Michael Cohen Testifies: What to Watch For

Michael D. Cohen, once one of President Trump’s most trusted aides and lawyers, will take the witness stand for his first and only public appearance before Congress on Wednesday to paint a dark picture of the president’s personal character and possible criminal conduct.

The session has the potential to be explosive.

Vivid testimony by Mr. Cohen, backed up by documentary evidence, could cut to the heart of Mr. Trump’s public image and illuminate his legal jeopardy. But Republicans hope to leave another lasting impression — of Mr. Cohen as an untrustworthy liar motivated to spin stories against the president to reduce his own prison time.

The Details: Mr. Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee begins at 10 a.m. and is expected to last for much of the day.

How to Watch: The New York Times is streaming the hearing live. Our reporters will also be offering live updates and analysis from the hearing room.

Some of what Mr. Cohen will tell lawmakers has already been detailed in federal courts, where he pleaded guilty last year to a campaign finance violation, tax evasion, bank fraud and, eventually, lying to Congress.

[Read Mr. Cohen’s opening statement.]

He plans to waste little time before breaking new ground. In his opening statement, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, he will call Mr. Trump a “con man” and a “cheat” and make two significant claims: that Mr. Trump knew a longtime adviser was communicating with WikiLeaks and that he implicitly directed Mr. Cohen to lie about a Trump Tower project in Moscow that had been continuing during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, 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,” Mr. Cohen plans to say. “In his way, he was telling me to lie.”

Regarding WikiLeaks, Mr. Cohen will say that Mr. Trump had advance knowledge through a longtime adviser, Roger J. Stone Jr., that the site planned to publish hacked emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

He will also offer a detailed account of Mr. Trump’s role in a scheme hatched in the run-up to the 2016 election to make hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress who claims to have had an affair with Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen plans to say that Mr. Trump initiated the scheme, for which Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to the campaign finance violation.

Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the Oversight Committee’s chairman, released a memo last week laying out the scope of the hearing. Conspicuously absent: Russia and its election interference campaign.

After consulting with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, lawmakers determined that Mr. Cohen would generally not be allowed to publicly discuss matters related to its continuing investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian election manipulation efforts.

That is not because Mr. Cohen has nothing to say on the matter. And his planned opening remarks suggest that he will weigh in on episodes believed to be central to the Russia investigation. But out of deference to Mr. Mueller’s work, lawmakers have agreed to leave most detailed questions about potential ties to Russia to closed hearings this week with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.

It was not long ago that Mr. Cohen was warmly embraced by Mr. Trump and his Republican Party. Oh, how far he has fallen.

Republicans plan to greet Mr. Cohen with aggressive questioning meant to chip away at his credibility in the public’s eyes. In a letter last week to Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, the Oversight Committee’s top Republicans said they would ask about Mr. Cohen’s criminal record, business dealings by Mr. Cohen and members of his family, and “actions and boasts probative of his character.”

Representative Matt Gaetz, a firebrand Republican from Florida, went much further on Tuesday, threatening to reveal what he said were Mr. Cohen’s extramarital affairs. Some Democrats said it amounted to witness tampering.

Even by the standards of Mr. Trump’s Washington, Wednesday promises to be jumbled, jarring and jam-packed with news.

When Mr. Cohen takes the witness stand, Mr. Trump will be more than 8,000 miles away in Vietnam, wrapping up the first day of a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

The two events should form a very discordant split screen.

On one side, Mr. Trump will be trying to brandish his professed reputation as a master dealmaker by lowering hostilities with North Korea, one of the United States’ most entrenched adversaries for decades. On the other, Mr. Cohen will, in effect, be trying to take that down.

On Wednesday evening in Vietnam, Mr. Trump ignored reporters’ questions about Mr. Cohen’s planned testimony. A few hours earlier he had tried to undermine the testimony in a tweet, which posted around 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Wednesday’s public hearing is one of three appearances this week that Mr. Cohen is making on Capitol Hill — two months before he is scheduled to report to prison.

He began his tour with an eight-hour grilling by the Senate Intelligence Committee and, apparently, an apology. Mr. Cohen was charged by Mr. Mueller’s team with lying to the intelligence committees in 2017 about the timeline of discussions around a Trump Tower project in Moscow.

Mr. Cohen apologized to the senators for that on Tuesday, and planned to do so again on Thursday in the House. What else he said about dealings by Mr. Trump and the campaign with Russia was kept confidential.