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Trump faces Hill nightmare as Michael Cohen testifies publicly

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Image: Michael Cohen, former attorney to President Donald Trump, arrives at
Micahel Cohen's appearance Wednesday will mark his first public congressional testimony. -
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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump knew in advance that WikiLeaks was going to release hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, his former personal lawyer will say in congressional testimony Wednesday, according to a draft opening statement leaked to several media outlets.

In the document, which NBC News has not independently authenticated, Michael Cohen also calls Trump a "con man" and "a cheat" and alleges that the president not only lied about his ongoing efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the election but urged Cohen to lie about them without directly saying so.

But it is Cohen's description of a conversation between Trump and longtime adviser Roger Stone days before WikiLeaks released a trove of DNC emails on the eve of the 2016 Democratic National Convention that is the big allegation in the document.

"I was in Mr. Trump's office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone," Cohen will say, according to the draft statement. "Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of 'wouldn't that be great.'"

Last year, special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the Trump operation's ties to Russia and possible obstruction of justice, indicted a dozen Russians in connection with the DNC hacks. Stone has been indicted by Mueller on charges of obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering.

Trump, who is in Vietnam for a nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attacked Cohen after the testimony was leaked.

"Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately)," Trump wrote. "He had other clients also. He was just disbarred by the State Supreme Court for lying & fraud. He did bad things unrelated to Trump. He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked's lawyer!"

Cohen is being advised by Lanny Davis, a former lawyer for President Bill Clinton; Trump refers to his defeated 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, as "Crooked Hillary."

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in December 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 the one count of making a false statement to Congress. On the eve of his congressional testimony, a New York state court filing revealed that he had been disbarred.

Cohen is also expected to testify that Trump not only lied about his business dealings in Russia during the election — a subject of interest for investigators — but urged Cohen to do so without making a direct ask.

"To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it," Cohen, who pleaded guilty last year to making a false statement to Congress about when the project was terminated, will say, according to the leaked statement. "He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project."

First Read

In Cohen's telling, he followed Trump's lead — and got sign-off from Trump's lawyers.

"And so I lied about it, too — because Mr. Trump had made clear to me, through his personal statements to me that we both knew were false and through his lies to the country, that he wanted me to lie," Cohen is expected to say. "And he made it clear to me because his personal attorneys reviewed my statement before I gave it to Congress."

Cohen, 52, will be offering congressional testimony in public for the first time just weeks before he's slated to report to federal prison in early May.

In a series of anecdotes, Cohen will recount exchanges with Trump that portray the president in a poor light, including those which led him to conclude that the president is "a racist," according to the draft testimony.

But he will stop short of saying that he has proof Trump conspired with Russia in order to win the 2016 election.

"Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia," he will say, according to the statement. "I do not."

Rather, Cohen is expected to say, he has "suspicions."

The House Oversight Committee hearing, which will begin at 10 a.m. ET and could last four to five hours, comes a day after Cohen appeared in a closed-door hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. On Thursday, Cohen will meet in closed session with the House Intelligence Committee.

Trump is scheduled to meet with Kim for dinner three hours before Cohen testifies.

Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., has looked to set specific parameters for the hearing, in which Cohen has agreed to cover Trump's debts and payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election, as well as Trump's compliance with tax laws, potential conflicts of interest, business practices and compliance with campaign finance laws, and potentially fraudulent practices by the Trump Foundation.

The hearing, however, was not expected to touch directly on matters related to the Russia investigation, which instead will be covered in the closed sessions before the Intelligence panels. But the draft statement suggests Cohen is willing to wander into the neighborhood of the Russia probe.

"I think this is a golden opportunity for the American public. The American public would like to see Michael Cohen. He is the only person that I know of that has accused this president of a crime," Cummings told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday night.

"It may very well may be a turning point in our country's history, I don't know, I don't know," added Cummings. "But what we want to do is conduct a fair hearing, we want a civil hearing and we want to be effective and efficient in letting the American people know what is going on."

Politics

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, indicated in a statement before the hearing that Republicans may not necessarily adhere to the scope outlined by Cummings and Cohen.

"The chairman indicated that he will be limiting the topics of the hearing to only a few areas of inquiry — all serving his interest in finding grounds for impeachment," Jordan said last week. "I will not stand by quietly while an admitted liar comes before the committee. Our members intend to question Mr. Cohen about the crimes he pleaded guilty to, other criminal activity he participated in but refused to disclose, his international financial dealings, and a long list of other probative activities."

And despite the limits set by Cummings for the hearing in order to avoid interfering in ongoing criminal probes, at least a few Democratic members are planning to disobey those conditions, according to two aides preparing for the hearing.

"The oversight staff are trying to play traffic conductors," said one Democratic aide who has reviewed planned questions from some members, but "people are going to want to go there" on Russian ties. Cummings' office has not responded to inquiries about how he will handle any divergence from the approved lines of questioning. However, another aide said Cohen's lawyers are likely to control how much information he gives on Russia.

Democrats on the committee are also planning to zero in on the nature of Trump's business relationships with foreign Russian oligarchs, other foreign business influences and potential money laundering.

Some Democratic members will try to obtain information from Cohen about how the Trump organization interacts with foreign entities, mainly shell companies they believe the company may have opened in places like Panama — as well as Toronto, where there is a strong Russian mob presence — which they suspect were used to launder money.

Some congressional Republicans have been trying to discredit Cohen's testimony in advance, calling him an untrustworthy witness given that he's lied to Congress already. Some Democrats have echoed the point, with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland saying it's fair to have questions about Cohen's credibility and that he "better not lie again."

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who doesn't serve on the Oversight Committee, also posted a cryptic tweet Tuesday ahead of Cohen's testimony. "Hey @MichaelCohen212 - 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..." tweeted Gaetz, who later denied the tweet represented an attempt to intimidate a congressional witness.

Politics

Cohen ultimately apologized and deleted his tweet after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued an admonishment to lawmakers not to make statements that could interfere with House committees' ability to obtain testimony from witnesses. In her statement, Pelosi noted that the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause, which protects lawmakers from being prosecuted for what they say in the course of their duties, may not apply to comments that interfere with House investigations.

The hearing, originally scheduled for Feb. 7,was delayed after Cohen's attorney claimed that the president and his personal attorney, Rudi Giuliani, had made threats against Cohen's family.

A federal judge agreed last week to postpone the date for Cohen to report to prison after Cohen's attorneys said he had recently undergone a "serious surgical procedure" and needed to undergo intensive therapy as part of his recovery.