Michael Cohen Tries To Establish Credibility In Wednesday Testimony

Feb 28, 2019
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And that is where we pick up with NPR's Kelsey Snell, who has been following the testimony all day. She's on Capitol Hill. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: So Michael Cohen walked into this hearing a convicted liar. And I want to start with that. How did he play that? How did the lawmakers questioning him play that?

SNELL: Well, we knew going into this hearing that Republicans wanted to establish that they didn't think that Cohen was a credible witness. And, you know, Cohen knew that, too. So his opening statement focused a lot on accepting blame and culpability and apologizing. So it was really kind of noticeable when people would ask him questions about whether or not he was honest, and he would very openly say that he had been dishonest and that he wanted to make up for that right now.

And I think that was something that Democrats were very, very, very cautious about. I spoke to many of them in the past couple of days who've said that they needed to find a way to establish that Cohen wanted to make up for having lied to Congress in the past. And he needed to first admit that he had done so and then try to move on from there. Whether or not he was successful in that will - we won't know for a little while.

KELLY: There's been so much hoopla about this testimony today. So let me turn you to actual evidence, actual new facts. What did we learn that was new and of significance today?

SNELL: Well, I think we heard a little bit of it already there, where Cohen outright says that Individual No. 1 is President Donald Trump.

And I do think it's also very interesting that he brought this - a copy of a check that he said proved that President Trump reimbursed him for - or I guess then-candidate Trump reimbursed him for a payment made to Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who was accusing the president of having an affair with her. And he said this is the first time that we have seen proof in that he claims was the president repaying him for that payment. Now, that was new information that Democrats really seized on.

KELLY: There was a heated moment near the end of the hearing when Republican Congressman Mark Meadows took great exception to comments from one of the freshman Democrats on the committee. Tell us exactly what unfolded.

SNELL: Yeah, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib essentially suggested that if Meadows was not a racist, he - it was - he had made a racist act by implying that somebody who worked for The Trump Organization, a black woman, supported him. And Tlaib kind of said that she was not calling Meadows himself a racist but saying the act of making that reference was racist.

It caused a very big flare up, and it did ultimately get calmed down by Chairman Elijah Cummings, who intervened and allowed Rashida Tlaib to kind of clarify her comments. And Meadows seemed satisfied after it was over.

KELLY: All right. You mentioned Elijah Cummings, who was chairing the whole proceedings today. He spoke to reporters after the hearing. And reporters were asking him, you know, do you think the president committed a crime while in office? Let's listen.

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ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Based on what - looking at the text and listening to Mr. Cohen, it appears that he did. I mean, again, if - and I don't - that's not for me to say. I'm basing that on what has already been found.

KELLY: Kelsey, that speaks to the tension that we've already mentioned at the heart of this hearing, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle trying to wrestle with the fact that Michael Cohen has lied to Congress in past, which prompts me to ask you about the evidence because he said, look; I - don't just take my word for it. I'm bringing checks. I'm bringing financial statements. What did he introduce?

SNELL: Yeah, the financial statements. He also mentioned that there are boxes of evidence that have been returned to him that have been confiscated by investigators that he was still going through.

You know, I think what's really interesting about what Cohen did for Democrats here is he kind of created an opportunity for them to ask even more questions. I think we saw that, in particular, in the questioning from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, where when she didn't get a straight answer or the full answer she wanted from Cohen, she asked for names of people who could answer those questions. So we're talking about Allen Weisselberg, who's the CFO of The Trump Organization, or David Pecker, who is the publisher of the National Enquirer.

KELLY: Right.

SNELL: It looks like they are setting up an opportunity for further investigation based on information that came from this Cohen testimony.

KELLY: All right, that is NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell wrapping up all the day's developments from the Hill. Thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.