WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, has agreed to talk to the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 8, opting for closed-door testimony after pulling out of a separate public hearing due to security issues.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Monday that Cohen will be appearing voluntarily and that the panel will work with law enforcement to make sure he is safe. Cohen last week postponed testimony he was supposed to give the House Oversight and Reform Committee, blaming threats from Trump and the president’s attorney-spokesman, Rudy Giuliani.
Cohen has not detailed the threats, nor has his lawyer. But Trump and Giuliani have publicly urged the Justice Department to investigate Cohen’s father-in-law, insinuating he was part of some unspecific criminal activity. Trump, for example, told Fox News this month that Cohen “should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that’s the one that people want to look at.”
Trump’s fixer-turned-foe is a central figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s campaign. Cohen also played a pivotal role in buying the silence of a porn actress and a former Playboy Playmate who both alleged they had sex with Trump. The president has denied their claims.
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Cohen pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance violations and other offenses connected to the payments, and he is scheduled to begin serving a three-year prison sentence in March. Federal prosecutors have said Trump directed Cohen to make the payments during the campaign.
Schiff, D-Calif., said Cohen had relayed “legitimate concerns” about his safety and the safety of his family.
“Efforts to intimidate witnesses, scare their family members, or prevent them from testifying before Congress are tactics we expect from organized crime, not the White House,” Schiff said. “These attacks on Mr. Cohen’s family must stop.”
Cohen is also scheduled to talk to the Senate Intelligence Committee next month, in compliance with a subpoena. That interview is scheduled for Feb. 12, according to Lanny Davis, one of Cohen’s lawyers.
Also Monday, Cohen’s lawyers announced a shake-up on his defense team as he continues to cooperate with Mueller and prepares for the congressional testimony.
Cohen’s legal team announced that two attorneys from Chicago, Michael Monico and his partner Barry Spevack, will represent him, replacing New York-based attorneys Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester.
Cohen’s legal team described Monico as one of the “premier criminal defense attorneys in the country.”
The legal shake-up followed what a person familiar with the matter described as a dispute over unpaid legal fees. The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Cohen had not paid “proper fees” to his legal team.
Davis disputed that characterization, saying the shake-up “had nothing to do with fees.”
Cohen did not immediately respond to a text message seeking for comment.
Monico and Spevack issued a joint statement Monday saying they looked forward to “helping Mr. Cohen fulfill what he has told us is his only mission — to tell the truth as he knows it and to turn the corner on his past life and taking ownership for his past mistakes by cooperating as best as he can with all governmental authorities in search of the truth.”
Monico worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago before entering private practice. He has since become one of Chicago’s highest-profile white-collar attorneys dating back to the 1980s, representing those close to the levers of power in Illinois, including powerful aldermen, a confidant of now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and several defendants accused of corruption in dealing with the city of Chicago.
He also represented an owner of Chicago’s E2 nightclub, where a stampede toward a door in 2003 left 21 people dead. Most recently, Monico and Spevack have represented a former Lithuanian parliamentarian and judge fighting extradition from Chicago to face charges in her homeland stemming from her allegations that there’s a well-connected ring of pedophiles in the country.
Mustian reported from New York. AP legal affairs writer Michael Tarm contributed reporting from Chicago.