During his testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen indicated that a statement he had used in earlier congressional testimony had been “edited” by the White House. Since that statement was the focus of charges that Cohen had lied to Congress, and since it concerned Donald Trump’s Moscow Project to build a skyscraper in Russia, any edits made to the document are of critical importance.
According to CNN, Cohen has now provided the House Intelligence Committee with the version of his statement marked up by White House attorney Jay Sekulow. The statement was also reviewed before Cohen’s original testimony by an attorney for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Ivanka Trump was in communication about the Moscow Project, and her name was slated to be on a spa contained in the massive building. It’s not clear if the attorney for Ivanka Trump and Kushner made any edits to Cohen’s document before he spoke.
Sources have reported that the edits did not materially change Cohen’s statement, and the White House counsel’s office has claimed that it made no edits affecting the “timing or duration” of the Moscow Project as presented by Cohen. However, without the actual release of the documents, it’s impossible to judge the exact nature of the “several changes” made by Sekulow.
To a large extent, the most amazing thing about Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week was how little of it was new. Donald Trump paid off women to keep them quiet. We knew that. He was involved in planning the payoffs, funneling the money through Cohen, and trapping the women with contracts through AMI. We already heard the tape. Trump inflated and deflated his worth to get loans, sucker investors, and avoid taxes. That’s the kind of thing Trump bragged about during the 2016 debates. The biggest thing that happened at the Cohen hearing was that Democrats questioned him, got facts on the record, and connected the dots in support of subpoenaing more witnesses and documents. It’s not that Republicans hadn’t known about the need for these documents and witnesses; it’s that they refused to act.
But there were some new details that surfaced during Cohen’s appearance before the House Oversight Committee. In addition to the claim that his statement had been edited, one bit of new information was simply the timing of events. Because of the way Trump spread out the payments to Cohen in an attempt the disguise the nature of what he was doing, he was writing checks to cover up his affair from the White House.
The New York Times looked at the date on one of the checks signed by Trump, and found that he took time out from discussions on the Republican tax bill and fighting a court ruling on his Muslim ban. A second check went out the same day that Trump played host to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A third came while Trump was in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A fourth was sent on the day that Trump was forced to admit to drafting the false statement Donald Trump Jr. delivered about the Trump Tower meeting.
These incidents don’t cover all the dates on which Trump wrote checks to Cohen, but they’re enough to show that Trump’s attention to the affairs of the nation repeatedly took a back seat to paying off his own affairs.
The idea that Trump was working on paying bribes to keep women quiet in between supposedly doing the nation’s business may seem merely tawdry, but as Democrats pointed out during questioning of Cohen, even disregarding the campaign violations with which Cohen was charged and with which Trump is absolutely complicit, the payments involve Trump in a criminal conspiracy. In order to pay off Cohen, Trump, Trump Organization CEO Allen Weisselberg, and Donald Trump Jr. knowingly disguised the nature of the payments, reporting them on the books as a corporate legal retainer rather than a personal expense. That alone represents a crime. Trump was conducting this criminal operation from the Oval Office.
But Trump’s involvement in the payments will certainly be more than compounded if comparisons between the before and the after versions of Cohen’s statements show that the false information he provided came at the direct instigation of White House attorneys.