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House Intelligence Committee Releases Transcripts Of Michael Cohen's Testimony

May 20, 2019
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

New documents out tonight provide new details about what Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney, told Congress behind closed doors this March. Cohen already admitted publicly that he misled Congress about the timing of a Trump Tower project in Moscow. He is currently in federal prison serving a three-year sentence. Tonight's revelations have to do with who Cohen says told him to lie and why.

NPR's Tim Mak joins us now from Capitol Hill with details. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: So what are these documents? And get us all caught up with what has happened this evening.

MAK: So let's start from the beginning. Michael Cohen initially testified in the fall of 2017 about the Trump Tower project in Moscow. That's a proposed skyscraper that Donald Trump was working on or trying to get a deal on - at least the Trump Organization was.

Now, as you mentioned, Michael Cohen faced charges for and was convicted of lying to Congress. One thing that Cohen did this year was he returned to the House Intelligence Committee over two marathon sessions to kind of correct the record, explain his view of what happened.

And so what happened this evening is that the House Intelligence Committee voted to release more than 600 pages of testimony which shows what Michael Cohen told them this year behind closed doors. A lot of the most important parts of this testimony relate to this proposed Trump Tower Moscow project and this deal that those close to Trump were negotiating during the 2016 presidential election.

KELLY: Right. And the timing of how long those negotiations went. OK, so to the - what exactly is new tonight? Because in his public testimony, we know that Cohen had already said that some of the president's personal attorneys reviewed his statements about this to Congress and suggested changes. What exactly are we learning that moves and advances our knowledge?

MAK: We got a lot more detail on how the Trump Tower Moscow project and proposal came about. But I really think the biggest revelation so far - remember there are hundreds of pages here...

KELLY: Right. You're still reading, is what you're saying, yeah.

MAK: We're still reviewing. We're still reading. But one of the big things that jumps out immediately is that Cohen said he was told to lie about when the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project was terminated. There are two elements to this - right? - that Cohen said that the president indirectly asked him to lie by telling him to repeat it - the president repeatedly told him to, quote, "stay on message," which is that there's no Russia, there's no collusion, there's no business deals. Cohen said to Congress he understood this as a direction to mislead. He said as a longtime aide to Trump, he understood that when Trump made a false statement in the presence of others, he was supposed to - Cohen was supposed to repeat the untruth.

Cohen also said that Jay Sekulow, who is the president's personal attorney, specifically asked him to mislead Congress and say that the Moscow project ended in January 2016 rather than the truth, which was that it ended in June 2016.

KELLY: And Jay Sekulow's name - had that specific name come out in Cohen's testimony publicly?

MAK: There had been some suggestions that the president's attorney or attorneys were involved in this, but we're learning new detail about not only who, but also how it all happened. I mean, Cohen also - yeah, Cohen also said that President Trump was advised about this false testimony that he planned to give and approved it.

KELLY: In the seconds we have left, Tim, what is Jay Sekulow saying about all this? What's the White House saying?

MAK: You know, Sekulow's response has been similar to what a lot of the Trump universe has been saying since Cohen decided to cooperate with congressional investigators and with Mueller - that he's a liar and shouldn't be trusted. Sekulow's own attorney said tonight after these transcripts were released, quote, "that this or any committee would rely on the word of Michael Cohen for any purpose defies logic, well-established law and common sense."

KELLY: That is NPR's Tim Mak on Capitol Hill reporting on the latest - these new documents just out about Michael Cohen's testimony. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.