Disgraced lawyer tells Congress Donald Trump is 'racist', 'conman' and 'cheat'

President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer has told Congress that Mr Trump knew ahead of time that WikiLeaks had emails damaging to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

He gave evidence that Mr Trump is a "racist," a "conman" and a "cheat".

Michael Cohen suggested Mr Trump also implicitly told him to lie about a Moscow property project.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the project, which he says Mr Trump knew about as Cohen was negotiating with Russia during the 2016 election campaign.

Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen (Alex Brandon/AP)

The hearing was expected to produce the most damning depiction to date of Mr Trump's campaign and business operations from a onetime member of the president's inner circle.

It is the latest step in Cohen's evolution from legal fixer for the president, he once boasted he would "take a bullet" for Mr Trump, to a foe who has implicated him in federal campaign finance violations.

"I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty, of the things I did for Mr Trump in an effort to protect and promote him," Cohen said.

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US President Donald Trump attends a press conference following the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. - The nuclear summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended without an agreement on February 28, the White House said after the two leaders cut short their discussions. (Photo by Saul LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference following the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. - The nuclear summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended without an agreement on February 28, the White House said after the two leaders cut short their discussions. (Photo by Saul LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 28: Local newspaper front pages show the news about the summit between U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met on Wednesday and Thursday during their second summit as discussions continue in Hanoi on the possible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says he wouldn't be holding a second summit with President Donald Trump if he weren't willing to make good on his denuclearization pledge. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference following the DPRK-USA Hanoi Summit in Hanoi, on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. Trumps second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed without an agreement between the two leaders, plunging future talks on North Korea's nuclear program into question. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Two Vietnamese policewomen rest near the Melia hotel following the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. - The nuclear summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended without an agreement on February 28, the White House said after the two leaders cut short their discussions. (Photo by Ye Aung THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 28: Media members work at the International Media Center during the DPRK-USA Hanoi Summit on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi for their second summit on Thursday. (Photo by Fu Tian/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (C) speaks during a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump (not pictured) at the second US-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un listens during a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump (not pictured) at the second US-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
People walk past a screen in Tokyo on February 28, 2019 showing US President Donald Trump speaking during a press conference following the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP) (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 28: The car carrying U.S President Donald Trump is seen leaving the summit on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met on Wednesday and Thursday during their second summit as discussions continue in Hanoi. According to White House after the summit: 'No agreement was reached' between Trump and Kim at Vietnam summit, meetings to continue in the future. (Photo by Linh Pham/Getty Images)
A motorcyclist rides past a Vietnamese soldier standing between armoured personel carriers during the second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump speaks during a dinner with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
A motorcade, transporting US President Donald Trump, leaves the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel following the second US-North Korea summit in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by Nhac NGUYEN / AFP) (Photo credit should read NHAC NGUYEN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc wave flags before a meeting at the Office of Government Hall, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump meets Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
South Korean protesters hold a banner showing a photo of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a rally near the U.S. embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. The second summit between U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will take place in Hanoi on Feb. 27 and 28. The letters read "Peace Agreement between U.S. and North Korea" and "Withdrawal of U.S. troops." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
President Donald Trump and Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong watch as VietJet President Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao, right, and Kevin McAllister, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, left, sign a business agreement at the Presidential Palace, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
A Grab motorcycle deliveryman checks his phone in front of shops selling paintings and t-shirts of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Trump hoped for "great things" from his second meeting with Kim as he paid a courtesy call on his Vietnamese hosts ahead of the summit in the Vietnamese capital. (AP Photo/Adam Schreck)
President Donald Trump stand as he meets Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
A motorcyclist rides past a Vietnamese soldier standing next to an armoured vehicle during the second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump poses for a photo as he meets Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
A man walks past a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, and U.S. President Donald Trump in a news program in Tokyo, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. Kim is expected to meet with Trump for a second summit over the next two days in Hanoi, Vietnam. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
A police officer secures boundary tape on a pole near the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Hanoi late Tuesday for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump plans to meet Vietnam's leaders and sign commercial deals today before meeting Kim in the evening. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US President Donald Trump (L) waves to his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Phu Trong (not pictured) after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on February 27, 2019, ahead of the second US-North Korea summit. (Photo by LUONG THAI LINH / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read LUONG THAI LINH/AFP/Getty Images)
A vendor (C) waits for customers while displaying T-shirts with pictures of US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi on February 27, 2019, ahead of the second US-North Korea summit. (Photo by Ye Aung THU / AFP) (Photo credit should read YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 27: U.S. President Donald Trump's motorcade runs en route to the Presidential Palace of Vietnam ahead of the DPRK-USA summit on February 27, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are scheduled to meet on February 27-28 in Hanoi for their second summit. (Photo by Fu Tian/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 26: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'Handout / White House / Shealah Craighead' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam on February 26, 2019. (Photo by Handout / White House / Shealah Craighead/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 26: U.S. President Donald Trump disembarks from Air Force One after arriving at Noi Bai International Airport on February 26, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S President Donald Trump arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday as preparations continue in Hanoi for the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi later this week. Both leaders are scheduled to have a private dinner and meeting on Wednesday as reports indicate they are expected to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and end international sanctions against Pyongyang. (Photo by Tuan Mark/Getty Images)
HANOI, Feb. 26, 2019 -- U.S. President Donald Trump disembarks from Air Force One in Hanoi, Vietnam, Feb. 26, 2019. U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Vietnam's capital Hanoi on Tuesday night to meet with Kim Jong Un, top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. (Xinhua/Wang Shen) (Xinhua/ via Getty Images)
HANOI, VIETNAM - FEBRUARY 26: U.S. President Donald Trump disembarks from Air Force One after arriving at Noi Bai International Airport on February 26, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. U.S President Donald Trump arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday as preparations continue in Hanoi for the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi later this week. Both leaders are scheduled to have a private dinner and meeting on Wednesday as reports indicate they are expected to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and end international sanctions against Pyongyang. (Photo by Tuan Mark/Getty Images)
The train which transported North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un to Vietnam leaves Dong Dang railway station, Vietnam, at the border with China, February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A train believed to be carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong Un leaves from a train station in the Chinese border city of Dandong, China in this photo taken by Kyodo on February 23, 2019. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (C) speaks during a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump (not pictured) at the second US-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on February 28, 2019. (Photo by Saul LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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"I am ashamed that I chose to take part in concealing Mr Trump's illicit acts rather than listening to my own conscience.

"I am ashamed because I know what Mr Trump is."

Cohen's claims that Mr Trump had advance knowledge of the emails contradict the president's assertions that he was in the dark, but it was not clear what evidence Cohen had to support the allegation or even how legally problematic it would be for Mr Trump.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has not suggested that mere awareness of WikiLeaks' plans, as Trump confidant Roger Stone is purported to have had, is by itself a crime.

Underscoring the deeply partisan nature of the proceedings, Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee lifted an earlier restriction that the hearing not delve into Russia, while Republicans tried unsuccessfully to block the hearing as it got under way.

That was on the grounds that Cohen had not provided his opening statement long enough in advance.

The committee's top Republican, Representative Jim Jordan sought early on to undermine Cohen's credibility by calling him a "fraudster, cheat" and "a convicted felon".

"Certainly it's the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness at a hearing," Mr Jordan said.

Cohen said Mr Trump did not directly tell him to lie, but "he would look me in the eye and tell me there's no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing".

Cohen said that "in his way, he was telling me to lie".

He added that lawyers for Mr Trump had "reviewed and edited" the statement in which Cohen falsely said a proposal for a Trump Tower in Moscow had been abandoned in January 2016.

Cohen has since said he continued pursuing the project for Mr Trump for months after that.

Mr Trump, at a Vietnam hotel before a planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and unable to ignore the drama playing out thousands of miles away, lashed out at Cohen on Twitter, saying his lawyer "did bad things unrelated to Trump" and "is lying in order to reduce his prison time".

A judge already has set Cohen's sentence, and Cohen's cooperation will have no bearing on that term.

Cohen, ahead of his appearance, said the American people could decide "exactly who is telling the truth" when he gave evidence before the House committee.

On WikiLeaks, Cohen said in the prepared evidence that he was in Mr Trump's office in July 2016 when longtime adviser Roger Stone telephoned Mr Trump.

Trump Kim Summit
US President Donald Trump passes wellwishers in Hanoi, Vietnam (Adam Schreck/AP)

Mr Trump put Stone on speakerphone and Stone told him that he had communicated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that "within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign", according to Cohen.

Mr Trump responded by saying "wouldn't that be great", Cohen said.

That month, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee's server.

"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," Cohen said in the prepared evidence.

"The answer is yes."

Cohen said he does not have direct evidence that Mr Trump colluded with the Russian government during the election, but that he has "suspicions".

Of a meeting in Trump Tower between campaign advisers, including Mr Trump's oldest son, and a Russian lawyer, Cohen said that Mr Trump had frequently told him that Donald Trump Jr "had the worst judgment of anyone in the world" and he "would never set up any meeting of any significance alone — and certainly not without checking with his father".

Cohen, once Mr Trump's loyal attorney, has turned on his former boss and cooperated with Mr Mueller's Russia investigation.

Trump Lawyer Investigation Congress
The US Capitol (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

He begins a three-year prison sentence in May after pleading guilty to lying to Congress in 2017 and committing campaign finance violations while working for Mr Trump.

He met with the Senate intelligence committee for more than nine hours behind closed doors on Tuesday.

Cohen said afterwards that he appreciated the opportunity to "clear the record and tell the truth" to the panel after acknowledging he lied to the committee in 2017.

City Views - Moscow
St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, Russia (Steve Parsons/PA)

In addition to lying to Congress, Cohen pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations for his involvement in payments to two women who allege they had affairs with Mr Trump.

Federal prosecutors in New York have said Mr Trump directed Cohen to arrange the payments to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in the run-up to the 2016 campaign.

Cohen told a judge that he agreed to cover up Mr Trump's "dirty deeds" out of "blind loyalty".

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