Republicans: Cohen lawyer says key topics off-limits for hearing
Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony next month will exclude any topic that’s “under investigation,” Republicans say they were told by Cohen’s lawyer, which could mean Cohen won’t discuss lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project or the payments made to women during the 2016 campaign for their silence.
Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, senior Republicans on the House Oversight Committee, released a letter to Cohen’s attorney Guy Petrillo discussing their conversation with another Cohen attorney, Lanny Davis.
In the letter, Jordan and Meadows write that Davis told them Cohen’s testimony was likely to be “unsatisfying” and “frustrating” because of the topics that would be off limits.
“According to Davis, the sole purpose of Cohen’s appearance before the committee is to allow Cohen to share his personal anecdotes about his time working for the then-private citizen Donald J. Trump, and his experiences after Mr. Trump became President,” Jordan and Meadows wrote. “Pressed on how Cohen’s testimony is jurisdictionally related to the committee’s role in overseeing the functioning, efficiency and effectiveness of the federal government, Davis stated Cohen has ‘anecdotes about his time with the President.'”
In response to the letter, Davis said: “I offered to brief the minority staff to show a spirit of bipartisanship, encouraged by the Chairman’s office. I offered on Mr. Cohen’s behalf for Mr. Cohen to speak with Ranking Member Rep. Jim Jordan out of courtesy and the same spirit of bipartisanship, and we have not heard back. … Beyond that, I will not dignify the unwarranted attack by Mr. Jordan as to my motives.”
House Oversight Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings announced earlier this month that Cohen would be testifying before the committee on February 7. Cummings said after the hearing was announced that Cohen would “have a chance to tell his side of the story,” while making clear that the hearing wouldn’t interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“We’re going to make sure that we do absolutely nothing to going to interfere with the Mueller investigation,” Cummings said.
He added it’s unclear just how much Cohen can discuss during his testimony before the panel.
“Our discussions with Mueller’s office are ongoing,” he said.
But Jordan, the top Republican on the committee, has accused Cummings of using the panel “as a venue for political theater.” Tuesday’s letter adds to the criticism both Jordan and Meadows have leveled over the decision to have Cohen testify, pointing to his false testimony to Congress and the fact that he cooperated with Mueller’s investigation.
Jordan and Meadows wrote that Davis said Cohen doesn’t plan to testify before any other committees — though both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees also want to speak to him — and that Davis chose Oversight as the venue where Cohen would appear, though Cohen was initially hesitant.
“I pushed him to do this,” Davis said, according to the Republican lawmakers.
The Republican letter is written to Petrillo, a former federal prosecutor, whom Cohen brought on in June to represent him in the criminal investigations. Around the same time Cohen hired Davis, a Democrat and long-time defender of the Clintons, as an unlikely ally. Davis’ job has been to advocate for Cohen on TV and in the media while Petrillo has maintained a ghost like presence appearing only in courtrooms.
Petrillo told CNN, “I don’t represent Michael Cohen in the congressional matters but I have passed the letter along to him.” He said he told Republicans the same thing.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in December, and is set to begin his jail sentence March 6.
In addition to Cohen’s false testimony to Congress and his campaign finance crimes — in which prosecutors say Trump directed Cohen to facilitate illegal payments to two women alleging affairs — Davis told the Republicans that Cohen won’t be able to talk about the financial crimes that he pleaded guilty to last year. Meadows and Jordan said Davis indicated that Cohen would not address matters involving the New York state attorney general, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York and the special counsel.
Cohen’s false testimony to Congress, in which he lied about how long discussions about a Trump Tower Moscow project extended into the 2016 campaign, gained even more attention last week after a report from BuzzFeed alleged that Trump directed Cohen to lie, though the special counsel’s office issued a rare statement asserting that the story was “not accurate.”
The Republicans wrote that it appeared Cohen’s testimony would “be circumscribed to what he and you are comfortable with him addressing,” but they planned to press him even if he wouldn’t answer questions on several topics.
“Our members intend to ask Cohen whatever question they deem appropriate,” the GOP lawmakers wrote.
Since Cohen’s testimony was announced, Trump has attacked his former lawyer, suggesting in a Fox News interview, without providing evidence, that he was aware of damaging information about Cohen’s family. CNN reported last week that Cohen remains on track to testify but is concerned that a public hearing would make things worse for his family.
Cummings responded with a statement saying it was “unacceptable for anyone — including the President — to try to bully or intimidate our witnesses, to try to get them not to testify, to try to scare or threaten their family members, or to try to interfere with Congress’ search for the truth.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.