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Michael Cohen to Congress: Trump broke the law while in office

When Michael Cohen swears under oath today that Donald Trump broke the law while in office, the president's troubles will reach a new level.
US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen(C) leaves the US Courthouse in New York on April 26, 2018....

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former attorney, business associate, and "fixer," was on Capitol Hill yesterday for the first of three hearings with lawmakers, who have questions about a wide variety of subjects. The Senate Intelligence Committee got the ball rolling with a behind-closed-doors session yesterday.

While no one outside the room can say with certainty what was discussed, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the committee's vice chair, told reporters, "[T]wo years ago, when this investigation started, I said it may be the most important thing I am involved in in my public life in the Senate and nothing I have heard today dissuades me from that view."

At that point, the Virginia senator walked away, leaving us to wonder about the implications of what he said.

Today, is going to be even more dramatic, at least as far as public awareness is concerned, because the president's former lawyer will be delivering televised testimony before the House Oversight Committee. And while his testimony hasn't yet begun, Cohen has released the text of his opening statement, so we know exactly where he's headed.

President Donald Trump knew in advance that WikiLeaks was going to release hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign, his former personal lawyer plans to say at an open congressional hearing Wednesday.Michael Cohen will also call Trump a "con man" and "a cheat" and allege that the president not only lied about his ongoing efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the election but urged Cohen to lie about them without directly saying so, according to a draft of his opening statement obtained by NBC News.

There's a great deal to unpack, and we'll almost certainly learn critical details over the course of the multi-hour hearing, but some obvious lines of inquiry are taking shape. The first deals with a check Donald Trump wrote to Cohen in August 2017, as part of an illegal payoff to cover up one of Trump's alleged extramarital affairs.

The date on the check matters. As Cohen's opening statement reads, "The president of the United States thus wrote a personal check for the payment of hush money as part of a criminal scheme to violate campaign finance laws."

As if that weren't enough, Trump's former lawyer also intends to shed light on Trump's interactions with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks' dissemination of Democratic materials stolen by Russian operatives.

We'll also hear Cohen give sworn testimony that Trump knew and lied about the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations, as well as claims that Trump may have known and lied about the Trump Tower meeting in New York in June 2016 between Russian operatives and top officials in the Trump campaign.

In other words, it's likely to be an interesting day.

As the developments unfold today, I'd recommend keeping a specific question in mind: if Donald Trump's former attorney gives sworn testimony, bolstered by documentary evidence, that implicates the sitting president in crimes committed while in office, what do we do with the information? It's a question Rachel considered in detail last night, and if you missed it, the segment is well worth your time.

For the White House's part, the offensive to tear down Cohen is already well underway. "Disgraced felon Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress and making other false statements," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a written statement. "Sadly, he will go before Congress this week and we can expect more of the same. 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."

That's a predictable line, and in fairness, it's not absurd. Cohen has already admitted that he lied to Congress -- in order to help Trump -- and it's one of the crimes for which he's been sentenced to three years in a federal prison. When Republicans go after the lawyer's credibility today, they'll have a point rooted in fact.

That said, Cohen insists he's coming clean; he no longer has any incentive to lie; he's now well aware of the consequences that come with lying to Congress; and in some cases, his allegations against the president are supported by evidence.

For his part, Trump took time away from nuclear talks with North Korea this morning to whine about Cohen via Twitter.

Strange days, my friends, strange days.