Michael Cohen will not appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on February 7, his attorney said on Wednesday – at least not voluntarily – citing ‘ongoing threats against his family’ from the president and the president’s lawyer.
Donald Trump fired back during a photo-op with reporters that Cohen has ‘always been threatened by the truth,’ and claimed that his former lawyer ‘doesn’t want to tell the truth for me or other of his clients.’
Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis said last week that his client, a former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, was ‘not 100% there yet,’ despite the committee’s Democratic chairman, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, announcing the hearing. That changed Wednesday.
Cohen has been ordered to report to prison on March 6 to start serving a three-year sentence for bank and tax fraud and campaign finance violations.
‘Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani, as recently as this weekend, as well as Mr. Cohen’s continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel, Mr. Cohen’s appearance will be postponed to a later date,’ Davis said in a statement.
The decision is creating new uncertainties about whether Democrats will be able to grill Cohen at all before he becomes a federal inmate. They’re responding with talk about a subpoena.
Michael Cohen says he will not testify before a congressional committee on February 7, claiming that President Trump and the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have made unspecified ‘threats’ against his family
Trump said Wednesday during a photo-op that Cohen has ‘only been threatened by the truth’; he previously suggested Cohen’s father-in-law could have organized crime connections that prosecutors should investigate
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani (right) went to bat for the president on Sunday in a CNN interview, saying that he’s only protecting himsef by throwing hardballs at Cohen
Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly told reporters that ‘we are under a time crunch,’ and ‘I would support a subpoena’ to compel Cohen to appear.
Cummings and California Dem. Rep, Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said in a joint statement that ‘[n]ot appearing before Congress was never an option.’
‘We will not let the president’s tactics prevent Congress from fulfilling our constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities. This will not stop us from getting the truth. We expected Mr. Cohen to appear before both Committees and we remain engaged with his counsel about upcoming appearances.’
Cummings told reporters later: ‘I have not decided what I’m going to do.’
Davis had played cat-and-mouse with Cummings, saying that Cohen ‘wishes to thank Chairman Cummings for allowing him to appear before the House Oversight Committee and looks forward to testifying at the appropriate time.’
‘This is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first,’ Davis added.
Trump suggested in a Fox News Channel interview via telephone on January 12 that investigators have ignored a rich vein of criminal activity in Cohen’s father-in-law, whom he didn’t name.
‘He should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that’s the one that people want to look at,’ Trump told host Jeanine Pirro. ‘Because where does that money–? That’s the money in the family. And I guess he didn’t want to talk about his father [-in-law]. He’s trying to get his sentence reduced.’
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland (left) chairs the House Oversight Committee and California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff (right) leads the House Intelligence Committee; they are both mulling subpoenas for Cohen’s testimony
Trump’s jab about Cohen protecting his ‘other clients’ is curious: Cohen’s only other known clients are Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity and former Republican National Committee fundraiser Elliott Broidy
Cohen was not expected to be able to testify about his election-year hush money payoff to porn actress Stormy Daniels (pictured) on Trump’s behalf
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said Sunday on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ program that focusing attention on Cohen’s family is just Trump ‘defending yourself,’ especially ‘if the father-in-law is a criminal in the Southern District of New York. He may have ties to something called organized crime.’
Cohen’s father-in-law Fima Shusterman pleaded guilty to federal income tax fraud in 1993. The charge stemmed from his taxicab business in New York.
Shusterman’s more recent business ventures are linked to taxi companies in Chicago. The New York Times has reported that Shusterman introduced Cohen to the industry.
Cohen had already limited the scope of what he would be willing to discuss with members of Congress, ruling out anything currently ‘under investigation.’
That would preclude him from talking about the Trump Tower Moscow project, his payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels, or his business dealings with the president.
Cohen has been cooperating with the special counsel’s probe of Russia’s role in the 2016 election. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York was the lead federal prosecutor earlier this year when Cohen pled guilty to eight counts, including tax fraud and campaign finance violations.
He also has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timeline of conversations he had with Russian officials about building a Trump Tower Moscow as part of separate investigation by Mueller’s team.
He was sentenced to three years in prison and is free on bail until that time.
Cohen’s attorney had already said he would not talk about his cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller (above) during any congressional hearing
Cohen’s guilty pleas included a charge of lying to Congress about a Trump Organization real estate project that was slated for Moscow, Russia and discussed through the fall of 2016 while the president was running for office.
He testified in a closed congressional interview that the project he pursued on Trump’s behalf was abandoned by the time of the Iowa Caucuses in January 2016; that would be consistent with Trump’s ‘political messaging.’
Mueller later filed documents revealing Cohen said he discussed the proposal with Trump on multiple occasions and with members of the president’s family, later in the year – even after Trump became the Republican nominee for president.
Cohen said he lied out of loyalty to Trump.
‘I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1,’ Cohen said at his plea hearing late last year.
‘Individual 1’ is Mueller’s name for Trump in the investigation.
Discussions about a planned construction project were ultimately abandoned and no contract was signed.
Cohen was also the central figure in a plot to buy the silence of pornographic actress Stormy Daniels, who claimed that she had an affair with Trump in 2006.
Daniels signed a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for $130,000 from Cohen, a transaction that he admitted was a violation of campaign finance laws since it amounted to an illegally large contribution benefiting Trump’s White House hopes.
He said in court that Trump directed him to make the payment, suggesting the president was guilty of a crime.
In August he pleaded guilty to eight separate charges related to tax dodges, falsifying bank documents and the campaign finance violations involving Daniels and another woman, former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal.
Cohen claims that at Trump’s request, he arranged for the publisher of The National Enquirer to pay McDougal – another self-described past Trump paramour – for the exclusive rights to her life story. The magazine never published anything, engaging in a practice known as ‘catch and kill’ in order to help Trump avoid new scandals in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.
Trump has denied ever having a sexual relationship with either Daniels or McDougal.