Trump Responds To Cohen's Testimony

Feb 28, 2019
Originally published on February 28, 2019 6:37 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump was in Vietnam when his former lawyer testified before Congress.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I tried to watch as much as I could. I wasn't able to watch too much because I've been a little bit busy.

INSKEEP: So it is not clear if the president saw Michael Cohen describe his former boss this way.

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MICHAEL COHEN: He is a racist. He is a con man. And he is a cheat.

INSKEEP: The president's one-time fixer accused Trump of taking part in a criminal scheme among other things. NPR's Ryan Lucas watched the hours of testimony yesterday.

Hi there, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: We should note that a lot of what Michael Cohen said, essentially, confirmed things that are already been reported. Yes, the president paid hush money to an adult film star through Cohen, Cohen says. Yes, the president paid for a painting of himself with charitable contributions. But what did you learn during yesterday's testimony that you had not heard before?

LUCAS: Well, yes, we had heard a lot of it. But we hadn't seen it in front of cameras. That was a big difference. Now, there was one big allegation that Cohen made that was new. He said that Trump knew ahead of time about WikiLeaks' plans to release stolen emails that would damage the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. He says he was in Trump's office in July of 2016 when Roger Stone, who's a longtime informal adviser of Trump, called on the phone.

Trump put the call through onto speaker phone. Cohen says that Stone told them that he had just spoken with the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, and that Assange had said that a big email dump would happen in the next couple of days. Big email dump did happen a couple days after Cohen says this call took place. Now, WikiLeaks and Stone both deny Cohen's account.

INSKEEP: Right.

LUCAS: There's one other thing that caught my ear in this hearing. Cohen said that he knows of illegal activity regarding Trump that he could not discuss with lawmakers because it's part of an ongoing investigation in New York. It's unclear what exactly he was referring to. But that does point to other possible legal jeopardy for the president.

INSKEEP: Yeah. I think he made some reference to being in constant contact with the various investigations touching the president...

LUCAS: Right.

INSKEEP: ...And his affairs. Did Cohen, though, also defend this man for whom he worked for 10 years?

LUCAS: It was interesting. He did on some big issues, some small. He knocked down a number of rumors about secret tapes that may or may not exist about Trump doing some bad things. He said he doesn't know of any tapes that might make Trump the subject of extortion or blackmail. He said he'd looked into a lot of these rumors for a long time but could never track any tapes down. He doesn't believe they exist. He was also asked about allegations that Trump had a lovechild with an employee at one point. He said quite simply, there is no lovechild. And then on the...

INSKEEP: He said - the president made a payment to cover up a claim of a love child, right? But that - he didn't think there actually was one.

LUCAS: But he didn't think there actually was a love child. And then on the big question that's hanging over this presidency - the question of whether Trump or his campaign conspired with Russia to win the 2016 election - Cohen told lawmakers that he knows of no direct evidence that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia - said he does have suspicions but, again, no direct evidence.

INSKEEP: How's the president responding to all of that?

LUCAS: He railed in his press conference in Vietnam. He railed against the hearing. He called it fake, criticized Democrats for giving Cohen a forum, particularly when the president was in Vietnam for talks on North Korea. On the substance of what Cohen had to say, he seized on one thing in particular. This is what he had to say.

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TRUMP: He lied a lot. But it was very interesting because he didn't lie about one thing. He said, no collusion with the Russian hoax.

LUCAS: So Trump believes Cohen lied about pretty much everything but says on that one point, Cohen should be believed.

INSKEEP: Is that quite what Cohen said, that there was no collusion?

LUCAS: Cohen said that there was no direct evidence of collusion that he was aware of. But again, he said he wasn't a member of the campaign. He doesn't know all of the conversations that Trump had. And, certainly, there are a lot of dots out there. And he said those dots tend to point in one direction. But again, people who are looking for Cohen to confirm anything on the question of collusion came away empty-handed.

INSKEEP: Although he made it clear that business dealings with Russia continued well into the 2016 campaign. Ryan, thanks so much - really appreciate it.

LUCAS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.