‘He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat’
These were the words of Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen about his former boss this week when he testified in front of US lawmakers in Congress. Here are the five key points...
1/ The Stormy Daniels affair. Michael Cohen produced copies of two $35,000 cheques, signed by President Donald Trump and his associates, reimbursing him for hush money payments to the adult film star known as Stormy Daniels. The money was paid to stop her discussing an affair she says she had with Trump in 2006, which Trump denies.
If this is all true, it could be evidence of undeclared election campaign payments — which would break US election laws.
2/ The Moscow tower deal. In May, Cohen will go to jail for lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings with Russia. While running for president, Trump had talks about building a tower in Moscow, although in the end the deal fell through. Back in 2017, Cohen told Congress that negotiations had stopped by January 2016. In reality, they went on until June that year.
Cohen said that, while Trump never told him to lie to Congress, he strongly implied it. “He speaks in code. I know the code,” Cohen explained. This makes it hard to prove that Trump broke the law.
3/ Collusion with Russia? Cohen said he had no evidence of this, although he has his “suspicions”. He did say that he overheard a phone conversation between Trump and his advisor Roger Stone, in which Stone told Trump about a “massive dump” of Democratic emails which were about to be released by WikiLeaks.
Trump denies knowing about these in advance. Cohen says he did, and that he responded by saying something along the lines of “wouldn’t that be great”.
4/ Racism allegations. “The country has seen Mr Trump court white supremacists and bigots,” Cohen said. In private he is “even worse”. Trump told him that black people would not vote for him because they were “too stupid”. While driving through a struggling neighbourhood in Chicago, he said that “only black people could live that way.” And yet “I continued to work for him.”
5/ He never expected to win. This, Cohen said, is why Trump lied about Moscow and other things. He “ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation, only to market himself.”
In response, Trump has said that Cohen is “lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
So has Trump committed a crime? “It appears he did,” said the chairman of the US House Oversight Committee. But it is difficult to prove. There could be more evidence to come, however; there were questions Cohen could not answer due to ongoing investigations by lawyers in New York.
Does it actually matter? For some, the accusations of lying and racism should be enough to end his presidency. But would this set a dangerous precedent? Should lawmakers try to impeach him — or wait for clear evidence of a crime?
- Do you believe Michael Cohen? Remember — he has already been sentenced to jail for lying to Congress in 2017.
- Should Democrats try to impeach Donald Trump?
- Cohen called Trump a racist, a conman and a cheat. Which three words would you use to describe the president?
- Imagine you are a US lawmaker who wants to impeach Trump — or to stop him from being impeached. Write a speech which explains your reasons and tries to persuade your colleagues to agree with you.
Some People Say...
“All men have crimes, and most of them are hidden.”Maxwell Anderson
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Michael Cohen, once one of Trump’s closest employees, has thoroughly turned against his former boss. Although he has been convicted of lying to Congress and trying to cover up the Stormy Daniels affair, he says that he is now telling the truth and taking responsibility for his actions. He will begin a three-year prison sentence in May.
- What do we not know?
- Whether to believe him. He has produced evidence for some of his claims (most notably the cheques reimbursing him for the money paid to Daniels, signed by Trump while he was president). Others, however, are reports of private conversations he had or overheard with Trump. These are impossible to prove — you must make up your own mind about them.
- Michael Cohen
- Trump’s personal lawyer for 10 years, often referred to as his “fixer”. He has been sentenced to jail for lying to Congress, as well as some financial crimes. In the past he has said he acted out of “blind loyalty” to Trump.
- Hush money
- Daniels says she was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about the alleged affair while Trump campaigned for president. Similar payments were allegedly paid to Playboy model Karen McDougal.
- The collective name for the US House of Representatives and the US Senate.
- A secret agreement to work together in order to cheat or deceive people. In this case, Trump is accused of working with Russia to sway the election in his favour. The charge is at the centre of an ongoing investigation by former FBI Director Robert Mueller.
- Democratic emails
- These showed that top party officials preferred the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.
- An organisation founded by Julian Assange which leaks material obtained by hacking. In this case, the hacking was allegedly done by Russian intelligence.