The House Intelligence Committee released more than 600 pages of previously private testimony from former Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen on May 20. The documents raise new questions about the US president’s conduct. They also highlight the fraught relationship he has with his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.
In the testimony, delivered in February and March, Cohen claims Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow told him to lie to Congress about when negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended.
He also explains why he thinks it would be unfathomable that Don Jr.—as the president’s first-born is known—took a June 2016 meeting with a Russian government-connected lawyer, who promised damaging material on Hillary Clinton, without Trump senior knowing about it.
CHAIRMAN: Mr. Cohen, you were asked about your conclusion that the meeting you heard Don Jr. talking to his father about was the meeting with the Russian delegation in Trump Tower.
And I want to ask you about that, quite separate and apart from whether that conversation that you overheard was about that meeting. Can you tell us about the relationship between father and son and whether it’s your understanding that the son would take a significant action, like that meeting, without informing his father?
And let me just preface it by referring you to some remarks that Steve Bannon made when he opined that there was zero chance that that meeting would go forward without Don Jr. informing his father.
MR. COHEN: Yes.
THE CHAIRMAN: Do you agree with Mr. Bannon’s observation? And what about the relationship would lead you to that conclusion?
MR. COHEN: Absolutely. I can say with certainty that Mr. Bannon is 100 percent accurate in that statement. Mr. Trump often said—and it was embarrassing to be, sometimes, in the room. He has a very unique type of relationship—he’s very hard on Don Jr., harder than he is on lvanka or Eric.
And Mr. Trump is not shy in front of people to say that Don Jr. has the worst judgment of anyone he’s ever met.
Cohen goes on to explain (pdf, page 139) that the reason he himself was called in to work for the Trump Organization in the first place was to “close down” a “Don Jr. type deal,” and to assist in other Don Jr. projects that went bust—including buying up a loan for a failing business in South Carolina that Don Jr. personally guaranteed.
MR COHEN: I was working on a project—well, I was trying to close it down. lt was a license deal of a gentleman that he somehow knew, and it was involving Trump Mortgage. And before even working at The Trump Organization, I was assisting him in terms of shutting down Trump Mortgage. And it was a Don Jr. type deal.
Then, of course, there were others along the way, and ultimately even with the property that they have in Charleston, where I had to go to Mr. Trump and ask for $3.5 million to purchase a note that was going to be defaulting on a property on Pace Street.
Getting that money from Mr. Trump was not easy. And he, of course, was angry at Don. This was a project outside of The Trump Organization. lt was with Deutsche Bank, who had made the loan. And it was personally guaranteed by Don, and it would’ve looked terrible if, in fact, they had to foreclose on the note.
Trump and his oldest son have a “complicated relationship,” Cohen adds. No one at the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign would have taken the June 2016 meeting without notifying Trump because he “micromanaged everything.” Don Jr., though, he says, was a special case.
His father wouldn’t let Don Jr. have any meetings by himself with anyone important, Cohen says, because he did not trust his son’s judgement:
CHAIRMAN: To everyone. Was it clear to Don Jr. that he could not undertake serious steps in the campaign or business without his father’s approval?
MR. COHEN: Yes, and he knew it.
THE CHAIRMAN: And more than that, that having undertaken a step with the approval of his father, he would then be compelled to tell the father how it went.
MR. COHEN: Yes. And the reason—again, this is my opinion—the reason why Jared and Manafort were in the room at the time was because he would never let Don do that by himself. So after—this is, again, my speculation from 10 years of being around both of them.
He would turn around and say, Dad, I got a—I’m taking this meeting. Okay. He doesn’t trust him. “Make sure Jared,” who is the secretary of everything, “along with Manafort,” who was the campaign chairman at the time, “make sure that they’re in the room with you. Make sure they join.”
THE CHAIRMAN: Mr. Cohen, based on your understanding of these players within the Trump world, is it your surmise that the presence of both Kushner and Manafort at the meeting with the Russian delegation at Trump Tower was on the instructions of Donald Trump, the father?
MR. COHEN: I believe so, yes
Don Jr.’s poor judgment and lack of business acumen may be more similar to his father’s than the president would like to admit. A recent New York Times investigation of Trump’s taxes showed he lost more than $1 billion in the 1990s, even as his father, Fred Trump, made a profit.
While Donald Trump reported hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for 1990 and 1991, Fred Trump’s returns showed a positive income of $53.9 million, with only one major loss: $15 million invested in his son’s latest apartment project.
Cohen’s testimony also contradicts Don Jr.’s July 9, 2017 statement about the meeting, in which he said, “My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events.” Who drafted that statement, and how accurate it is, is another subject of Congressional inquiry.
When the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Don Jr. about the meeting in closed-door testimony a year ago, he replied he could not recall, didn’t remember, or didn’t know, to nearly 200 questions related to the meeting and the Trump Organization’s business with Moscow. It was normal for Kushner and Manafort to sit in on meetings with him because we “were in the same building,” he testified at the time.
Don Jr. has spoken and written publicly about his anger at the president after his divorce from Ivana, Don Jr.’s mother, when he was just 12-years old. Trump was having an affair at the time with model Marla Maples, the mother of his fourth child. Don Jr. stopped speaking to his father for a year after that, his mother wrote in her autobiography, and appeared to have an estranged relationship for many more years afterward. A college roommate remembers Trump striking his son in front of his friends.
Since Trump’s presidential win, Don Jr. has not joined the White House like his sister and brother-in-law. He has, however become a belligerent supporter of his father’s policies. He’s even thinking of getting into politics himself, the New York Post reported today, by running for mayor of New York.
Correction, May 21: A loan that Cohen discussed was connected to to a failing business in South Carolina, not North Carolina.