The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Republican chairman lashed out Tuesday at President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, after a photo surfaced of Cohen enjoying a dinner out — just before canceling a planned interview with lawmakers, citing medical issues.
“Any good will that might have existed in the committee with Michael Cohen is now gone,” chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said, reacting to the image, shared on Twitter, showing that Cohen was hugging friends Sunday at L’Avenue restaurant in Manhattan.
“He was having a wild night Saturday night out in New York with five buddies. Didn’t seem to have any physical limitations, and he was out with his wife last night,” Burr noted, adding that “the way he’s positioning himself, not coming to the committee, we may have to help him go to prison.”
It’s unclear what Burr meant by suggesting lawmakers would help Cohen go to prison. His office declined to elaborate.
Lanny Davis, a lawyer for Cohen, sharply objected to Burr’s characterization of his client.
“The medication Mr. Cohen is currently taking made it impossible for him to testify this week,” Davis said, noting Cohen has promised to meet with all three congressional panels that have sought his testimony before the end of February. “We believe Senator Burr should appreciate that it is possible for Mr. Cohen to be in pain and still have dinner in a restaurant with his wife and friends.”
Cohen pleaded guilty late last year to lying to Congress, and is expected to report to prison March 6 to begin serving a three-year sentence. That has added some urgency to lawmakers’ efforts to reschedule his testimony after he has canceled or postponed three planned interviews with lawmakers.
Last month, Cohen canceled a planned public hearing with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform citing “threats against his family” from Trump and his lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani. Last week, the House Intelligence Committee announced it had delayed a closed-door session with Cohen “in the interests of the investigation.”
On Monday, Cohen indefinitely postponed a similar closed-door session with the Senate Intelligence Committee because of “post-surgery medical needs,” which Davis said was physical therapy to treat pain from minor shoulder surgery last month.
Both Burr and House Oversight Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) have suggested they will pursue sessions with Cohen even if he is in prison.
As lawmakers await a report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election has sought to learn whether anyone in the Trump campaign conspired with those efforts, the Senate Intelligence Committee is beginning to discuss drawing conclusions from its two-year probe designed to learn the same.
According to Burr, the committee has unearthed “no factual evidence of collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.
In the House, Democrats are taking steps to ramp up their investigations of the president and his allies.
A newly released transcript of the House Intelligence Committee’s proceedings last week showed that, in addition to the transcripts of interviews the committee conducted as part of its Republican-led Russia probe, its members also voted to send Mueller transcripts from interviews Democrats conducted with Simona Mangiante, the wife of former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, and whistleblower Christopher Wiley, who revealed how the tech firm Cambridge Analytica leveraged Facebook user data to aid political campaigns.
Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee leaders announced the hire of two high-profile lawyers to serve as consultants: Norm Eisen, co-founder of government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), and Barry Berke, a partner at the New York law firm of Kramer Levin who is a well-known expert in corruption and criminal law.
The additions signal that the committee plans to devote considerable attention to questions of ethics, corruption and possible obstruction of justice — particularly after Mueller concludes his investigation. Berke’s established profile in New York legal circles also could be a valuable resource as congressional investigators scrutinize Trump’s corporate transactions, such as the pursuit of a Trump Tower project in Moscow.
“We are fortunate to be adding the insight and expertise of two widely respected legal authorities to the staff of the House Judiciary Committee as we look to restore accountability, safeguard our democracy, and protect the rule of law,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “The President of the United States faces numerous allegations of corruption and obstruction. His conduct and crude statements threaten the basic legal, ethical, and constitutional norms that maintain our democratic institutions. Congress has a constitutional duty to be a check and balance against abuses of power when necessary.”
Although neither consultancy is a full-time position, a panel aide stressed that Eisen and Berke were carefully vetted for possible ethical issues and have agreed to pull back from their day jobs to be closely associated with the panel. Eisen is expected to leave CREW and untangle himself from the organization’s litigation proceedings, although he is expected to maintain his connection with the Brookings Institution. Berke is expected to scale back his caseload at Kramer Levin to spend about four days per week in Washington, although he will remain a partner at the firm.
The panel’s top Republican said that the hires were biased, as Eisen and Berke had previously “teamed up to pen sharply partisan op-eds aimed at this committee’s oversight duties.”
“Looks like Democrats are staffing up for impeachment before Mueller’s report is even out,” ranking Republican Rep. Douglas A. Collins (Ga.) said. “Is this the gig Berke and Eisen were auditioning for when they predicted last December the president was unlikely to have ‘a calm 2019’?”
The Judiciary Committee is the House’s primary panel responsible for overseeing the Justice Department, a broad jurisdiction that includes immigration policy and election laws, and any lines of inquiry relevant to the special counsel’s investigation, FBI inquiries and related cases being tried in federal courts nationwide. It is also the panel in which any impeachment proceedings would originate.
Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.