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Michael Cohen begins 3 days of testimony on Capital Hill

Michael Cohen is kicking off three straight days of Capitol Hill testimony on Tuesday, including a high-profile public appearance before a House committee that promises plenty of explosive moments as Democrats dig into investigations of his former boss, President Trump.


The Democratic-led House Oversight and Reform Committee has laid out broad parameters for Cohen’s public testimony Wednesday, which is expected to focus squarely on Trump’s family business. It will also encompass payments made to women who alleged affairs with Trump ahead of the 2016 election, which the attorney, in a deal with federal prosecutors announced last summer, admitted to arranging.

Separately, he will testify behind closed doors to the Senate and House Intelligence committees on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively, in connection with the panels’ parallel investigations into Russia’s election interference.

Cohen’s Capitol Hill tour is shaping up to be a significant distraction from Trump’s overseas trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, where he will seek to advance denuclearization discussions with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

And it will mark the latest turn in a relationship that fractured dramatically over the course of the past year following an April FBI raid on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. In August, Cohen admitted to violating bank fraud and campaign finance law by orchestrating the payments to the women, saying he did so at the “direction” of Trump. The president has denied any wrongdoing.

Cohen has also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about discussions within the Trump Organization about building a property in Moscow that went on during the 2016 election, and has agreed to cooperate in special counsel Robert Mueller’s sprawling probe into Russia’s efforts to influence the election.

He is due to report to prison in May to serve a three-year sentence for his crimes.

Cohen, who once vowed he would “take a bullet for the president,” has for months been viewed as a likely congressional witness as House Democrats look to launch wide-ranging investigations into the president, his administration and business.

His public appearance before the Oversight panel on Wednesday promises to be a political spectacle, offering Democrats an opportunity to grill a witness with intimate knowledge of Trump’s business and political dealings who is no longer bound by loyalty to his former employer.

That isn’t to say Trump will be without defenders. The committee has distinct partisan divisions and boasts both fervent critics and fierce Trump allies, including Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), the committee’s top Republican.

Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) outlined the scope of the hearing last week. It will include questions about Trump’s compliance with financial disclosure requirements and campaign finance and tax laws; his conflicts of interest; his business practices; the accuracy of his public statements; potential fraud or inappropriate practices within the Trump Foundation and efforts by the president and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to “intimidate” Cohen and stop him from testifying.

Legal analysts say lawmakers will have broad discretion over what questions to ask.

“The list is so long and the topics are so broad that almost any question can be shoehorned to fit into those topics,” said Elie Honig, a defense attorney at Lowenstein Sandler and former assistant U.S. attorney.

Republicans on the committee, meanwhile, are likely to raise questions about Cohen’s credibility by zeroing in on the former Trump loyalist’s own illegal conduct, including his lies to Congress. On Monday, Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wrote to Cummings asking he invite Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to testify alongside Cohen so he could address Cohen and his crimes.

“If you intend to proceed with Michael Cohen as the star witness of the Committee’s first big hearing, Members should have an opportunity to assess his credibility,” they wrote.

The hearing does have one major limitation, however: It is not expected to dig into links, financial or otherwise, between Trump and Russia or other foreign actors. Cohen is expected to testify on those subjects in his closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee the following day as part of its revived and expanded probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The panel’s chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) signaled Sunday that the panel plans to begin by questioning Cohen on his false statements about the Trump Moscow project.

In November, Cohen admitted to lying about the length of the project discussions — they extended into June 2016, he said, six months longer than he had initially testified to Congress — and the extent to which the project was discussed within the Trump Organization. Cohen did so, prosecutors said, to minimize links between Trump and the proposal, and give the false impression the talks ended before the Iowa caucus.

“Who would have been aware of the false testimony that he was giving?” Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week.” “What other light can he shed now that he’s cooperating on issues of obstruction of justice or collusion? What more could he tell us about the Trump Tower New York meeting or any other issues relevant to our investigation? We think he has a lot to offer.”

Cohen’s public testimony could spell new troubles for Trump at a time when the White House is already bracing for the results of Mueller’s investigation.

Trump has attacked his onetime confidant as a “rat” who is lying to federal investigators in order to obtain a reduced prison sentence. In a Fox News interview last month, Trump suggested he knew of damaging information on Cohen’s father-in-law, after which Cohen abruptly postponed his public congressional testimony, citing threats from the president.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Friday that Cohen gave federal prosecutors in Manhattan information on potential irregularities in the Trump Organization, specifically concerning insurance claims filed by the company. The Times had previously reported that prosecutors in the Southern District of New York were probing whether other executives at the Trump Organization knew about the nondisclosure payments to the two women who had alleged affairs with Trump.

Additionally, Cohen reportedly gave prosecutors information about a donor to the Trump inaugural committee in connection with a separate investigation. It is unclear whether prosecutors are pursuing any leads Cohen may have given them.

Trump told reporters Friday he isn’t concerned about Cohen’s forthcoming testimony, suggesting some of the subjects would fall under attorney-client privilege.

“It’s lawyer to client, but you know, he’s taking his own chances,” Trump said.