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Live updates: Michael Cohen testimony before Congress

A "racist," a "con man," and a "cheat" — those are just a few of the accusations Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former longtime attorney, leveled against his old boss during his seven hours of public testimony before Congress on Wednesday.

Cohen, 52, delivered a damning account of the president's business and campaign practices just hours after Trump opened the second nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Democrats mostly stuck to questioning Cohen about Trump's alleged criminal conduct, while Republican members on the committee largely sought to discredit Cohen's testimony by painting him as a liar and an profit-seeking opportunist whose word was not to be trusted, in part because he's on his way to prison. Cohen is due to report to prison in early May for a three-year sentence for a series of charges he pleaded guilty to last year, including eight felony counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations, as well as one count of making a false statement to Congress.

Here's a look at how the testimony unfolded.

Cohen Testimony

Thank you, and good night.

We're closing down our live blog for the evening. Thanks for staying with us today. If you missed any part of the action, catch up by scrolling down through the blog for key moments, fiery exchanges and real-time analysis.

Watch the highlights below, or check out the best lines from the hearing here. See you all next time. 

Which 2020 Democratic candidates weighed in?

A round-up of who in the 2020 Democratic presidential field chimed in, what they said, and who stayed quiet:

Kirsten Gillibrand: The New York senator wrote on Twitter that a presidential campaign “should never be in the business of scheming with foreign adversaries to tamper with our elections. I just thought that went without saying.”

She also tweeted screenshots of two articles, one of which was titled “Michael Cohen To Face Tough Questioning From House Oversight Committee.” Gillibrand added her own take: “Elections matter.”

Amy Klobuchar:  Of the 2020 candidates, the Minnesota senator offered the most direct comments on the hearing, highlighting several articles on Cohen's testimony on Twitter: “This is a big deal: Michael Cohen says President Trump was involved in a hush money scheme. … This is even a bigger deal:  Cohen has alleged that Trump knew in advance that the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks planned to publish hacked Democratic National Committee emails.” She also tweeted about Cohen acknowledging he "lied under oath to Congress" about talks on a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow.

Elizabeth Warren: The Massachusetts senator did not address Cohen directly, but she did author a blog post on Medium as the hearing was underway in which she vowed, "If I’m elected President of the United States, there will be no pardons for anyone implicated in these investigations."

Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders were all active on Twitter, but they stayed quiet about Cohen's testimony.

Analysis: Cohen came off as 'credible,' testimony will shape committee's next step

After Cohen's hearing came to a close, legal experts — as well as a former adviser to Trump's campaign — said they found Cohen a "credible" witness despite his own admitted lies and crimes. 

"I think Cohen came across as very credible," Mimi Rocah, a former prosecutor for the Southern District of New York and an NBC News and MSNBC legal analyst, said on "Meet the Press Daily."

Rocah emphasized that Cohen didn't "go too far" in his testimony. "He tells us when he knows something and he doesn't try to implicate people in something that he can't," she said.

Sam Nunberg, a former adviser to Trump's 2016 campaign, agreed, and added he thinks Trump "hated today more than losing the shutdown."

Ben Wittes, editor-in-chief of Lawfare and a legal analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, said his big takeaway is that Cohen's testimony will now aid in "creating an agenda" for the next Oversight hearing.

"The committee is getting a huge number of tips and leads of who else they should be talking to," Wittes said. "They emerged from this with a giant witness list."

Allan Smith

'Completely false': Trump attorney Jay Sekulow disputes point in Cohen testimony

Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump's legal team, pushed back on a part of Cohen's testimony after the hearing wrapped.

"Today’s testimony by Michael Cohen that attorneys for the president edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false," Sekulow said in a statement.

During Wednesday's public hearing, Cohen testified that Sekulow was among the lawyers who reviewed his previous prepared remarks to Congress regarding the Trump Organization's negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and made changes and additions. Cohen later pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about those negotiations, saying he did so to align with Trump's preferred narrative.

"You said you lied to Congress about Trump's negotiations to build his Moscow Tower because he made it clear to you that he wanted you to lie," Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said. "One of the reasons you knew this was because 'Mr. Trump's personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it.'"

"So this is a pretty breathtaking claim and I just want to get to the facts here," Raskin continued. "Which specific lawyers reviewed and edited your statement to Congress on the Moscow Tower negotiations and did they make any changes to your statement?"

"There were changes made, additions," Cohen responded. "Jay Sekulow for one."

Cohen added that "several changes" were made, "including how we were going to handle that message, which was — the message of course being the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive."

7 hours later, the hearing is over. Watch the 3-minute recap.

Cohen made a brief statement to the assembled media on Capitol Hill after the hearing adjourned but did not take questions. 

"Thank you all for being here today. I am humbled, I'm thankful to Chairman Cummings for giving me the opportunity today to tell my truth and I hope that as Chairman Cummings said, it helps in order to heal America," Cohen said.

Get caught up on seven hours of testimony in three minutes by watching the video below.

Dartunorro Clark

Cummings closes with a bang: 'We have got to get back to normal'

In a heated closing statement, Chairman Cummings made a sweeping call for normalcy and protecting America's democracy after a fiery hours-long hearing marked by partisan clashes and pointed attacks on Cohen's credibility. 

“You made a lot of mistakes, Mr. Cohen, and you've admitted that. And you know what is the saddest part of this whole thing is? That some very innocent people are hurting too and you acknowledge that and that's your family,” Cummings said. "And you know if we as a nation did not give people an opportunity after they made mistakes to change their lives a whole lot of people would not do very well."

He added, "I want to say thank you. I know that this can be hard. I know that you are facing a lot. I know that you are worried about your family but this is part of destiny and, hopefully, this portion of your destiny will lead to a better Micheal Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America and a better world."

He took a parting shot at Republican members of the committee who falsely claimed that this is the first hearing House Oversight has held since Democrats reclaimed the majority in the chamber. The first was one on prescription drug costs, he said, mentioning a person who died because she was unable to afford insulin. He noted his committee has also had hearings on a number of topics, including voting rights, before hearing from Cohen on Wednesday. 

"We can do more than one thing," he said. "And we have got to get back to normal."

 

 

Allan Smith

Cohen, in closing statement, lists everything he says is wrong with Trump

Cohen delivered a brief but emotional statement at the end of his public testimony, in which he summed up his objections to the president and his fears for the future.

"I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, that there will never be a peaceful transition of power," he said of Trump.

He then addressed the president directly, at times looking squarely into the TV cameras.

"We honor our veterans — even in the rain," Cohen said referring to a trip to France where Trump opted against attending a World War 1 memorial event. "You tell the truth, even when it doesn't aggrandize you."

"You don't attack the media and those who question what you don't like or what you don't want them to say and you take responsibility for your own dirty deeds. You don't use your power of your bully pulpit to destroy the credibility of those who speak out against you. You don't separate families from one another or demonize those looking to America for a better life. You don't vilify people based on the god they pray to and you don't cuddle up to our adversaries at the expense of our allies. Finally, you don't shut down the government before Christmas and New Year's just to simply appease your base. This behavior is churlish, it denigrates the office of the president and it's simply un-American. And it's not you," he said. 

"So to those who support the president and his rhetoric as I once did, I pray the country doesn't make the same mistakes that I have made or pay the heavy price that my family and I are paying." 

Cohen then thanked Chairman Cummings for his time. 

Dartunorro Clark

Tlaib ignites racial dispute in final moments of hearing

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., prompted a fiery exchange when she objected to the appearance of HUD official Lynne Patton in the audience earlier Wednesday.

"Just to make a note, Mr. Chairman, just because someone has a person of color, a black person working for them, doesn’t mean they aren't racist. And it is insensitive that some would even say — the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself," Tlaib said.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who had invited Patton to stand as he defended Trump against Cohen's charge that the president is a racist, erupted in anger, asking for the statement to be stricken from the record. 

"I am not calling the gentleman, Mr. Meadows, a racist for doing so. I’m saying that in itself, it is a racist act," Tlaib responded.

Meadows asked Chairman Elijah Cummings to vouch for him as not being racist. The pair noted that they have a close relationship. 

Tlaib ultimately apologized to Meadows, saying that she did not intend for him to feel that she was attacking him personally as a racist. 

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., also referred to Meadows' bringing Patton out to rebut allegations of racism against Trump. 

Allan Smith

Ocasio-Cortez presses Cohen on whether Trump, his associates committed fraud

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., pressed Cohen on whether Trump committed bank, tax and insurance fraud during brief questioning Wednesday afternoon.

"To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?" Ocasio-Cortez asked.

"Yes," Cohen replied.

"Who else knows that the president did this?" Ocasio-Cortez responded.

Cohen named several Trump Organization executives, including chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg.

"Do you think we need to review financial statements and tax returns in order to compare them?" Ocasio-Cortez asked.

"Yes," Cohen said.

Ocasio-Cortez wrapped up her questioning under her allotted time.

Allan Smith

Cohen says he hasn't seen proof Trump's tax returns are under audit

Cohen said that he didn't actually think Trump's tax returns were under audit during the 2016 election, contrary to what Trump has long claimed. 

"I asked for a copy of the audit so that I could use it in terms of my statements to the press. And I was never able to obtain one," he said in answer to a question about whether Trump's tax returns were, in fact, under audit by the IRS. 

Trump refused to release his tax returns while running for office because he said they were under audit. He has never released them.

Trump is the only major party nominee of the past 40 years to not release his tax returns.

Programming note: Cohen will take questions from reporters following testimony

Cohen’s testimony may soon be coming to an end, but not his grilling. Cohen is planning to take questions from reporters after he’s done testifying under oath, according to his lawyer, Lanny Davis.

Cohen is facing questions from several more lawmakers before ending his day of testimony. Stay tuned.

Allan Smith

Cohen dismisses anti-Trump conspiracies in testimony

Cohen dismissed a series of anti-Trump rumors during his testimony even as Republicans repeatedly pressed forward with the idea that nothing he said can be trusted.

First, Cohen said he knew nothing about any rumored or alleged physical violence committed by Trump, the president using any drugs, being delinquent on child care payments, or paying for any health care procedures for women not in his family, an apparent reference to abortion.

He shot down a rumored tape of Trump striking his wife, Melania Trump, in an elevator, saying, "It doesn't exist," and "Mr. Trump would never" hit her. He said "to the best of my knowledge," the president does not have a love child.

Cohen was also asked about "anything that the president has done at home or abroad" or "any videotapes" that could subject Trump to extortion or blackmail, an apparent reference to salacious, unverified allegations in former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele's dossier. Cohen answered, "I’ve heard about these tapes for a long time, had many people contact me over the years. I have no reason to believe that that tape exists."  

On another item from Steele's dossier, a trip to Prague Cohen was alleged to have taken in the summer of 2016 to participate in secret meetings with Russians, Cohen said he had never been to the city or the Czech Republic.

We're back

The hearing has resumed for Round 2, with Cohen back in the hot seat to face questions from five more House Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Cohen's testimony has so far included withering descriptions of the president's character, as well as details about hush money payments and Trump's ambitions for a real estate deal in Moscow.

Florida Bar investigating Rep. Gaetz for ominous Cohen tweet

“The Florida Bar is aware of the comments made in a tweet yesterday by Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is a Florida Bar member, and I can confirm we have opened an investigation,” Francine Andia Walker, the organization’s communications director, said in an email Wednesday.

Gaetz, a close ally of the president, had tweeted: “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she'll remain faithful when you're in prison. She's about to learn a lot ... "

Gaetz offered no evidence for the claim, and was immediately accused of witness intimidation by ethics experts online. He defended himself in an interview with NBC News, saying: "This isn't witness tampering. This is witness testing."

After Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., put out a statement asking members "be mindful that comments made on social media or in the press can adversely affect the ability of House Committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties," Gaetz tweeted an apology and said he was deleting the earlier tweet. He said it was "NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did."

During her questioning of Cohen, Del. Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands said Gaetz should “at the very least” be referred to the House Ethics Committee, and could be referred for criminal prosecution.

Gaetz, who is not on the Oversight Committee, was seen standing with Republicans against the far wall of the hearing room for the beginning of Cohen’s testimony.

Sen. Warner says it's 'plausible' Stone told Trump about hacked emails in advance

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters earlier Wednesday that it's plausible that former Trump adviser Roger Stone told Trump in advance of hacked emails coming to light. 

"To me it's very plausible that Roger Stone would relay that information to Donald Trump," Warner said, adding, "I think Mr. Cohen’s testimony is pretty compelling."

Warner said Cohen spoke before the Senate Intelligence Committee for nine and half hours yesterday and characterized the testimony as "very, very important." He added that some of yesterday's testimony has been repeated today.

WATCH: Cohen tries to inject a little levity with comebacks and quips

Legal analysis: Cohen acting like 'most cooperating witnesses'

Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney and senior FBI official, says Cohen is acting like "most cooperating witnesses."

"There is an interesting point about how prosecutors make cases: Prosecutors drill in on details, members of Congress don't seem to do that quite as much," Rosenberg told MSNBC's Katy Tur.

"The details really matter," he said. "Cohen only has a small piece of it. He isn't overstating his case, he's not speculating, I'm not hearing conjecture from him," Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg says Cohen clearly knows the information he provides to Congress has to be corroborated, but added, "I just don't think Congress is doing a very good job at corroborating it. Mueller will."

Trump campaign responds to Cohen testimony

While President Trump is in Vietnam meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Kayleigh McEnany, the national press secretary for Trump’s re-election bid, issued a statement after lawmakers recessed the hearing for votes. Here's the campaign's take on events so far:

Michael Cohen is a felon, a disbarred lawyer, and a convicted perjurer, who lied to both Congress and the Special Counsel in a ‘deliberate and premeditated’ fashion according to the Special Counsel’s Office. Now he offers what he says is evidence, but the only support for that is his own testimony, which has proven before to be worthless. As noted by the Southern District of New York, Cohen’s wide array of crimes were ‘marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life’ and his ‘instinct to blame others is strong.’  Prosecutors said his actions were to ensure that he would ‘profit personally, build his own power, and enhance his level of influence.’ This is the same Michael Cohen who has admitted that he lied to Congress previously. Why did they even bother to swear him in this time?

 

 

Legal analysis: Not all of Cohen's allegations amount to crimes, but many are 'extraordinary'

"Take a step back: We just saw something totally extraordinary," MSNBC's chief legal correspondent, Ari Melber, said about Wednesday's testimony. 

"All the key insiders who have flipped, none of them have spoken under oath in public," Melber said. "This is literally the first time we have heard a Mueller witness under oath speak for an extended period of time addressed by members of both parties."

Melber said Cohen has laid out a series of "damning" allegations against Trump — "not all of them crimes, but many extraordinary in their own right."

"This is a Mueller witness, who Mueller said in court they found credible on the key points he testified to, speaking in public and describing a president who basically ran on a lark, used his company for personal enrichment," Melber said. 

Tom Winter

Trump Org's Weisselberg not cooperating with feds, sources say

Cohen brought up Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg several times when discussing the hush-money payments Cohen made to women who claim past affairs with Trump — affairs the president has repeatedly denied.

Weisselberg received immunity to testify before a federal grand jury in New York during the course of the investigation into the payments, The Wall Street Journal, NBC News and others reported last summer. Cohen pleaded guilty in August to tax and bank fraud as well as to campaign finance violations tied to those hush-money payments.

Some news outlets have suggested Weisselberg's testimony means he is cooperating with federal probes involving Cohen, the president and the Trump Organization. But three people with direct knowledge of the matter tell NBC News that Weisselberg is not cooperating, has never been a cooperating witness, and has provided limited details in the course of his testimony.

A person close to the Trump Organization tells NBC News that Weisselberg is still with the Trump Organization and defends Trump and the company.