WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Michael Cohen, a once-loyal “fixer” for U.S. President Donald Trump who has turned against his former boss, said on Tuesday he was keen to tell his story of Trump’s business and personal dealings in a public hearing in Congress on Wednesday.
In brief comments after a full day of closed-door testimony in the Senate, Cohen said he would make his public case on Wednesday for why Americans should believe him over Trump.
“I look forward to tomorrow to being able ... in my voice to tell the American people my story and I’m going to let the American people decide exactly who’s telling the truth,” Cohen told reporters.
Cohen is expected to provide details about hush-money payments made to two women who said they had sexual affairs with Trump, and about Trump’s efforts to secure a real estate project in Moscow even as he was running for president in 2016, a source familiar with the matter said.
Cohen will also offer first-hand anecdotes to illustrate Trump’s “lies, racism and cheating” during the decade Cohen worked for the real estate mogul, and provide “evidence of criminal conduct” since Trump became president, the source said.
As Cohen testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Republican U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz, a Trump ally, suggested in a tweet that compromising information about Cohen’s private life might soon be released.
“Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” Gaetz said on Twitter.
Gaetz later denied suggestions that his tweet amounted to witness intimidation. “It is challenging the veracity and character of a witness. We do it everyday,” he told the Daily Beast.
The lawmaker does not sit on the House Oversight Committee, which will conduct Wednesday’s hearing with Cohen, so he will not be allowed to ask him questions.
Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen, said: “We will not respond to Mr. 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.”
Cohen, 52, is testifying before congressional committees for three straight days this week, but only the second session, on Wednesday, will be in public.
His testimony comes as Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be near the end of his investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in collusion with Trump’s campaign.
Trump has denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow. Russia denies U.S. intelligence agencies’ assertions that it interfered in the election.
In about nine hours of testimony on Tuesday, Cohen was asked about Trump’s dealings with Russia, as well as his own lies in previous testimony to Congress.
Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate committee, suggested Cohen’s testimony was important to its own probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“Two years ago when this investigation started, I said it may be the most important thing I’m involved in in my public life in the Senate and nothing I have heard today dissuades me from that view,” Warner told reporters outside the hearing room.
Cohen was one of Trump’s closest aides and once said he would “take a bullet” for him. But he turned against Trump last year and is cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations.
Cohen has been sentenced to prison for three years and is scheduled to start that sentence on May 6.
He has said Trump directed him to arrange hush-money payments for an adult-film actress known as Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both said they had sexual relationships with Trump.
Federal prosecutors have said those payments were aimed at protecting Trump’s 2016 election campaign and so were made in violation of campaign finance laws.
Trump has repeatedly denied ordering the payments and called Cohen a “rat” after he turned on him. The White House again questioned Cohen’s credibility on Tuesday.
“It’s 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,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
Cohen intends to give lawmakers “granular details” about the hush-money payments to the two women, and information about a “money trail” after Trump became president, said the person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified.
Democrats on the House Oversight Committee plan to question Cohen publicly about Trump’s personal finances as well as alleged efforts by Trump and his lawyers to intimidate Cohen to try to keep him from testifying.
Last November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress by telling lawmakers in 2017 that Trump’s pursuit of a real estate deal in Moscow project had ceased by January 2016.
Cohen is expected to tell the committee that Trump was still inquiring about the project as late as June 2016, deep into the election campaign.
Reporting by Nathan Layne, Ginger Gibson and Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Eric Beech and Tim Ahmann in Washington and Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney