By Arul Louis
New York, Feb 28 (IANS) A convicted tax cheat and liar, who was once Donald Trump’s lawyer, has come before a Congressional committee to testify that the President is a “racist”, a “conman” and a “cheat” and to warn that there will not be peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election next year.
Michael Cohen, in his dramatic testimony on Wednesday before the Democrat-dominated House Oversight and Reform Committee, made serious charges like Trump being part of a criminal conspiracy to illegally pay off a porn star to buy her silence about an alleged tryst to gossipy tidbits that he had not expected to win but only ran to enhance his marketability.
The nationally televised hearings that the Democrats hoped could pave the way for criminal cases against Trump or even, possibly his impeachment, took place while he was away in Vietnam for a summit with North Korean President Kim Jong-un to get him scrap his country’s nuclear arsenal.
Cohen ridiculed Trump’s presence there because he had avoided the military conscription that sent millions of men to fight the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s.
Though on the most serious allegations that Trump is facing, Cohen said that he did not have “direct evidence” that the President or his campaign colluded with Russia to get him elected, but added that he had his suspicions.
However, Cohen said that Trump was involved in a Moscow real estate project while he was running for President and had persuaded him with hints to him to lie about it.
Two Indian American Representatives on the committee, Ro Khanna and Raja Krishnamoorthi, were among those who grilled Cohen. Khanna’s questioning took the glare of criminal allegations to Trump’s family with Cohen telling him that that the President and his son, Donald Trump Jr., were part of an actionable criminal conspiracy and financial fraud in making the illegal payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Khanna said that the documentary evidence like copies of cheques Cohen produced and his assertions showed that Trump had committed financial fraud of a “garden variety” and was part of a criminal conspiracy. That was probably the most immediately prosecutable allegation to emerge at the hearing.
A disbarred lawyer, who is going to prison in May to serve a three-year sentence for crimes that included previously lying to Congress, being called to testify was a measure of the extreme polarization overshadowing the nation.
The Democrats treated Cohen like a hero and he played up to them by expressing remorse for his years as Trump’s fixer and declaring: “Today, I am here to tell the truth about Mr Trump… He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.”
The Republicans harped on Cohen’s criminal conviction, saying that he was motivated by hopes of leniency and disappointment at not getting a White House job.
Trump tweeted from Vietnam: “He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying and fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
Cohen said that Trump knew in advance about WikiLeaks releasing hacked confidential Democratic Party’s and Hillary Clinton’s emails, which became a source of embarrassment to the party leadership and of discord with the organisation’s ranks, because he heard a campaign adviser tell Trump about it.
Assange, however, issued a statement denying that he had ever spoken to the advisor, Roger Stone, who has been arrested and charged with witness tampering and other crimes in connection with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
Cohen said: “Given my experience working for Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”
Krishnamoorthi asked about the Trump organisation’s use of non-disclosure agreements that he said had a “chilling effect” on potential whistle-blowers and people who may want to be witnesses. Cohen agreed with him saying that the agreements were overly broad and threats of litigation had the effect of silencing people.
Krishnamoorthi took a line of questioning focused on personal ethics asking if Trump used drugs, was in arrears with alimony and child support payments and had made any woman outside his family undergo “medical procedures”. Cohen replied he did not know.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)