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Michael Cohen, Trump's Ex-Attorney, Testifies Before Senate Intelligence Committee


President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen is testifying before Congress this week. Today was the first of three days of hearings. And in many ways, this tour is a high-stakes do-over. Cohen will be going to prison this spring for multiple charges, including campaign finance violations and lying to members of Congress, including the very ones he met with today. Those lawmakers sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee. They have been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and their meeting with Cohen happened behind closed doors.

NPR's political reporter Tim Mak has spent much of today on the other side of those doors. He joins us now from the Capitol. Hi, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

SHAPIRO: So did you get a sense when this hearing wrapped of what happened inside?

MAK: So this interview started early this morning, and they grilled him for nearly nine hours. But it was behind closed doors, which is where the Intelligence Committee does much of its work, including discussing sensitive national security issues. As you mentioned, Cohen has previously pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, specifically before the House and Senate intelligence committees. And he's expected to be starting that three-year sentence in May.

Senators are obviously hoping that he was truthful in his comments to them today as opposed to in the past. Now, lawmakers were generally tight-lipped about the content of the interview they had today, but we heard briefly from Cohen on his way out.


MICHAEL COHEN: I look forward to tomorrow to being able to, in my voice - to tell the American people my story. And I'm going to let the American people decide exactly who's telling the truth.

SHAPIRO: Did you get any sense from lawmakers of the kinds of questions they asked today?

MAK: The Senate Intelligence Committee has been investigating the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 elections for more than two years. So we expect they focused on the intelligence questions, which is why they met behind closed doors. The questions would have been things about Russian contacts, about any foreign business dealings, any possible leverage that foreign entities might have over the president.

But when Cohen testifies tomorrow before the House Oversight Committee in public, it's expected he'll be asked a totally different set of questions about the Trump business, for example, or about the Trump Foundation and about the 2016 Trump campaign.

SHAPIRO: And tell us more about what Cohen plans to say in response to those questions.

MAK: So the House Oversight Committee hearing is expected to be dramatic. According to a person familiar with his plan, Cohen is expected to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his work over the years for Trump, including what he alleges are the president's, quote, "lies, racism and cheating," end quote.

More specifically, Cohen is expected to tell the public about hush money payments he made to two women, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, who allege they had affairs with Trump more than a decade ago. Cohen also intends to provide evidence, including documents - and that's really important here - of what he alleges is criminal conduct by Trump since he took office.

SHAPIRO: What are Republicans who often try to play defense for the president in these kinds of situations saying about Cohen's testimony this week?

MAK: Well, it really depends which Republican you talk to. The Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference has been collegial and bipartisan for more than two years. But the House of Representatives is a different matter. Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are expected to challenge Cohen's credibility, especially given that he has lied to Congress in the past. And this echoes what the White House has said about Cohen. Trump Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called Cohen a, quote, "disgraced felon," end quote, and said that it was, quote, "pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies," end quote.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tim Mak speaking with us from the Capitol. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.