President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen is due back to Capitol Hill next week to continue what has been a dramatic series of public and private hearings, as he apologizes for lying to lawmakers and divulges what he says Trump knew about financial infractions and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Cohen on Thursday spent almost eight hours behind closed doors with members of the House Intelligence Committee. One point of interest was the subject of pardons, according to people familiar with the interview. They were not authorized to disclose their knowledge of the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
While it is not clear what precisely was discussed, Trump’s pardon power — and how he has attempted to wield it — has been an area of interest for lawmakers and investigators exploring obstruction-of-justice allegations involving the president. During his public hearing earlier this week, Cohen said he had never asked for nor would he accept a pardon.
Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, declined to discuss specifics of Cohen’s testimony Thursday.
Lawmakers also have expressed interest in the timeline associated with efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and Cohen’s contention that Trump had advance notice of WikiLeaks’ plan, in the summer of 2016, to release emails damaging to his opponent, Hillary Clinton, people familiar with the matter said. They want to know more, too, about whether any foreign actors have financial leverage over the president, the people said.
Cohen is scheduled to complete his testimony with the House Intelligence Committee on March 6.
After Cohen, the panel intends to interview more of Trump’s associates, including Trump Organization chief financial officer Alan Weisselberg, with whom the House Oversight Committee also has expressed an interest in speaking. Trump’s former business associate Felix Sater, who played a key role in Trump’s efforts to pursue construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow, will appear before the House Intelligence Committee in a public hearing scheduled for March 14, Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said Thursday.
“Just to set your expectations: Not every hearing is going to be like the open hearing with Michael Cohen,” Schiff told reporters, adding: “We are going to try to do as much as we can in the open.”
Cohen pulled no punches earlier this week during a public hearing before the House Oversight Committee, where he offered scathing anecdotes, insights and a paper trail that he said shows Trump to be a “con man,” a “racist” and a “cheat.” The drama was amplified by challenges from Trump’s allies, including Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), that Cohen misrepresented his past in an effort to clean up his public image.
On Thursday, Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wrote to Attorney General William P. Barr, asking him to investigate whether Cohen had perjured himself when he insisted during his testimony that he had not wanted a job in the Trump administration and had been content to serve as Trump’s personal lawyer. That claim contradicts reporting and statements by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who stated in court documents that in private communications, Cohen had told friends that he wanted a job in the Trump administration — and that when he didn’t get one, he “found a way to monetize his relationship with an access to the President.”
In their letter to Barr, Jordan and Meadows also accused Cohen of participating in illegal lobbying, trying to obscure foreign contracts on disclosure forms and misrepresenting his prowess as a lawyer.
“It may not be surprising that two pro-Trump Committee members known now have made a baseless criminal referral,” Davis said. “In my opinion, it is a sad misuse of the criminal justice system with the aura of pure partisanship.”
Cohen pushed back on all those accusations during Wednesday’s hearing, in which he also frequently apologized for “mistakes” he made while working for Trump. He has stressed that he wants to correct the record of lies he told lawmakers when he last came to testify in 2017.
Cohen told lawmakers Wednesday that some of Trump’s lawyers, including Jay Sekulow, edited those statements before he delivered them to Congress, suggested at one point that changed details about the timeline of Trump’s efforts to build a tower in Moscow though later conceding he would have to review more material to describe what Sekulow had done. Sekulow has denied the claim.
Intelligence Committee Democrats said Thursday that Cohen was a “fully cooperative” witness and that they want to press him for further details about the president’s dealings.
Democrats believe Cohen has details about how long into the 2016 campaign Trump pursued plans to build a tower in Moscow, the extent to which Trump knew what WikiLeaks had planned, and whether Trump committed financial crimes with banks or campaign finance violations.
During his public testimony, Cohen gave lawmakers some information about those topics, showing them copies of checks, bank records and other agreements. Intelligence Committee Democrats believe they can probe those questions more deeply.
But how credible lawmakers find Cohen, and the new information he is providing them, appear to differ along party lines. When asked, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the intelligence panel, said Cohen appeared “liberated.” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), another intelligence committee member, said simply that Cohen’s testimony appeared “interesting.”
Tom Hamburger and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.