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Cohen testimony: Trump’s ex-lawyer claims ‘criminal conspiracy’ and gives dire warning to Congress in public testimony

Cohen said he is worried that there will 'never be another peaceful transfer of power' if Mr Trump loses re-election in 2020

Michael Cohen says he cannot discuss that last contact he had with Trump, as it is being investigated by the Southern District of New York

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer, has given dramatic testimony before the House Oversight Committee, were he discussed a criminal conspiracy involving the president, his oldest son Donald Trump Jr, and the chief financial officer of the Trump Organisation, Allen Weisselberg — and then cast the president as an existential threat to American democracy.

During one particularly notable exchange, Cohen was asked by Democratic Representative Ro Khanna about a cheque making a payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, which he called a "smoking gun" that proves several individuals were involved in the conspiracy.

"Are you telling us, Mr Cohen, that the president directed transactions in conspiracy with Allen Weisselberg and his son, Donald Trump Jr, as part of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud?" Mr Khanna asked in relation to the cheque. "Is that your testimony today?"

"Yes," Cohen said.

Cohen, who will serve a three year prison sentence starting in May, said during his testimony that he believes the US is at a critical juncture in its history. Mr Trump, a man who Cohen once said he would take a bullet for, is a threat to American democracy, he said.

"If he loses the [2020] election, I worry there would never be a peaceful transition of power," he said.

Throughout his hours-long testimony on Wednesday, Cohen said that he is remorseful for ever allowing himself to end up in Mr Trump's inner circle. Cohen, who worked as the president's private attorney for a decade said that he had caused considerable damage to his family and reputation — and repeatedly apologised even as Republicans questioned why they should believe his testimony given he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress once before already.

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“I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience,” Cohen said.

Cohen also suggested that the president was aware that political consultant Roger Stone was in discussion with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the site’s access to stolen Democratic National Committee emails.

The president's former personal attorney said that he was in a room when Mr Stone told Mr Trump about the leaks, and that nobody made an effort to contact the FBI regarding those leaks.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of what promises to be an explosive day in Washington, DC.

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Wow. Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former right-hand man, will testify before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill today and has some extraordinary things to say for himself.

According to an advanced copy of his 20-page statement, the man branded "a rat" by the president will call his old boss "a racist, a conman and a cheat”.

“I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty – of the things I did for Mr Trump in an effort to protect and promote him,” he will say.

“I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr Trump’s illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience.”

Cohen appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors yesterday and will speak to the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, also in private.

He pleaded guilty on 29 November last year to criminal charges including tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. In December, he was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes including orchestrating "hush money" payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal in violation of campaign laws before the 2016 election.

Here's Andrew Buncombe with a full report.

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On his accusation that Donald Trump is "racist", Cohen will tell Congress the following:

"Mr Trump is a racist. The country has seen Mr Trump court white supremacists and bigots. You have heard him call poorer countries 'shitholes'.

"In private, he is even worse."

"He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn't a 'shithole'. This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States.

"While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way.

"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."

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Michael Cohen will also describe Mr Trump as "a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails".

He will say he overheard Mr Stone on speakerphone telling Mr Trump about the news from WikiLeaks in 2016 and that it could damage Hillary Clinton's cause. "Wouldn't that be great?" the candidate responded.

He will say that "Mr Trump knew of and directed the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations through the campaign and lied about it... "He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project."

The president's lawyers "reviewed and edited" Cohen's untrue statement to Congress on the matter in 2017, he alleges.

Cohen will further recount an incident he dates to June 2016, when he witnessed Donald Trump Jr, the president's son, walk behind his father's desk and say in a low voice: "The meeting is all set".

He suggests this must have related to the Trump Tower meeting attended by Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and at least five others on procuring "dirt" on presidential rival Hillary Clinton.

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President Trump, in Vietnam for a nuclear summit with Kim Jong-un of North Korea, is already tweeting on Cohen, seeking to discredit his old friend ahead of his appearance in Washington today:

Here's our story on this breaking development.

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A lot to pick through in Michael Cohen's pre-released statement but this is certainly a good point - a detail easy to overlook in the "new normal" of presidential chaos.

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On a personal level, Cohen will admit: 

“I am not a perfect man. I have done things I am not proud of, and I will live with the consequences of my actions for the rest of my life.

“But today, I get to decide the example I set for my children and how I attempt to change how history will remember me. I may not be able to change the past, but I can do right by the American people here today.”

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President Trump's current attorney, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, has issued a statement, counter-claiming that it is Cohen who is the liar.

“It’s pathetic. 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 said.

“He bragged he was connected to Russian organised 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 about his many crimes having nothing to do with anyone but his coterie of business associates with questionable connections.”

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Among the many ludicrous claims Cohen will make to the Oversight Committee, led by Representative Elijah Cummings, is that Donald Trump inflated his assets to make it onto a list of the richest Americans and deflated them to pay lower taxes on his golf courses. 

One of the most revealing of all as to the president's insecurities is that he asked Cohen to pressure his former schools to ensure they never leaked his exam results.

“When I say conman, I’m talking about a man who declares himself brilliant but directed me to threaten his high school, his colleges, and the College Board to never release his grades or SAT scores,” he says in his statement.

Here's Tom Embury-Dennis.

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This characterisation of the president is particularly stinging from Cohen.

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