The curtains go up on high political drama in Washington DC as Donald Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen begins a series of testimonies to US Congress about Trump's contacts with Russians, hush money payments and other "earth shattering" matters which are being talked of as a 'John Dean' moment for the current White House. It's going to be a terrible week for Donald Trump, who is away in Vietnam meeting with Kim Jong Un. Whether or not the Cohen testimony shakes up American politics, it will be a remarkable television moment in American history. Wednesday’s blockbuster hearing will happen at roughly the same time Trump is set to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam. Cohen’s testimony will be livestreamed on C-SPAN and is carried live on cable news channels starting around 10 a.m. ET - that's 8:30 pm in India on 27 February.
Cohen has already been sentenced to three years in prison. He is scheduled to surrender 6 May. Here's a rundown of key actors, themes and quirks to track on Wednesday:
Why is Cohen such a big deal?
Trump's fixer-turned-foe is a central figure in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign. Cohen played a key role in buying the silence of a porn actress and a former Playboy Playmate who both alleged they had sex with Trump. The president has denied their claims. Cohen says he paid off the women so the allegations don't hurt the Trump campaign.
What will Cohen tell us?
Cohen’s first public hearing Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee will dwell on Trump's “debts and payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election.” Expect Cohen to take the kitchen sink approach and embarrass the US president no end with dirt on hush money payments to a porn star and a Playboy model.
What will Cohen not tell us?
The public hearing Wednesday will not go into links between Trump and Russia or other foreign actors. All that is being served up in two closed door testimonies Tuesday and Thursday.
Do these breadcrumbs matter to the Mueller probe?
The legal peril for Trump comes from two flanks. Special counsel Robert Mueller is finding out if the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether Trump later obstructed the investigation. Prosecutors in New York are actually far more dangerous to Trump and have already implicated him in the hush money payments case. Unlike Mueller, the New York prosecutors can wade into any of Trump's dealings which are under a cloud.
Why is Cohen going to jail?
Cohen has pleaded guilty in Mueller's investigation about lying to Congress about talks for a Russian real-estate project, in what he described as an attempt to reduce attention on Trump's overseas business. He told the House and Senate intelligence committees that talks ended in January 2016 – before the Iowa caucuses – even though talks extended through at least June 2016, when Trump had effectively wrapped up the Republican nomination. He told lawmakers he had abandoned the project in January 2016, but he actually continued pursuing it for months after that. He also pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for his involvement in payments to a former Playboy model and porn actress who had alleged affairs with Trump.
What's the White House saying?
The White House, on predictable lines, is seeking to discredit Trump's former personal lawyer.White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders issued a statement Tuesday, saying Michael Cohen was "going to prison for lying to Congress and making other false statements." Sanders says 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."
Updated Date: Feb 27, 2019 01:03:00 IST