WASHINGTON – After more than a decade as the keeper of Donald Trump’s secrets, Michael Cohen has been spilling the beans about the president’s private business deals, foreign interests and alleged mistresses to federal prosecutors in Washington and New York.
But apart from brief comments in the courtroom where he pleaded guilty to several crimes and received a three-year prison sentence, the president’s former lawyer and fixer has not spoken publicly about what he now calls Trump’s “dirty deeds.”
That is likely to change Wednesday when Cohen testifies before the House Oversight Committee in a hearing that could be the most damaging for a president since former White House Counsel John Dean helped bring down Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.
“He has the potential to be a very devastating witness,” said Dean, 80, who completed his own transformation from criminal presidential aide to star witness more than four decades ago.
Cohen was at Trump’s side or working as a senior executive in the Trump Organization during a period now under intense scrutiny by both prosecutors and congressional investigators. Lawmakers are prepared to ask him about Trump’s campaign finances, still-secret tax returns and now-closed charitable foundation, among other issues.
With Democrats controlling the House, Cohen’s testimony is expected to light the fuse on months or years of congressional investigations into Trump’s administration, campaign and businesses.
Like Dean with Nixon, Cohen, 52, has the painful experience of working directly for Trump to squelch dissent, undermine opponents and, according to prosecutors, violate the law. His willingness to cooperate with law enforcement has infuriated Trump, who called him a “rat” in December.
Dean and Cohen even looked back on their misdeeds in similar ways.
Dean, who blew the whistle on White House misdeeds to the Senate Watergate Committee and served time in prison. wrote a best-selling memoir called “Blind Ambition.” Cohen told a federal judge that he committed crimes for Trump out of “blind loyalty.”
Cohen’s testimony comes as Washington braces for a final report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who has been investigating any ties between Trump’s campaign and Moscow’s covert efforts to interfere in the presidential election by leaking hacked Democratic Party emails and posting disinformation on social media.
As an offshoot of that probe, Cohen has admitted to helping arrange $280,000 in illegal hush-money payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump.
He also was deeply involved in an unsuccessful effort to develop a hotel-condominium complex in Moscow intended to produce hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for Trump. Mueller secured a guilty plea from Cohen for lying to Congress about pursuing the deal.
Cohen is not expected to delve into the Russia investigation on Wednesday. He likely will answer those questions on Tuesday and Thursday when he testifies behind closed doors to the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, said he wanted to dig into business practices at the Trump Organization, a privately held company that the president has fought to shield from scrutiny.
“I assume Michael Cohen has stories to tell,” he said.
Trump has said he isn’t worried about Cohen’s testimony “at all.” When his former lawyer visits Capitol Hill, the president will be in Hanoi, Vietnam, for his second summit with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator.
Cohen is scheduled to report to prison on May 6. In addition to lying to Congress, he has pleaded guilty to six other charges — tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations.
The campaign finance violations are tied to Cohen’s role arranging hush-money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump. The payments, which prosecutors said were directed by Trump, broke the law because they were intended to influence the election and weren’t properly disclosed.
Cohen paid $130,000 to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film star, using a home equity line of credit, and later was reimbursed by Trump’s company. He also arranged a $150,000 payment to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy playmate, from the National Enquirer, a tabloid run by a Trump ally.
Trump’s allies have spent months bashing Cohen in attempt to erase whatever credibility he has.
“If his back is up against the wall, he’ll lie like crazy. Because he’s lied all his life,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers and a former mayor of New York, said on CNN last year.
Giuliani and the president also suggested that Cohen is concealing crimes committed by his father-in-law.
Cohen cited those allegations when he delayed his congressional testimony, which was originally scheduled for Feb. 8. His lawyer attributed the postponement to “ongoing threats against [Cohen’s] family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani.”
It’s unclear whether Cohen will share other scandalous episodes from Trump’s past after he is sworn in.
But as Dean learned during the Watergate scandal, hearings can prove unpredictable.
“A lot of the things I testified about, I had no idea the impact they would have,” Dean said. “You just never know where these things are going to go.”