Michael Cohen's dramatic testimony before the House Oversight Committee had many riveting moments. In his prepared remarks, Cohen said that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump had sent letters to his former schools and the College Board, threatening them with legal action should they release his transcripts or SAT scores respectively. There was Cohen's testimony detailing Trump's deeply racist beliefs. There was the peculiar scene of Republican congressmen attacking Cohen for committing crimes while employed by their own party leader.
But undoubtedly the key takeaway from Cohen's testimony is this: The president is a crook.
The most damning piece of evidence Cohen provided was a copy of the $130,000 hush money payment he made to Stormy Daniels — bribing her in October 2016 to keep quiet about allegedly having sex with Trump in 2006, just after his wife Melania had given birth to their son Barron. And contrary to Trump's insistence that Cohen did that on his own initiative, Cohen also provided copies of two reimbursement checks, one from Trump himself and one from the trust that owned his business, for $35,000 each in March and August 2017 — after he had become president.
Even if Cohen had conducted the payment himself, this would be a violation of campaign finance law by the Trump campaign, as it constituted a campaign contribution that must be disclosed (which would obviously have negated the entire point of the bribe — to hide the affair from the American people). But now we know that Trump personally arranged the payment — including at least one check from his own personal bank account bearing his unmistakable signature.
Second, Cohen alleged that Trump engaged in major financial crimes regarding his net worth, possibly amounting to both bank and tax fraud. He said: "It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes." Cohen provided several asset breakdowns from 2011-13. He said Trump gave them to "Deutsche Bank to inquire about a loan to buy the Buffalo Bills and to Forbes," which set his net worth at $4.2 billion, $5 billion, and $8.6 billion.
Cohen was unclear about the precise mechanics of these statements, but these could potentially be serious crimes. Lying to Forbes to get press attention is one thing, but overstating one's wealth to a bank to get a loan is wildly illegal, and so is underestimating it to evade taxes.
It's worth noting this fits exactly with Trump's known behavior. He is notorious for overstating his wealth (the largest net worth estimate has a preposterous $4 billion valuation on his "brand"), and a gigantic New York Times investigation last year detailed how Trump had allegedly avoided hundreds of millions in inheritance taxes by hugely undervaluing real estate assets his father gave him.
Cohen further alleged that Trump had arranged a "straw bidder" for a portrait of himself, who paid $60,000 to win the auction. Trump then allegedly repaid the bidder with money from the Trump Foundation, and hung the portrait in one of his country clubs. If true, that would be a stark violation of IRS rules about private foundations, which state that such an "organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests."
Just found out that at a charity auction of celebrity portraits in E. Hampton, my portrait by artist William Quigley topped list at $60K
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2013
Once again, it's worth noting the Trump Foundation was shut down in December amid a lawsuit from the New York attorney general, who accused it of "persistently illegal conduct," said it "was little more than a checkbook for payments to not-for-profits from Mr. Trump or the Trump Organization," and that it engaged in extensive illegal political activity in addition to buying paintings and a Tim Tebow football helmet for Trump personally.
Finally, Cohen alleged that Trump implicitly directed him to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower deal in Moscow (which Cohen pleaded guilty to in November), and that contrary to CNN's reporting of statements Trump gave to Robert Mueller, knew about Roger Stone's contacts with WikiLeaks. Those allegations are less solid, but if Cohen was telling the truth (and CNN is correct in the latter case) they would be suborning perjury and lying to the FBI respectively.
Now, there was a great deal more discussed at the hearing. For instance, Cohen said in mid-2016 he witnessed Donald Trump, Jr. quietly inform his father that "The meeting is all set." And because "Mr. Trump had frequently told me and others that his son Don Jr. had the worst judgment of anyone in the world," and Trump always knew what was going on his various operations, Cohen concluded that Trump must have been involved in setting up the infamous June 2016 meeting between Don Jr. and representatives of the Russian government.
But that is only vague, circumstantial evidence. The most credible, documented allegations from Cohen were that Trump violated campaign finance law, tax law, and banking law.
Of course, this was not a criminal proceeding, and Trump has not been convicted of anything (yet). But a betting man would not put a single penny on Trump being innocent here. Every detailed investigation of Trump has shown he is just what he looks like: a two-bit con man who has reportedly violated the law for his entire adult life, and largely gotten away with it up to now. The only question now is whether he will finally face some real accountability.