Former Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Agrees to Testify to Congress

 nytimes.com  1/11/2019 12:34:03 AM   Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos
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Michael D. Cohen agreed to appear before Congress next month and promised a full accounting of his work for President Trump.CreditCreditChang W. Lee/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Michael D. Cohen, President 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 Mr. Trump.

Mr. 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. Mr. Cohen, a consigliere to Mr. Trump when he was a real estate developer and presidential candidate as well as informally as president, was privy to the machinations of Mr. Trump’s inner circle and key moments under scrutiny by both the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, 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,” Mr. 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.”

Mr. 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, Mr. 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 Mr. Trump years earlier.

Since then, Mr. Cohen has spent more than 70 hours with federal prosecutors in the Manhattan as well as with Mr. Mueller, who is investigating Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and Mr. Trump’s campaign. In November, Mr. 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 Mr. Trump, who has called Mr. 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 Mr. Trump, referring to a “candidate for federal office” and “Individual-1.”

Asked during a visit to the border in Texas whether he was worried about Mr. Cohen’s plan to testify, Mr. Trump told reporters, “I’m not worried about it at all.”

It was not immediately clear whether prosecutors in New York or for Mr. Mueller would ask Mr. Cohen to keep from discussing topics still under investigation. Nor was it clear when Mr. Cummings formally issued an invitation to testify.

On Thursday, Mr. Cummings said he was consulting Mr. 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.

Mr. Cummings said in a brief interview on Thursday that he had known Mr. Cohen would come for some time and had spoken with him briefly when arranging the hearing.

“He’ll have a chance to tell his side of the story, and we’ll have a chance to question him. The American people deserve that.”

In a CNN interview in December, Mr. Cummings compared Mr. 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,” Mr. Cummings said, invoking Mr. Dean, who he said “changed the course of America” with his testimony.

It was unclear if Mr. 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 Mr. Cohen about his work on behalf of Mr. Trump. Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the Intelligence Committee chairman, said in an interview last week that he was in touch with Mr. Cohen’s lawyer about a possible appearance.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr. Schiff said he was glad to see Mr. 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 Mr. 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, Mr. Trump’s businesses and his campaign’s interactions with Russia. Mr. 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.

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