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President Donald Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen testified that his boss had been aware of an adviser's communications with
ahead of the release of damaging information about opponent Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016.
In prepared testimony posted to the House Oversight and Reform Committee's website, Cohen said that Roger Stone, Trump's now-indicted adviser, had told the president about his communications with Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks.
Watch this: Cohen says Trump knew about WikiLeaks' dump
"A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time. The answer is yes," Cohen said in his opening remarks.
In the prepared testimony, Cohen recalled a time when Stone told Trump he had spoken with Assange days before "there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign."
Cohen added that Trump responded, "Wouldn't that be great." WikiLeaks pushed back against the allegations on Twitter, writing that it has "always denied speaking to Roger Stone." In a statement to multiple news outlets, including Newsweek, Stone refuted the account. "Mr. Cohen's statement is not true," he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland and the Oversight and Reform Committee chair, said the hearing originally wouldn't take questions on the subject. However, he said the committee wouldn't restrict questions about WikiLeaks after the prepared remarks.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was chair of the DNC during the hack, questioned Cohen about details indicating Russian involvement with Trump's campaign.
"He had advanced notice that there was going to be a dump of emails, but at no time did I hear the specificity of what those emails were going to be," Cohen told lawmakers, referring to the president.
Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, questioned Cohen on his credibility, pointing to a Twitter account, "Women For Cohen," that the former attorney paid to tweet about his attractiveness. In response to the false persona on Twitter, Cohen laughed and smiled. He told Jordan, "We were having fun," and said the Twitter account was a joke. The account was created by the IT firm RedFinch Solutions, which Cohen originally hired to rig results in online polls on Trump's popularity. The firm used bots and algorithms to manipulate poll results for CNBC and Drudge at Trump's direction, Cohen said.
Cohen told lawmakers he feared for his family's safety because of Trump's immense influence on Twitter. Noting the president's huge following -- he has more than 58 million followers on the social network -- Cohen said he was worried about Trump influencing people on social media to go after his loved ones.
"When he goes on Twitter, and he starts bringing in my in-laws, my parents, my wife, what does he think is going to happen?" Cohen said. "He's sending out the same message, that he can do whatever he wants." On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted to describe Cohen as a liar, and he isn't the only politician attacking Cohen on the social network.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, tweeted at Cohen on Tuesday, threatening to blackmail him over infidelity. Gaetz has since deleted the tweet and apologized. Cohen said when Trump tweeted that he was a "rat" on Dec. 16, he was suddenly bombarded with hate messages on Twitter and Facebook.
"I've had to turn over these messages to Secret Service because they are the most vile, disgusting statements that anyone can receive," Cohen said.
'Not fake news. Old news'
Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky, backed WikiLeaks' argument that Assange had publicly announced the email leaks before Trump's campaign learned about it. He held up a printout of an article from The Guardian, in which Assange said WikiLeaks had upcoming leaks regarding Clinton.
"Mr. Assange reported to the media on June 12 that those emails would be leaked," Massie said. "I'm not saying you have fake news, I'm saying you have old news."
The flood of Clinton campaign emails played a significant role in the election, both as headline news and the basis for internet conspiracy theories later on. The US government has since said those emails were given to WikiLeaks by Russian hackers attempting to sway the election in Trump's favor.
The testimony marks the first time someone from the president's inner circle has testified that Trump had knowledge of the emails before they were released. Previously, Stone -- who has been indicted for allegedly lying to Congress -- denied those connections.
The White House, in a statement to CNN, Newsweek and other publications, noted that Cohen is going to prison for lying. "Sadly, he will go before Congress this week and we can expect more of the same," Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said. "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."
Representatives for the White House, Cohen and Stone didn't immediately responded to requests for comment.
Russian hackers stole hundreds of thousands of emails from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, according to indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The stolen emails were posted on WikiLeaks, as well as DCLeaks, a page Russian hackers created posing as Americans. The same day that Trump encouraged Russia to hack Clinton's emails, Russian hackers made their first attempt to spear-phish email accounts from Clinton's campaign.
Below is the opening statement that Cohen submitted to the committee before his hearing.
Originally published Feb. 26 at 10:36 p.m. PT. Updated Feb. 27 at 6:54 a.m. PT: Added response from WikiLeaks. At 8:18 a.m.: Added details from Cohen's hearings on WikiLeaks. At 8:33 a.m.: Added Cohen's remarks on the Twitter persona "Women for Cohen." At 9:16 a.m.: Added Cohen comments on Trump's Twitter account. At 9:44a.m.: Added comments from lawmakers on WikiLeaks. At 11:16 a.m.: With details on Trump's campaign involvement with RedFinch Solutions.