Michael Cohen’s decision to appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 7 sets the stage for a blockbuster public hearing that threatens to further damage the president’s image and could clarify the depth of his legal woes.
WASHINGTON — Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer who implicated him in a scheme to pay hush money to two women claiming to have had affairs with him, has agreed to testify before the House Oversight Committee next month and give “a full and credible account” of his work for Trump.
Cohen’s decision to appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 7 sets the stage for a blockbuster public hearing that threatens to further damage the president’s image and could clarify the depth of his legal woes. Cohen, a consigliere to Trump when he was a real estate developer and presidential candidate as well as informally as president, was privy to the machinations of Trump’s inner circle and key moments under scrutiny by both special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York.
He could soon share them on national television under oath.
“In furtherance of my commitment to cooperate and provide the American people with answers, I have accepted the invitation by Chairman Elijah Cummings to appear publicly on February 7,” Cohen said in a statement. “I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired.”
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Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan in August to tax fraud, making false statements to a bank and a campaign finance violation. In court, Cohen said that violation was the result of payments he made at the behest of his former client to a woman who was prepared to go public during the 2016 campaign about an affair with Trump years earlier.
Since then, Cohen has spent more than 70 hours with federal prosecutors in Manhattan as well as with Mueller, who is investigating Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and Trump’s campaign. In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to an additional charge — lying to Congress about how long negotiations for a Trump Tower project in Moscow went on in 2016.
That cooperation has earned him the ire of Trump, who has called Cohen a “weak person.” The president said he did nothing wrong in the campaign finance charge, and he accused his former lawyer of lying to prosecutors to try to get a reduced sentence. In court filings, prosecutors have not named Trump, referring to a “candidate for federal office” and “Individual-1.”
It was not immediately clear whether prosecutors in New York or for Mueller would ask Cohen to keep from discussing topics still under investigation. Nor was it clear when Cummings formally issued an invitation to testify.
On Thursday, Cummings said he was consulting Mueller’s office to ensure that he did not hinder its efforts.
“I want to make clear that we have no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations,” he said in a statement.
In a December interview, Cummings, D-Md., said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he wanted Cohen to appear before Congress as soon as this month and signaled that he viewed it as a matter of extreme consequence.
“I’m hoping that Mr. Cohen will come before the Congress, where he can tell the American public exactly what he has been saying to Mueller and others, without interfering with the Mueller investigation,” Cummings said. “I think the American people just voted for transparency and integrity in our hearings. They want to hear from him.”
In the interview, Cummings compared Cohen’s appearance to that of John Dean, President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, who in 1973 appeared before a special Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal in which he implicated himself, top administration officials and the president himself in a cover-up of the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
“This is a watershed moment,” Cummings said, invoking Dean, who he said “changed the course of America” with his testimony.
It was unclear if Cohen’s agreement to testify before the Oversight Committee will preclude appearances, in public or private, before other House panels.
The newly installed chairmen of at least two other panels, the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, have said they want to speak with Cohen about his work on behalf of Trump. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the Intelligence Committee chairman, said in an interview last week that he was in touch with Cohen’s lawyer about a possible appearance.
In a statement Thursday, Schiff said he was glad to see Cohen would appear in public, but would press ahead in trying to secure another, private appearance before his own committee “in the near future” to discuss matters related to Russia.
Democrats won back the House last year promising to hold Trump and his administration to account and have begun laying the groundwork for a long run of investigations targeting his administrator’s policies and ethics lapses, Trump’s businesses and his campaign’s interactions with Russia. Cohen’s appearance in public, before national television cameras, will begin to fulfill that promise, but is likely to only be the first of a string of public testimony that could prove damaging to the president.