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Michael Cohen Expected To Detail Trump Actions In Broadcast Hearing

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump's former lawyer, who admitted lying to Congress, is trying again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL COHEN: And I'm going to let the American people decide exactly who's telling the truth.

MARTIN: Michael Cohen spoke yesterday after private testimony before a congressional committee. Today Cohen speaks in public. He says this time, he is the one telling the truth about his former boss. And he says, in effect, you don't have to believe me. Believe the documents.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Cohen says this in prepared testimony obtained by NPR. He describes the president as a con man, as a cheat and a racist. And he's ashamed that he once helped the president hide his misdeeds. NPR's Tim Mak covers national security and politics, has known Michael Cohen for some years and is in our studios.

Hi there, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what does Cohen say about the president, first, as a person?

MAK: Michael Cohen is expected to call Donald Trump a racist. He's going to say that in private, Donald Trump has said all sorts of bigoted things. That's something that is really telling coming from Michael Cohen, who is the president's former personal lawyer, has known him very, very well for many years. Michael Cohen's expected to say that the bad far outweighs the good in Donald Trump and that since taking office, Donald Trump has, quote, "become the worst version of himself." Michael Cohen, in his prepared testimony, will go on to say that, quote, "he is capable of being loyal." That's Donald Trump. "But he is fundamentally disloyal." He also describes Trump as very sensitive to any suggestions that he's not smart. He'll mention letters that he has written at Trump's direction, threatening high schools and colleges not to release his records, for example.

INSKEEP: Which is your past experience with Michael Cohen, right? This was the guy who would get on the phone with reporters or anybody else and threaten them with lawsuits for the rest of their lives if anything was published that President Trump - or the future president - didn't like.

MAK: Well, there are multiple versions of Michael Cohen. And we're going to see a different version of Michael Cohen today. Michael Cohen in the past has, for many years, been Donald Trump's so-called fixer - the person and the lawyer who would go out of his way to try to fix problems - financial, legal - that arose for Trump and his organization. And that's not a role he cedes to playing until he was confronted with possible criminal or legal problems that arose over the course of this investigation.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about one of those legal problems. Cohen has admitted to participating in a crime, a campaign finance crime, covering - paying what was, effectively, an illegal campaign contribution - paying to cover up one of Mr. Trump's affairs right before the election. What does he describe as President Trump's role in that alleged crime?

MAK: So in his prepared testimony, Michael Cohen is expected to say that Trump personally signed a check from his personal bank account to reimburse money to Michael Cohen for hush money. That's hush money that Cohen later pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for. But according to several media outlets, what's especially new and interesting today is that Cohen is expected to list several documents, including copies of checks and financial statements, that support his testimony that Trump's personal bank account provided these funds. And these checks were written after he became president, as late as August 2017.

He's also expected to go into great detail about the payments he made to Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump before he was president. He's going to say that the president directed him to make these payments and describes it as a, quote, "criminal scheme."

INSKEEP: Now, Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress. That's another of his crimes. That is the White House's primary defense against him, to call him a constant liar. But you are underlining that he's bringing receipts. That's what he says he's got this time that means he should be believed.

MAK: We've got a few minutes to discuss this today. But I don't think we could really get to the heart of what a big bombshell this is. And not only is the president's, I'd say, close, longtime friend and employee coming to say this. He's also bringing documents. And documents, generally, are the gold standard when you come to testify as evidence of the fact of what you're saying is true.

INSKEEP: How, in this prepared testimony that's been published in full by several news organizations, does Cohen try to link the president to Russia's effort to help elect President Trump in 2016?

MAK: One of the big questions during the campaign and ever since has been what foreknowledge, if any, Donald Trump had about the WikiLeaks release of Democratic National Committee emails. That's been one of the major issues over the last few years. And Cohen is expected to say that as a presidential candidate, he knew that Roger Stone was talking to Julian Assange about this WikiLeaks drop of DNC emails. He also is expected to say that Trump knew about the release of hacked DNC emails ahead of time. And also, with regards to these Trump-Moscow negotiations during the campaign, he says Trump knew of them, knew of this business project. And he directed them. And he lied about it.

INSKEEP: This is utterly fascinating. We've already learned through court documents that, in Cohen's version of events, that all through - almost all the way through the 2016 presidential campaign, the president was still interested in some kind of building project - a Trump Tower Moscow - even though they had said at various times that those dealings had ended in January 2016. Cohen says Trump never expected to win. He merely expected to profit. And that's why he was happy to continue having these business discussions go on.

MAK: Yeah. And that's one of the major, big questions during the campaign, in the years since as part of various investigations. What is the nature of that relationship between the Trump Organization and Russian entities?

INSKEEP: There is also a meeting in 2016 between Donald Trump Jr., other campaign officials and a Russian intermediary. Don Trump Jr. has said the president didn't know anything about that. My dad didn't know anything about that. Cohen says otherwise.

MAK: Yeah. Michael Cohen's expected to cast a little doubt on that version of the story. We'll see as he testifies before the committee today.

INSKEEP: Tim, thanks very much for the update - really appreciate it.

MAK: Thanks a lot.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tim Mak. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.