Cohen will not answer questions about ongoing probes involving Trump, GOP lawmakers say

Cohen will not answer questions about ongoing probes involving Trump, GOP lawmakers say
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Michael Cohen plans to severely limit his testimony to Congress next month and not answer questions about investigations related to President Trump, his former client, two Republican lawmakers said Tuesday. 

Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) also said in a letter to Guy Petrillo, Cohen's attorney, that Cohen spokesman and adviser Lanny Davis admitted that he “pushed” Cohen to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee during a recent meeting with GOP committee staff.

The letter sent Tuesday seeks more information about Cohen’s public testimony on Feb. 7. According to Jordan and Meadows, Davis told them that Cohen would refuse to answer questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, as well as his involvement in a scheme to pay off women who alleged affairs with Trump before the 2016 election.

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Instead, the Republican lawmakers said Cohen would share “personal anecdotes” about his time working for Trump leading up to the election and his “experiences” after Trump became commander in chief. 

Cohen’s public testimony, which is less than three weeks away, has invited high anticipation since House Democrats announced it earlier this month. However, Tuesday's letter suggests that it could leave much to be desired if Cohen refuses to comment on a range of subjects. 

The letter also sets the stage for a tense standoff between Cohen and House Republicans who are fierce allies of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE on Capitol Hill. 

“Davis told us Cohen’s testimony will exclude any matter ‘under investigation.’ The non-exhaustive list of issues Cohen will refuse to address include matters involving the Attorney General for the State of New York, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and the office of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III,” the Republican lawmakers wrote. 

“Of course, this is not an easy list of topics to sidestep at a Congressional hearing with such intense public interest. Our Members intend to ask Cohen whatever question they deem appropriate,” they wrote.

Davis, in a statement Tuesday, did not dispute the Republicans’ assertions but accused them of launching an “unwarranted attack” against him. In the letter, Jordan and Meadows suggested Davis’s representation of Cohen raised conflict of interest issues, citing his connections to the Clintons. Davis spearheaded former President Bill Clinton’s public defense during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Davis said he offered to brief minority staff out of a “spirit of bipartisanship” and that he had also offered to arrange for Cohen to speak with Jordan but said he had not heard back.

“Furthermore, I am proud of my past association with President and Mrs. Clinton,” Davis said. “There is no conflict of interest in my representation of Mr. Cohen. Beyond that, I will not dignify the unwarranted attack by Mr. Jordan as to my motives.”

Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) announced earlier this month that Cohen agreed to testify before the panel publicly on Feb. 7. The move represented the first significant step by House Democrats to assert their newfound majority powers to investigate matters related to the president.

At the time, Cummings indicated Cohen’s testimony would be limited so as not to interfere in Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian election interfere and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow. 

“There is obviously widespread interest in hearing directly from Mr. Cohen, including from some—but not all—Republicans,” a committee aide said Tuesday. “As Chairman Cummings explained in his statement announcing the hearing, the Committee is in the process of consulting with the Office of Special Counsel about the scope of the hearing, but the Committee will not inappropriately interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation.”

Cohen has attracted substantial attention since he implicated Trump in the scheme to pay off women before the election, which prosecutors say amounted to campaign finance violations.

Cohen pleaded guilty to a slew of federal charges, including the campaign finance violations, as part of a deal with prosecutors in Manhattan in August. The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan continues to investigate the hush-money payments, including reportedly looking into whether other Trump Organization executives knew about the crimes. 

Last November, Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about discussions within the Trump Organization to build a Trump property in Moscow and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison for the crimes in December.

President Trump has launched a series of attacks on Cohen’s credibility since his guilty pleas. In an interview with Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro earlier this month, Trump suggested Cohen “should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that's the one that people want to look at.”

The president’s remarks prompted House Democrats to warn him against intimidating witnesses or obstructing congressional probes. 

On Tuesday, the Republican lawmakers asked Petrillo to “identify the scope of Cohen’s intended testimony” and describe any consultations he has had with federal or state law enforcement officials that may cause him to limit it.

The lawmakers also sought various materials from Petrillo, including cooperation agreements between Cohen and the Justice Department and notes taken by Justice Department or FBI officials during meetings with him. 

“Davis made clear that Cohen’s upcoming appearance before the Committee is entirely a result of Davis’ orchestration. According to Davis, the hearing was Davis’ idea and his alone," Jordan and Meadows wrote. “Cohen apparently did not want to testify — but Davis has persuaded Cohen to appear despite his concerns and fears.”

Petrillo subsequently told The Hill in an email that he does not represent Cohen in congressional matters and that he had passed the letter along to him. 

Jordan, the top Republican on the committee, and Meadows asked for a response by Friday. 

This story was updated at 4:36 p.m.