Democrats release Cohen testimony on his claim Trump lawyers knew he lied

Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee voted on Monday to release transcripts of its two-day closed-door interview with former Donald Trump fixer Michael Cohen — interviews that highlighted Cohen’s claim that Trump’s lawyers edited his testimony and knew he lied to Congress about Trump’s business ties to Russia.

Following the vote, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., released a statement about the release of the transcripts along with information provided to the committee by Cohen.

“With the completion of Special Counsel Mueller’s work and the release of his report, it is critically important that the Committee, and the Congress, make public as much information as possible that bears on Mueller’s findings, explain the evidence he uncovered, and expose the obstructive actions taken by this President and those who surround him, Schiff said. “It is in this light that the Committee today releases the transcripts of two days of interviews of Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.”

In March, Cohen told the House Oversight Committee that the president’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, changed his 2017 statement to the House and Senate intelligence committees regarding the duration of discussions about a potential Trump Tower Moscow project.

“I lied to Congress about when Mr. Trump stopped negotiating the Moscow Tower project in Russia. I stated that we stopped negotiating in January 2016. That was false – our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign,” Cohen told the committee.

“You need to know that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it,” Cohen said.

According to the interview transcript released Monday, Cohen told the committee that Sekulow suggested that the Trump Tower Moscow project ended in January of 2016, ahead of the Iowa caucus.

In his subsequent 2017 statements to Congress, Cohen said discussions about the Moscow project ended in January 2016, though they continued through the summer of 2016, after Trump had become the Republican nominee for president.

Cohen said Sekulow asked him to stick with the January 2016 date to “distance Mr. Trump from any relationships, any contacts, anything to do with Russia.”

In July 2016, then-candidate Trump said, “I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia.”

Cohen also told the committee that he discussed pardons with Sekulow until he withdrew from the joint defense agreement with the president, and said he believed Trump was aware of the discussions.

“They raised the topic, and what they were doing, including publicly, they were dangling the concept of pardons, and the purpose of course was to keep everybody part in the joint defense team,” Cohen told lawmakers, according to the transcript.

The reason Sekulow gave for considering pardons for Cohen and others, according to Cohen’s testimony, was to “shut down the inquires and shut the investigation down.”

Sekulow, in a statement through his attorneys Monday night, said Cohen’s statements “are more of the same from him and confirm the observations of prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that Cohen’s ‘instinct to blame others is strong.'”

“That this or any Committee would rely on the word of Michael Cohen for any purpose – much less to try and pierce the attorney-client privilege and discover confidential communications of four respected lawyers – defies logic, well-established law and common sense,” the statement read.

Cohen also told lawmakers that his then-attorney Stephen Ryan said that Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, had requested that he alter his statement to Congress to suggest that the president’s eldest daughter had no role in the project.

Cohen testified under oath that he briefed members of the Trump family repeatedly about the Trump Tower Moscow effort.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner did not immediately return ABC News’ request for comment.

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny J. Davis, praised Schiff for releasing the transcript.

“While we were not consulted, we applaud Chairman Schiff for making the transcripts of Michael Cohen’s House Intelligence Committee testimony public. Transparency and the truth are Donald Trump’s worst nightmares,” Davis said in a statement. “Michael Cohen lied only once and that was to Congress —specifically for the benefit (and in accordance with the directives) of Donald Trump to cover for Trump’s repeated public lies during the 2016 campaign of no Russia deals or contacts.”

“To anyone who questions the veracity of Michael Cohen’s testimony, I ask: ‘Will you testify under oath?'” Davis said.

According to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Cohen said he was instructed by Trump’s attorney to keep his 2017 statement to Congress short and “tight,” and that he should stay on message and not contradict Trump.

While Mueller said there was evidence that Trump was aware of Cohen’s false statements to Congress, “the evidence available to us does not establish that the President directed or aided Cohen’s false testimony,” according to his report.

Federal prosecutors in Mueller’s office later wrote that Cohen also sought to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1,” referring to then-candidate Trump.

The House Intelligence Committee has since sent letters to attorneys representing members of Trump and his family members’ legal teams in an effort to investigate the attorneys’ involvement in drafting Cohen’s false statement.

Trump’s lawyers have pushed back against the request and argued that demands by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, for information would force them to violate attorney-client privilege.

Since March, Schiff has exchanged a series of letters with attorneys representing members of Trump’s legal team. News of the nascent investigation and Schiff’s letters to the attorneys was first reported Tuesday by the New York Times.

Earlier this month, Cohen reported to prison in New York to begin his three-year sentence, after an unsuccessful effort to delay his surrender to prison.

Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2018, and to campaign finance violations and tax and bank fraud.

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