Cohen lobs bombs at Trump during fiery hearing, stops short of collusion claim as GOP bashes credibility

Michael Cohen, the former fixer about to begin a three-year prison term, issued a stern denunciation of President Trump during an explosive congressional hearing Wednesday that left no room for reconciliation – calling his former boss a racist, testifying he was aware of an adviser's talks with WikiLeaks about stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign and alleging he oversaw an array of illicit schemes during the 10 years they worked together.

“He is a racist. He is a conman. And he is a cheat,” Cohen testified, setting the tone for the hearing. After outlining numerous alleged misdeeds by Trump, Cohen expressed regret and repeated the refrain “yet I continued to work for him.”

Cohen said he's worried that if the president doesn't win re-election, there will not be a "peaceful transition of power."

He stopped short of saying he had evidence that Trump's presidential campaign colluded with Russia in 2016, asserting he had only “suspicions.” And Republicans on the House Oversight Committee repeatedly struck at Cohen's credibility, pointing out that he is a convicted liar and suggesting he only turned on Trump after not landing a White House job.

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“You're behaving just like everyone else who got fired or didn't get the job they wanted,” Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking member on the committee, said. Cohen denied this to be the case.

The fiery testimony marked a remarkable turn for someone who once claimed he'd be willing to take a bullet for Trump.

Cohen came to the hearing with a slew of exhibits, including checks he says are proof for his previous claims that Trump organized hush-money payments to two women, including adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed affairs with Trump during the campaign. He accused Trump of being involved in a “criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws.”

"I am going to jail in part because of my decision to help Mr. Trump hide that payment from the American people before they voted a few days later,” said Cohen, who worked as Trump's personal lawyer.

He waded into the investigation over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, accusing Trump of knowing that an adviser, Roger Stone, was reaching out to WikiLeaks about the publication of stolen Democratic National Committee emails during the campaign. Trump has denied advance knowledge.

On Wednesday, Stone denied the claim, telling Fox News: “Mr. Cohen's statement is not true." WikiLeaks also released a statement saying, "WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange has never had a telephone call with Roger Stone."

Cohen did not claim Trump directed those communications. He specifically asserted that he lacks direct evidence of improper collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia.

"Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia," Cohen testified. "I do not. I want to be clear. But, I have my suspicions."

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Still, Democrats pushed an unproven theory that Trump, along with his family, could be compromised by the Russians. "Is it possible the whole family is conflicted or compromised with a foreign adversary in the months before the election?” Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, asked Cohen. Wasserman led the committee when emails were hacked.

“Yes,” Cohen replied.

Under questioning from Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Cohen suggested the Southern District of New York could be investigating the president for other crimes. “Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven’t yet discussed today?” Krishnamoorthi asked.

“Yes and again those are part of the investigation currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York,” Cohen said.

The hearing also saw sniping among lawmakers. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., called out Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.,  after Meadows brought Lynne Patton, a Trump administration staffer, who is black, to push back against Cohen's allegations during his testimony that the president is a racist.

"Just because someone has a person of color, a black person working for them does not mean that they aren't racist," Tlaib said.

"And it is insensitive...the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself," Tlaib continued.

Meadows refuted it and said he was offended.

"There’s nothing more personal to me than my relations … my niece and nephew are people of color, not many people know that," Meadows said. "And to indicate that I asked someone who is a personal friend of the Trump family … that’s she’s coming in to be a prop, it’s racist to suggest that I asked her to come in for that reason."

Cohen, under questioning from New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, claimed Trump reported inflated estimates of his assets to insurance companies.

Cohen said he began questioning his loyalty to Trump after the Trump-Putin summit in Helskini in 2018 and the deadly protest violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

The much-awaited hearing began with fireworks, as Republicans portrayed Cohen as a liar and unsuccessfully moved to postpone the hearing. In his opening statement, Democratic Chairman Elijah Cummings acknowledged that Cohen “repeatedly lied in the past,” calling it an “important factor we need to weigh.” He said if Cohen doesn’t tell the truth, he’ll refer him to the Justice Department for prosecution.

But Cummings said the hearing is important for understanding the president’s past actions, saying “the days of this committee protecting the president at all costs are over.”

Jordan, the ranking member on the committee, ripped Democrats for calling Cohen to testify, accusing Democrats of holding the hearing so they can later try to impeach the president.

“The first announced witness for the 116th Congress is a guy who is going to prison in two months for lying to Congress,” Jordan said.

Cohen admitted telling falsities in the past, but said he was coming clean: "I have lied, but I am not a liar. I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man." He said he would not ask for or accept a pardon from Trump.

Among other claims, Cohen on Wednesday pointed to 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."

According to Cohen, "nothing went on in Trump world, especially the campaign, without Mr. Trump’s knowledge and approval.”

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“So, I concluded that Don Jr. was referring to that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting about dirt on Hillary with the Russian representative when he walked behind his dad’s desk that day," he said.

That meeting has long been a subject of contention, with participants supposedly promised dirt on Clinton, despite subsequent claims that the meeting dealt instead with other topics. 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.

Cohen outlined a slew of other alleged misdeeds by Trump, including lying about his total assets to reduce his taxes and even trying to strong-arm academic officials into keeping his SAT scores and grades secret. And he repeatedly accused Trump of racism.

“While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way,” Cohen said. “And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid. And yet I continued to work for him.”

Early Wednesday, 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. The president was tweeting from Hanoi, Vietnam -- where he is attending a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

As the hearing began Wednesday, Meadows interrupted to say Cohen’s prepared testimony was not received by the committee 24 hours in advance in violation of committee rules, calling for a postponement of the hearing.

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"It was an intentional effort by this witness and his advisers to once again show his disdain for this body," Meadows said. Cummings admitted the committee received the testimony “late last night.” The Democratic-controlled committee voted to reject the GOP call to postpone.

Cohen, under questioning from Republicans, admitted he spoke with Democratic leaders in Congress, including Cummings and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, before his testimony.

As for his future, Cohen would not rule out making money on a book or movie deal or as a paid television commentator. He said he would not rule out running for office in New York one day.

Wednesday’s hearing is one of three congressional hearings this week where Cohen is expected to testify against his former boss. He testified Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and on Thursday, Cohen appears before the House Intelligence Committee – though both are behind closed doors.

Trump’s presidential campaign blasted Cohen in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“Michael Cohen is a felon, a disbarred lawyer, and a convicted perjurer, who lied to both Congress and the Special Counsel in a ‘deliberate and premeditated’ fashion according to the special counsel’s office,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. “Now he offers what he says is evidence, but the only support for that is his own testimony, which has proven before to be worthless.”

Cohen was originally scheduled to report to jail on March 6 to begin serving a three-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to campaign finance and other violations last year. He is now scheduled to report to jail May 6.

In December, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, tax evasion and lying to Congress. He agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of a deal. The charges against Cohen arose from two separate investigations – one by federal prosecutors in New York, and the other by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Fox News’ Lillian LeCroy, Frank Miles, Gregg Re and The Associated Press contributed to this report.