In his testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday, Michael Cohen will accuse his former client, President Trump, of knowing that his adviser Roger Stone was reaching out to WikiLeaks concerning the publication of stolen Democratic National Committee emails.
But Cohen apparently will not claim Trump directed those communications, and Cohen will specifically assert that he lacks direct evidence of improper collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia -- a significant admission, given Cohen's longtime status as the president's former top lawyer and fixer.
"Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia," Cohen will testify. "I do not. I want to be clear. But, I have my suspicions."
In his prepared remarks, which were obtained by Fox News and first reported by Politico, Cohen will additionally point to what he will call an "unusual" episode in Trump Tower in approximately June 2016, when Donald Trump, Jr. supposedly whispered about a "meeting" in Trump's ear -- followed allegedly by Trump's reply, "Ok, good. Let me know."
Trump has maintained that he did not know in advance about the meeting -- backing up Trump Jr., who told the Senate Judiciary Committee the same thing in September 2017 and would face potential criminal liability if he were lying. But the administration has changed its accounting of whether Trump was personally involved in drafting a response to media reports about the meeting.
Early Wednesday, President Trump tweeted that Cohen was "lying in order to reduce his prison time," and referred to published reports that Cohen had been disbarred by the New York State Supreme Court -- reports that have not been independently confirmed by Fox News.
The president was tweeting from Hanoi, Vietnam -- where he is attending a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
According to Cohen, "nothing went on in Trump world, especially the campaign, without Mr. Trump’s knowledge and approval. So, I concluded that Don Jr. was referring to that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting about dirt on 18 Hillary with the Russian representative when he walked behind his dad’s desk that day."
Cohen is slated to outline a slew of other alleged misdeeds by Trump, including lying about his total assets to reduce his taxes and even trying to strongarm academic officials into keeping his SAT scores secret.
In a text message to the Washington Post, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani strongly denied Cohen's reported claims, and pointed to Cohen's release of secret audio tapes of his conversations with Trump as evidence that Cohen can't be trusted.
"It's pathetic," Giuliani said. "This is a lawyer who tapped his own client when he claimed he was being loyal. If you believe him you are a fool. He bragged he was connected to Russian organized crime and he may be. His father-in-law, who gave him millions [to invest], was convicted of tax fraud in a money-laundering operation. Let's see if these Democrats want to ask him about his many crimes having nothing to do with anyone but his coterie of business associates with questionable connections."
"If you believe him you are a fool."
In perhaps the most significant portions of his opening statement, according to the transcript, Cohen tells Congress that Trump "was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails."
Stone, who has denied any wrongdoing, has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible Russian collusion by the Trump campaign.
Separately, Cohen will also call Trump a "racist," a "conman," and a "cheat," all based, he will claim, on "documents that are irrefutable."
"I’m giving the Committee today three years of President Trump’s financial statements, from 2011-2013, which he gave to Deutsche Bank to inquire about a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills and to Forbes," Cohen will say. "It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes."
Later, Cohen adds: "Mr. Trump directed me to find a straw bidder to purchase a portrait of him that was being auctioned at an Art Hamptons event. The objective was to ensure that his portrait, which was going to be auctioned last, would go for the highest price of any portrait that afternoon. The portrait was purchased by the fake bidder for $60,000. Mr. Trump directed the Trump Foundation, which is supposed to be a charitable organization, to repay the fake bidder, despite keeping the art for himself."
Cohen also claims he will provide "copies of letters I wrote at Mr. Trump’s direction that threatened his high school, colleges, and the College Board not to release his grades or SAT scores."
The former Trump fixer will also provide what he calls proof for his previous claims that Trump organized hush-money payments to two women who claimed affairs with Trump.
"He asked me to pay off an adult film star with whom he had an affair, and to lie to his wife about it, which I did," Cohen will testify. "Lying to the first lady is one of my biggest regrets. She is a kind, good person. I respect her greatly – and she did not deserve that. I am giving the Committee today a copy of the $130,000 wire transfer from me to Ms. Clifford’s attorney during the closing days of the presidential campaign that was demanded by Ms. Clifford to maintain her silence about her affair with Mr. Trump.
"I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank 14 account on August 1, 2017 – when he was President of the United States – pursuant to the cover-up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me – the word used by Mr. Trump’s TV lawyer -- for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf," Cohen continues. "This $35,000 check was one of 11 check installments that was paid throughout the year – while he was President."
In addition to lying to Congress, Cohen pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations for his involvement in the hush money payments. Federal prosecutors in New York have said Trump directed Cohen to arrange the payments to buy the silence of adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in the run-up to the 2016 campaign. Cohen told a judge that he agreed to cover up Trump's "dirty deeds" out of "blind loyalty."
Cohen is set to begin a three-year prison sentence in May. Trump denies the allegations and says Cohen lied to get a lighter sentence.
The president and some commentators have also characterized Cohen as a "rat" -- an insult that Cohen will seek to address.
"Over the past two years, I have been smeared as 'a rat' by the president of the United States," Cohen will say. "The truth is much different"
Meanwhile, in a remarkable social media post on the eve of the hearing, a top Republican suggested that lurid details of Cohen's private life may take center stage.
The blockbuster public testimony threatened to overshadow Trump's summit in Vietnam with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, prompting some observers to say the timing was more than coincidental.
Tuesday was the first of three consecutive days of congressional appearances scheduled for Cohen. After the public hearing Wednesday, he will appear before the House intelligence panel Thursday, again speaking in private.
Republicans are expected to aggressively attempt to discredit Cohen, given that he has acknowledged lying previously. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement Tuesday it was "laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies."
Cohen will also suggest that Trump wanted him to lie to Congress about the aborted Trump Tower Moscow project -- a lie for which Cohen has pleaded guilty. But Cohen will stop short of saying Trump directly told him to lie, according to the transcript.
"To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win the election," Cohen will say. "He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project. 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. And he made it clear to me because his personal attorneys reviewed my statement before I gave it to Congress."
"We're witness testing, not witness tampering."
Buzzfeed News last month published a bombshell, discredited report, citing two law enforcement officials who said Cohen acknowledged to Mueller’s office that Trump told him to lie to Congress about a potential real estate deal in Moscow, and claim that the negotiations ended months before they did so as to conceal Trump’s involvement.
But Mueller issued his first public statement in more than a year to repudiate the BuzzFeed report just 24 hours after its publication, flatly asserting that the story was "not accurate." The Washington Post has since reported that Mueller intended his rare denial to mean that the story was "almost entirely incorrect," and that the Special Counsel's Office immediately "reviewed evidence to determine if there were any documents or witness interviews like those described, reaching out to those they thought might have a stake in the case. They found none."
One Republican House member, meanwhile, did more than just question Cohen's credibility in the run-up to the hearing on Wednesday. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted Tuesday that the world is "about to learn a lot" about Cohen and suggested he knew of disparaging information that could come out during his testimony.
Gaetz, a Trump ally who talks to the president frequently, is not a member of the committee that will question Cohen. He did not offer any evidence. Still, the tweet was extraordinary because his remarks appeared to some Democrats to constitute threatening or intimidating a witness.
In a tweet, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote, "I encourage all Members to be mindful that comments made on social media or in the press can adversely affect the ability of House Committees to obtain the truthful and complete information necessary to fulfill their duties."
Pelosi went on to suggest that Gaetz may have even opened himself to legal liability, warning that the Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause -- which provides virtually absolute legal immunity to statements made by senators and representatives during congressional debates -- might not protect Gaetz, who made his comments away from the House floor.
"We're witness testing, not witness tampering," Gaetz countered in an interview with reporters. "When witnesses come before Congress, their truthfulness and veracity are in question and we have the opportunity to test them."
Lanny Davis, one of Cohen's lawyers, said in a statement that he wouldn't respond to Gaetz's "despicable lies and personal smears, except to say we trust that his colleagues in the House, both Republicans and Democrats, will repudiate his words and his conduct."
Democrats have been alternately suspicious of Cohen and eager to hear what he has to say. Sen. Mark Warner, the intelligence panel's top Democrat, suggested in a brief statement to reporters outside Tuesday's interview that Cohen had provided important information.
"Two years ago, when this investigation started, I said it may be the most important thing I am involved in in my public life in the Senate, and nothing I've heard today dissuades me from that view," Warner said.
Senators on the intelligence panel attended Tuesday's private meeting, a departure from the committee's usual practice, where witness interviews are conducted by staff only. The Senate intel panel's chairman, Richard Burr, suggested to The Associated Press before the meeting that his committee would take steps to ensure that Cohen was telling the truth.
"I'm sure there will be some questions we know the answers to, so we'll test him to see whether in fact he'll be truthful this time," Burr said.
At least one Republican member of the intelligence panel refused to go to the meeting. "I don't have any desire to go listen to a lying lawyer," said Texas Sen. John Cornyn.
Fox News' Mike Emanuel, Chad Pergram and Elizabeth Zwirz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.