew early in my work for Mr Trump that he would lead me to lie to promote his business interests. I am ashamed to say that when it was for a real estate mogul in the private sector, I found it trivial. As president, I consider it essential and dangerous.
But in the mix it was Mr. Trump normalized, and no one around him questioned it. In justice, no one around him today does not ask it either. Many people have asked me if Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked democratic national committee's emails ahead of time. The answer is yes.
As I said earlier, Mr. Trump from Roger Stone in advance of WikiLeaks drop of emails. In July 2016, days before the democratic convention, I was at Mr. Trump's office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr Trump that he had just joined the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Stone that within a few days there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Mr. Trump responded by saying to the effect of "wouldn't it be good."
Mr. Trump is a racist. The country has seen Mr. Trump Court white supremacists and bigots. You've heard him call poor countries "shitholes."
In private, he is even worse.
He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person who was not a "shithole". It was here when Barack Obama was President of the United States.
While we were driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he stated that only black people could live that way.
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.
Mr. Trump is a cheat.
As mentioned earlier, I give the committee today three years of President Trump's 2011-2013 accounts, which he gave to Deutsche Bank to ask for a loan to buy Buffalo Bills and Forbes. These are exhibitions 1a, 1b and 1c for my testimony.
It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets as he earned his purpose, for example, trying to be listed among the richest in Forbes and deflating his assets to reduce his property tax.
I share with you two newspaper articles, side by side, there are examples of Mr. Trump inflates and deflates his assets, as I said, to suit his financial interests. These are exhibition 2 for my testimony.
As I noted, today I give the committee an article he wrote about and sent me who reported an auction of a portrait of Mr. Trump. This is Exhibition 3A for my testimony.
Mr. Trump instructed me to find a straw hat to buy a portrait of him auctioned at an Art Hamptons Event. The goal was to ensure that his portrait to be auctioned last would go to the highest price of a portrait that afternoon. Portrait was purchased by the fake bidder for $ 60,000. Mr. Trump instructed the Trump Foundation, which was to be a charity, to repay the false bidder, despite keeping the art to himself. Please see exhibition 3B for my testimony.
And it should be no surprise that one of my more common responsibilities was that Mr. Trump made me call business owners, many of whom were small businesses owed money to their services and told them that no payment or reduced payment would come. When I advised Mr Trump on my success, he actually tore it.
And yet I continued to work for him.
Mr. Trump is a conman.
He asked me to pay an adult movie star with whom he had an affair and to lie to his wife about it as I did. Lying to First Lady is one of my biggest regrets. She is a kind, good person. I respect her a lot – and she doesn't deserve that.
I give the committee today a copy of the $ 130,000 transfer from me to Mrs Clifford's lawyer in the last days of the presidential campaign, which was demanded by Mrs Clifford to maintain her silence on her affair with Mr Trump. This is Exhibition 4 for my testimony.
Mr. Trump instructed me to use my own personal funds from a Home Equity Line of Credit to prevent money being traced back to him who could adversely affect his campaign. I did too – without bothering to consider whether it was inappropriate, much less, whether it was the right thing to do or how it would affect me, my family or the public.
I go to jail partly because of my decision to help Mr. Trump hiding that American people's payment before they voted a few days later.
As show 5 for my testimony, I give a copy of a $ 35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1, 2017 – when he was US President – according to the cover, which was the basis of my guilty claim to repay me – the word used by Mr Trump's television lawyer – for the illegal hush money I paid for him. This $ 35,000 check was one of the 11 check deductions paid during the year – while he was president.
Thus, the United States President wrote a personal check for payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate the campaign's financial legislation. You can find the details of this scheme, directed by Mr. Trump, in the submissions of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Then picture this scene – in February 2017, a month in his presidency, I visit for the first time President Trump in the Oval Office. It's really awe-inspiring, he shows me around and points to different paintings, and he tells me something about the impact. Don't worry, Michael, your January and February refund checks are coming. They were Fed-Exed from New York and it takes a while to get through the White House system. As he promised, I got the first check for a refund of $ 70,000 not long thereafter.
When I say conman, I'm talking about a man who declares himself brilliant, but instructed me to threaten his high school, his colleges, and the college to never release his characters or SAT scores.
As I mentioned, today I give the committee copies of a letter I sent to Mr Trump's direction that threatened these schools with civil and criminal acts if Mr. Trump's characters or SAT scores were ever revealed without his permission. These are exhibition 6.
The irony was not lost to me at the time when Mr. Trump in 2011 strongly criticized President Obama for not releasing his characters. As you can see in Exhibition 7, Mr. Trump "Let him show his records" after calling President Obama "a terrible student."
The sad fact is that I've never heard Mr Trump say anything private that led me to believe he loved our nation or would do better. In fact, he did the opposite.
When he told me in 2008 that he cut the employees' wages in half – including mine – he showed me what he claimed was an $ 10 million IRS refund and he said he couldn't believe how stupid the government was to give "someone like him" so much money back.
During the campaign, Mr Trump said he did not consider Vietnam Veteran and Prisoner of War, Senator John McCain to be "a hero" because he likes people who were not caught. At the same time, Mr. Trump me to deal with the negative press about his medical postponement from the Vietnam draft.
Mr. Trump claimed it was because of a bone trace, but when I asked for medical records, he gave me no one and said there was no surgery. He told me not to answer the specific questions of journalists, but rather to offer him a medical postponement.
He ended the conversation with the following comment. "You think I'm stupid, I'm not going to Vietnam."
I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now.
And yet I continued to work for him.
Questions have been raised as to whether, by direct evidence, I was cooperating with Mr Trump or his campaign. I do not. I want to be ready. But I have my suspicions.
Sometime in the summer of 2017 I read everywhere in the media that there was a meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 with Don Jr. and others from the campaign with the Russians, including a representative of the Russian government, and an email setup meeting with the subject line, "Dirt on Hillary Clinton." Something clicked in my mind. I remember being in the room with Mr. Trump, probably in early June 2016, when something peculiar occurred. Don Jr. came into the living room and walked behind his father's desk – which in itself was unusual. People didn't just leave Mr. Trump's desk to talk to him. I recalled that Don Jr leaned to his father and spoke with a low voice, which I could clearly hear and said, "The meeting is quite clear." I remember Mr. Trump says, "Okay, well, let me know."
What struck me when I looked back and thought about this exchange between Don Jr. and his father, first, was that Mr. Trump had often told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world. And also that Don Jr. never wanted to set up a meeting of any significance alone – and certainly not without checking with his father.
I also knew there was nothing in Trump World, especially the campaign, without Mr. Trump's knowledge and approval. Then I concluded that Don Jr. pointed out that in June 2016, Trump Tower met for dirt on Hillary with the Russian representative as he walked behind his father's desk that day – and that Mr Trump knew that Don Jr. spoke when he said, "That's good. Let me know."
During the last year I have made a real soul search. I now see that my ambition and poisoning of Trump power had much to do with the bad decisions I made.
For you, President Cummings, Ranking Member Jordan, the other members of this committee and the other Members of Parliament and the Senate, I apologize for my lies and for lying to Congress.
To our nation, I'm sorry to work actively to hide the truth about Mr. Trump when you needed it most.
For those who question my motives for being here today, I understand. I've lied, but I'm not a liar. I've done bad things, but I'm not a bad man. I have fixed things, but I'm no longer your "fixer", Mr. Trump.
I go to jail and have broken the safety and security that I tried so hard to care for my family. My testimony certainly does not reduce the pain I caused my family and friends – nothing can do it. And I never asked, nor would I accept an apology from President Trump.
And by today I have made my family the target of personal, frightening attacks by the president and his lawyer – trying to scare me from coming up with this panel. Mr. Trump called me a "rat" to choose to tell the truth – just as a mobster would do when one of his men decides to cooperate with the government.
As shown in Exhibition 8, I have given the committee copies of tweets posted by Mr Trump, attacks on me and my family – only a person burying his head in the sand would not recognize them for what they are: encouragement to someone to do harm to me and my family.
I had never imagined that he would engage in evil and false attacks on my family – and free his TV lawyer to do the same. I hope that this committee and all members of the congress on both sides of the line make it clear: As a nation, we should not tolerate attempts to scare witnesses before Congress, and attacks on the family are out of the border and not acceptable.
In particular, I would like to thank Speaker Pelosi for her statement in Exhibition 9 to protect this institution and me and the President of the House Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence Adam Schiff and President Cummings for also defending this institution and my family against attacks by Mr. Trump, and also the many Republicans who have also admonished the president.
I'm not a perfect man. I have done things that I am not proud of and I will live with the consequences of my actions for the rest of my life.
But today I decide the example I set for my children and how I try to change how the story will remember me. I may not change the past, but I can do the right thing for the American people here today.
Thank you for your attention. I am happy to answer the committee's questions.