Democrats eye new inquiries, witnesses after Cohen testimony
WASHINGTON (AP) — After three days of grilling Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Democrats are quickly using his words as a roadmap to open new lines of investigation into the president’s ties to Russia and summon additional witnesses.
Cohen completed a third day of testimony on Capitol Hill Thursday, one day after publicly branding his former boss a racist and a con man who lied about business dealings in Russia and directed him to conceal extramarital relationships. He was interviewed behind closed doors by the House Intelligence Committee for more than eight hours.
As he left the House intelligence interview, Cohen said he would be returning to Capitol Hill on March 6 for another round of questioning with that panel.
The weeklong gauntlet of interviews with Cohen launched what is expected to be months of investigations of Trump and those connected to him. Multiple Democrat-led House committees are pledging to investigate not only Trump’s campaign’s ties to Russia, which are also the subject of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, but presidential conflicts of interest, possible money laundering and other oversight matters that Democrats say were ignored under GOP control.
House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff called the closed-door session with Cohen productive and said lawmakers were able to “drill down in great detail” on issues they are investigating. Another Democratic committee member, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, said Cohen “has been asked, based on a lot of new evidence we learned today, to bring corroborating materials that he believes he has.”
Schiff said the committee will hear from Felix Sater, a Russia-born executive who worked with Cohen on an ultimately unsuccessful deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, in an open hearing March 14.
In addition, a committee aide said the panel also anticipates inviting Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to testify. Cohen mentioned the Trump Organization chief financial officer several times in his public House Oversight testimony, linking him to hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with Donald Trump. Trump denies the affair.
The Oversight Committee is also planning on calling additional witnesses after Cohen’s testimony. The committee’s chairman, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, indicated the panel could bring in a broad swath of people that Cohen mentioned in Wednesday’s hearing. He told reporters that his panel is poring over the transcript and anyone mentioned multiple times has a chance of hearing from them.
Based on who was mentioned in the hearing, possible witnesses could include Weisselberg and two of the president’s children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump. Daniels was also mentioned frequently.
Cohen, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to Congress about the Moscow real estate project and reports to prison in May for a three-year sentence, gave harsh testimony about Trump on several fronts Wednesday. He said Trump knew in advance that damaging emails about Democrat Hillary Clinton would be released during the 2016 campaign — a claim the president has denied — and accused Trump of lying during the 2016 campaign about the Moscow deal.
Cohen also said Trump directed him to arrange the hush money payment to Daniels. He said the president arranged to reimburse Cohen, and Cohen brought to the hearing a check that he said was proof of the transaction.
He said prosecutors in New York were investigating conversations Trump or his advisers had with him after his office and hotel room were raided by the FBI last April. Cohen said he could not discuss that conversation, the last contact he said he has had with the president or anyone acting on his behalf, because it remains under investigation.
Two of Trump’s most vocal defenders, GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, sent a referral to the Justice Department alleging Cohen lied in his testimony. Their letter to Attorney General William Barr details several Cohen statements they said were false, including claims that he “never defrauded any bank” and did not want a job in Trump’s White House.
They pointed to Cohen’s guilty plea for making false statements to a banking institution and to court filings that say Cohen told friends he wanted a White House job.
Cohen’s testimony unfolded as Trump was in Vietnam meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said he tried to watch as much of Cohen’s marathon hearing as he could. Trump called the hearing “fake” and said it was a “terrible thing” for Democrats to hold it during his summit.
He seized on Cohen’s concession that he had no direct evidence that Trump or his aides colluded with Russia to get him elected, the primary question of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Trump said he was a “little impressed” that Cohen had said that to the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Cohen, shaking off incessant criticism from Republicans, was the first Trump insider to pull back the curtain on a version of the inner workings of Trump’s political and business operations. He likened the president to a “mobster” who demanded blind loyalty from underlings and expected them to lie on his behalf.
“My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything: my family’s happiness, friendships, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honor, my reputation and soon my freedom,” Cohen said. “I will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.”