Political News

Michael Cohen came to Capitol Hill ahead of his testimony next week

Posted February 21, 2019 3:01 p.m. EST
Updated February 21, 2019 6:56 p.m. EST

— President Donald Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen spent several hours Thursday inside the Senate Intelligence Committee's secure spaces ahead of his closed-door testimony scheduled before the panel next week.

Cohen was on Capitol Hill on Thursday in the Senate Intelligence Committee's secure spaces ahead of next week's interview. He spent most of the day there, with a break for lunch at the Monocle, a restaurant near the Capitol. He left shortly before 5 p.m. ET and declined to answer any questions on his way out.

Cohen is scheduled to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors on Tuesday, according to a source familiar with the matter, the first of three congressional appearances next week for the President's former lawyer.

Cohen is slated to testify publicly on Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee and behind closed doors again Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee.

It's not clear why Cohen was in the Senate Intelligence Committee's office ahead of his testimony, an unusual step for witnesses who have been interviewed by the panel as part of its two-year Russia investigation.

Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, told reporters Thursday afternoon that Cohen was conferring with his attorneys and did not have any meetings with the committee. He would not say if Cohen was reviewing the committee's documents or his previous interview transcript.

A spokeswoman for Senate Intelligence chairman Richard Burr did not respond to requests for comment on Cohen's testimony next week or his appearance Thursday. A spokeswoman for the panel's top Democrat Sen. Mark Warner declined comment.

Cohen is scheduled to begin a three-year prison sentence on May 6, a date that was pushed back by two months in part because his lawyer requested more time for Cohen to prepare for his congressional testimony.

Cohen was sentenced in December for tax crimes, campaign finance violations tied to hush money payments to women and lying to Congress during his 2017 testimony about how long negotiations for a Trump Tower Moscow extended into the 2016 campaign.

The Intelligence Committee's staff has done the vast majority of the questioning for the committee's Russia investigation, which has included more than 200 interviews. Burr has publicly lauded the staff from both parties for their conduct in the interviews, saying that witnesses often commented they didn't know who was a Republican and who was a Democrat.

But Cohen is coming to the committee for a second time -- when he first appeared in 2017 he told the lies that he pleaded guilty to in December 2018 -- and this time he is appearing under subpoena. Before Cohen's first interview, Burr threatened to hold a public hearing for Cohen after he released a statement to the media. But Burr relented and Cohen was interviewed by staff behind closed doors.

The House Oversight and Senate and House Intelligence committees have eagerly sought for Cohen to appear before he reports to prison — though all three had to postpone his testimony earlier this month, citing different reasons. The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena for his testimony, while he is appearing voluntarily before the House panels.

Cohen's closed-door testimony is expected to touch on the Russia investigation, but not his public testimony. House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings wrote a memo outlining the scope of Cohen's public testimony, including Trump's "debts and payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election"; Trump's compliance with financial disclosure requirements, campaign finance laws and tax laws; and Trump's business practices.

Republicans have signaled they won't abide by those guidelines. Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the panel, said in a statement Thursday that the Cohen hearing was "phase one of the Democrats' coordinated campaign to remove the President from office."

"Our members intend to question Mr. Cohen about the crimes he pleaded guilty to, other criminal activity he participated in but refused to disclose, his international financial dealings, and a long list of other probative activities," Jordan said.