House Democrats on Thursday made plans to dig deeper into President Trump’s business and charity, using testimony from former Trump attorney Michael Cohen as a road map to call new witnesses and seek new internal documents.
The House Intelligence Committee said it anticipates bringing in for questioning the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. It also plans to interview Felix Sater, a former Trump business associate who helped Trump develop a hotel in Manhattan.
The House Financial Services Committee said it would look into the Donald J. Trump Foundation, Trump’s charity. The Intelligence Committee expressed interest in Cohen’s comments on Russia. And Ways and Means Committee members again discussed the best way to obtain Trump’s tax returns.
“All you have to do is follow the transcript,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which interviewed Cohen Wednesday. “If there were names that were mentioned, or records that were mentioned during the hearing, we want to take a look at all of that.”
The new lines of inquiry came in the wake of expansive remarks from Cohen, who spent a decade as Trump’s personal lawyer and self-identified “fixer.” Over seven hours of public testimony Wednesday, Cohen left a trail of bread crumbs for Democrats to follow as they investigate many aspects of Trump’s life.
Cohen, who testified Thursday behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that Congress interview seven other Trump Organization staffers and associates — including Weisselberg and Sater — and also seek Trump’s tax returns and other financial documents.
Weisselberg’s name came up at least 30 times Wednesday, as Cohen accused him of participating in schemes to repay hush money, misleading Trump’s investors and lenders, and skirting campaign-finance laws.
“He set a very rich table,” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said of Cohen. “We’re now looking at a 10-course meal.”
The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. Trump himself had attacked Cohen in a tweet on Wednesday, saying his former lawyer “is lying in order to reduce his prison time.” Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison, in part for previously lying to Congress.
Weisselberg had received limited immunity from federal prosecutors in Manhattan as they investigated hush money payments that were made to two women who alleged having affairs with Trump. Under the terms of that limited immunity, prosecutors used Weisselberg primarily to authenticate documents related to the hush money payments, according to a person familiar with the matter. It is unclear if prosecutors are still exploring his role in the matter.
Cohen’s claims could cause legal concerns for the Trump Organization that extend beyond Congress.
In New York, for instance, Cohen said he was cooperating with the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan on “several other issues of investigation.” The U.S. attorney’s office has declined to comment.
Also, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) is reviewing Cohen’s testimony “to determine if it will impact any ongoing proceeding or investigation that the office is undertaking,” a spokeswoman said. James is already suing Trump over what her office called “persistently illegal conduct” at the Trump Foundation, which Trump ran for 30 years.
Her lawsuit includes two allegations that Trump used the charity’s money to buy portraits of himself, in violation of laws against “self-dealing” by charity leaders. But on Wednesday, Cohen described a third such incident — involving a third portrait of Trump.
Cohen said that, in 2013, Trump arranged for a friend named Stewart Rahr to buy a 9- foot-tall portrait of Trump, for about $60,000 and then reimbursed him with money from the Trump Foundation.
The foundation has already agreed to shut down, but James’s suit against Trump will continue. The Trump Foundation’s lawyer, Alan Futerfas, declined to comment Thursday. Rahr did not respond to a request for comment.
On Capitol Hill, at least six committees are investigating some piece of Trump’s life before the presidency. Their staffers meet at least three times a week, to share information and plans.
On Thursday, all of them were planning next steps based on Cohen’s testimony.
After Cohen’s appearance Wednesday, senior Democrats on the Oversight and Reform Committee huddled to discuss, among other things, two checks that Cohen presented to the panel, which Cohen said were his reimbursements after he paid adult-film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 not to go public with claims of a sexual encounter with the future president.
Both checks were paid after Trump took office. One, dated March 17, 2017, came from a trust account Trump had set up. It was signed by Weisselberg and the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who are helping run Trump’s businesses while he is in the White House. The next check, dated in August 2017, came from the president’s personal account and was signed by the president.
Cohen has already pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations in relation to these hush-money payments. On Wednesday, he testified that Trump, Trump Jr. and Weisselberg all participated in an attempt to repay Cohen, under the guise of a nonexistent retainer agreement.
“We need to get Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. in — the people who signed that check — and say, ‘Did you cook the books for the Trump Organization? Did you realize that that wasn’t a legal retainer, that that was a reimbursement for hush money?’” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a member of the Oversight committee, said in an interview.
Another top priority for Democrats: talking to Trump’s personal secretary, Rhona Graff. On Wednesday, Cohen testified that Graff patched through a phone call to Trump from political operative Roger Stone, shortly before WikiLeaks posted 20,000 hacked Democratic emails in July 2016.
Cohen said Stone told Trump in that call about the forthcoming dump of emails. Both Stone and Trump have denied having advance knowledge that the emails would be leaked.
For now, Democrats appeared to be divided about whether they should seek to question Trump’s daughter Ivanka — now a White House aide — and Trump Jr. Cohen said both of them were kept apprised of their father’s efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, which lasted long into the 2016 campaign.
During his testimony, Cohen agreed when Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) asked, “Is it possible the whole family is conflicted or compromised with a foreign adversary in the months before the election?”
But several Democrats said they wanted to proceed slowly, to avoid the appearance of harassing the president’s family.
“I think there’s just a sense of decency that you don’t do that unless you really have to. We’re not out there to cause family problems,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), who sits on the Oversight committee. “But . . . if we have to get the information, we have to get it.”
On the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees banking, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said Democrats will follow up on allegations by Cohen that Trump exaggerated his wealth to receive bank loans and lower his insurance premiums.
“I’m an old tax collector and an old accountant, and it seems like [Trump] was trying to tell the banks that he had a lot of income and wealth, and tell the tax collectors he had minimum income and wealth,” Sherman said. “We’ll have to take a look at whether he told the truth in both cases.”
The committee’s chairman, Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), said she also wanted to investigate another allegation by Cohen: that Trump had directed a $150,000 speaking fee, owed to him personally, to his foundation instead.
That would be legal, but tax experts say that Trump would likely have had to pay taxes on that money. Even if the money went to his charity, experts say, the money would count as “income” to Trump because he directed where it went.
“There’s one thing that I think should not be missed that came out of the hearing . . . and that is how [Trump] directed payments into the foundation to keep from paying taxes,” Waters said. “I think that’s an area that should be looked at because I think the foundation has been used by him to avoid paying taxes on money he’s earned.”
Karoun Demirjian, Tom Hamburger and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.