Here’s What Congress Should Ask Michael Cohen

It’s a pretty long list.

Michael Cohen leaves federal court on December 12, 2018.Spencer Platt/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Michael Cohen, the once influential lawyer and fixer for Donald Trump, will testify in public before the House Oversight Committee and tell all. Or perhaps not all, but a lot.

Now a confessed felon who will soon reside in a federal prison, Cohen spent a decade as Trump’s consigliere and attack-dog defender. He famously once proclaimed he would take a bullet for his patron. Yet now Cohen has traded the tough-guy pose for contrition, explaining that he lost his way during his years with Trump. (Cohen, according to federal prosecutors, acted “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump, when he violated campaign finance laws by making hush money payments to a Playboy model and a porn star who each claimed to have had an extramarital affair with Trump.) And as part of his penance, he wants to share with the world his intimate knowledge of Trump and his immoral and dishonest conduct.

There is practically a bottomless pit of questions that members of the committee can hurl at Cohen. His lawyer, Lanny Davis, says that Cohen will not address Russian matters. But it’s not clear how tight that restraint will be. And, of course, the legislators are free to ask whatever they want. (It’s a good bet at  least one of the Democratic lawmakers will raise with Cohen the allegation he secretly met with Russian officials in Prague in the summer of 2016—which he has steadfastly denied.) Even with that limit in place, Cohen can be grilled on a host of subjects related to Trump’s business dealings going back years. There remain many unanswered questions about the president’s finances and his endeavors around the globe. And there likely are schemes and ventures still unknown to the public that warrant scrutiny. So of course, Cohen should be asked big, open-ended questions, such as this one: During your time with Trump, did you witness any criminal or improper activity by Trump, his relatives, or employees of his company? But here is a partial list of specific queries for Cohen that members of the oversight panel may want to pose. They cover some of the known mysteries and puzzles of Trumpland. No doubt, there are plenty of questions that could be added to this compendium. Yet getting straight answers to these would be a very good start.

Trump’s Finances

Have Trump’s taxes really been under audit, as he has repeatedly claimed? If so, which years? Is that really why he has not released them? Have you ever talked to him about releasing his taxes? Are there any particular reasons he does not want the public to see his returns?

The New York Times reported that Trump and his family engaged in tax avoidance schemes and outright fraud in the 1990s to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes. Have you ever discussed these or similar schemes with him? Do you know anything about this conduct?

Has Donald Trump lied about his net worth? Any idea what it is?

Has the Trump Organization engaged in hiding assets in offshore companies? Has it used limited liability corporations (LLCs) in the United States to hide liabilities or assets?

Are you familiar with the workings of the Trump Foundation? Did Trump or any members of his family use the foundation improperly? For personal gain?

Did you ever have any conversations with Trump about how he could use his campaign to make money for the Trump Organization and his family (or you)?

Did you ever have any conversations with Trump about how he could use the presidency to make money for the Trump Organization and his family (or you)?

It was recently reported that you gave information to federal prosecutors about possible irregularities related to insurance claims filed by the Trump Organization. Can you explain what material you provided?

On a financial disclosure form, Trump stated that he owed an entity called “Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC” $50 million. On the same form, he listed this LLC as an asset he owned but claimed it had no value—which seemed odd. So what is the story behind this mysterious loan? 

Trump Skullduggery

Were you involved in any other hush money payments beyond those for Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels

Has Trump ever been the target of extortion or blackmail from individuals or foreign entities? 

Do you know if he ever engaged in behavior while traveling abroad, including in Russia, that would leave him vulnerable to blackmail?

Do you know if the Trump Organization ever violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? 

Did Trump’s company meet its obligation to perform due diligence on its local partners on foreign ventures, including its Azerbaijan licensing deal

Did you have any conversations with Trump, Trump campaign officials, or Trump Organization executives about trying to locate Hillary Clinton’s emails?

Prosecutors are investigating whether the Trump campaign received illegal donations from foreign donors. Around the time of the inauguration, you negotiated lucrative deals to help secure access to the new president’s administration for foreign nationals, including some now suspected of secretly funneling money to Trump’s inauguration fund. You were also involved in communication among Trump staffers about alleged overspending by the committee (including Ivanka Trump’s apparent role in steering inaugural dollars to Trump’s Washington hotel). So what do you know about donations to Trump’s inauguration committee? Did any money come from foreign sources? Were any donations made to seek influence with Trump and his administration?

Have you ever discussed with Trump his links to organized crime figures?

Russia

Were you aware of the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016? And do you know if Trump was aware of it after or before it occurred?

Were you ever informed that the Kremlin or other Russian entities wanted to secretly help the Trump campaign?

Did you ever talk to Trump about denying Russian intervention in the 2016 campaign? If so, what did he say about that?

In your private conversations with Trump, how did he refer to Vladimir Putin and what did he say about him? Can you explain Trump’s long record of making positive statements about Putin?

Sergei Millian, a somewhat mysterious real estate developer, has claimed he worked with the Trump Organization, and he was an unwitting source for salacious allegations in the Steele dossier. You have publicly said he is a “total phony.” Is that true? Or did he have a connection to Trump and his circle?

Donald Trump Jr. has said that Russian money was an important revenue stream for the Trump Organization. How so? How much money has the Trump Organization gotten from real estate deals with Russians?

Which Trump projects have received the most money from Russians?

What was the general attitude in the Trump Organization toward obtaining Russian money or buyers?

Eric Trump reportedly told a sports writer that the Trump Organization financed its golf course with Russian money. Is that accurate? If so, what Russian money?

When Trump purchased his golf courses in Scotland, he broke from his usual course of action of financing big acquisitions with debt. He bought them with cash. Where did the cash come from?

Trump Tower Moscow

Why did Trump in December 2015 lie about his relationship with Felix Sater, a real estate developer with a felony conviction? Asked by a reporter about Sater, Trump said, “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it. I’m not that familiar with him.” Yet at the time, Sater was working with you to develop a Trump tower in Moscow, and Trump had signed a letter of intent in October 2015 regarding the project. Was Trump trying to hide this project from the public as he was campaigning for president?

Did Trump ever discuss with you the need to keep this project secret? Or the need to hide his relationship with Sater, who had previously worked with the Trump Organization on the Trump SoHo project and other prospective projects?

When did work on the Trump tower Moscow project officially cease? And why did it come to an end?

How aware were Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump of this venture? Did you brief them on the project?

Did you know that IC Expert, the Russian company in this deal, was owned by three offshore companies, with one controlled by a Cypriot lawyer deeply involved in Russian finance? Do you know who ultimately controlled IC Expert?

One of the now-famous memos written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele alleged that the Russians attempted to cultivate and co-opt Trump by dangling business opportunities in front of him. Do you think that is true?

Saudi Arabia/United Arab Emirates

How much business has the Trump Organization done with Saudi Arabian entities?

Has Trump conducted (or tried to conduct) any business with the Saudi royal family?

Who was Trump’s partner on the Trump Organization plan to open a hotel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia?

Does Trump or his family own or control any property in Dubai or elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates? 

China

Can you describe what you know, if anything, about the 2017 deal in which a woman with apparent ties to Chinese military intelligence bought a $16 million condo in New York City from Trump’s company? Was Trump aware of this transaction?

Were you aware of Trump Organization efforts to do business in China? What happened with these attempts?

 Deutsche Bank

Trump has borrowed at least $364 million from Deutsche Bank. Can you explain his relationship with this bank?

How much money has he borrowed from this institution?

The funds for these loans come from the private side of the German bank—that is, a division of the bank that caters to high-net-worth clients, for instance, by offering them riskier loans than the bank would usually allow. Do you know the ultimate source of the money? Is there any connection between these borrowed funds and Russian or other foreign interests?

During the 2016 campaign, Trump asked Deutsche Bank for a new loan and was rejected. Did he approach any other banks for money?

Does Trump have any other major loans from overseas banks and sources? Has he ever?

Trump SoHo

Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump were accused of misleading prospective buyers about sales in the Trump SoHo hotel and condominium project. Do you know if they did provide false information to possible buyers?

The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., dropped the case. Was this move related to campaign donations received by the DA?

One lawsuit claimed Trump SoHo was developed with the undisclosed help of convicted felons and was financed by shady sources in Kazakhstan and Russia. Is this true?

Do you know of any examples of improper financing of that project or if any financing for it came from sources related to Russia or organized crime?

Do you know of any examples when Trump, his relatives, the Trump Organization, or the firm’s associates sought financing from questionable sources or sources linked to corrupt foreign officials or criminal activity?

Ukraine Peace Plans and Russian Sanctions

Before or after the election, did you ever talk with Trump about lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Russia? Was this ever part of any quid pro quo?

Was the so-called Ukrainian peace plan you shared with then national security adviser Michael Flynn in the early days of the Trump administration related to the plan Paul Manafort reportedly discussed with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime Manafort business associate?

Did you receive any business rewards or other gains for passing along this Ukraine plan?

Were you or Trump aware of Manafort’s relationship with Oleg Deripaska and Manafort’s interactions with Kilimnik, an alleged Russian intelligence associate, during the campaign?

The Post-election Swamp

After Trump’s election, you set up a lobbying and consulting business. Was Trump aware of your activities? Did he help you secure any of the lucrative contracts you obtained? Did you have or discuss with him any financial agreement under which he would receive a portion of your earnings? Did he offer to repay any debts to you by helping you secure business?

Was Trump aware of your work with Columbus Nova, an American firm linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg? Did you ever introduce Vekselberg to Trump or convey to Trump any message from him?

Did you discuss with Trump the effort of Franklin Haney, a Republican donor, to secure funding for a nuclear power plant project from the Qatar Investment Authority? Did Trump help you secure a contract with Haney to help Haney seek Qatari funding?

Finally

Where are the bodies buried?

 

 

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