WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for what is expected to be the last of four interviews with congressional panels seeking answers about hush-money payments, the lies he told to shield Trump’s alleged Russia contacts and pardons.
Cohen will speak for a second time privately with the House Intelligence Committee, which first met with him last week, following another closed-door session with the Senate Intelligence Committee and a public hearing with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
During the course of those interviews, both House and Senate investigators expressed a keen interest in the subject of pardons, which Cohen claims Trump’s representatives dangled before him, according to people familiar with the matter. But others familiar with the matter said it was Cohen’s lawyers who raised the pardon issue in such discussions.
The dispute is the latest in a politically-charged controversy surrounding Cohen’s testimony and credibility as he shifts from being one of Trump’s staunchest protectors to the most vocal accuser to emerge from the president’s inner circle.
Cohen will soon start a three-year prison term for lies he told to Congress the last time he testified on Capitol Hill in 2017. Cohen has also testified that Trump’s representatives made changes to what he planned to tell lawmakers then — a charge Trump’s representatives have denied.
GOP lawmakers have argued that Cohen’s past pattern of lying makes his current testimony suspect. In recent days, leading Republicans have also accused Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, of coaching Cohen through his testimony.
Earlier this week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, suggested as much on Fox News, asking whether Schiff tried to “tamper” or “direct” Cohen to answer certain questions in a certain way. On Wednesday, intelligence panel member Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, sent a letter to Cohen, asking him to disclose the number and nature of his contacts with Schiff, and saying that those contacts raised questions about “witness tampering, obstruction of justice, or collusion” — the same misconduct that Trump has been alleged to have engaged in.
A spokesman for Schiff characterized his pre-interview contacts with Cohen as “proffer sessions,” deeming them “completely appropriate.”
“We are running a professional investigation in search of the facts,” said Patrick Boland, intelligence committee spokesman. “Such sessions are a routine part of every serious investigation around the country, including congressional investigations.”
A congressional aide also noted that Turner had not attended the intelligence panel’s first closed-door session with Cohen.
As the parties argue over whether to believe Cohen’s charges against Trump, his testimony is opening up several avenues of inquiry for the six House panels looking into allegations of wrongdoing in Trump’s campaign and presidency. Those investigations are picking up steam as lawmakers brace for an expected report from special counsel Robert Mueller.
In the House Intelligence Committee, the recent hire of Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor who prosecuted securities fraud, racketeering and organized crime, suggests that the panel will be taking a close look at Trump’s finances and whether they were tied to foreign entities, Russian or otherwise, who could have leverage over the president. Schiff has also said he wants to look into questions of money laundering.
The panel is also expected to grill Cohen over what he knows about whether Trump had advance notice that WikiLeaks would be releasing a trove of emails damaging to his 2016 election opponent Hillary Clinton, and other efforts to interfere in the election to sway victory in his direction. They are also expected to question Cohen about the timeline of Trump’s Russian contacts, particularly as it concerns his efforts well into the campaign to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.