Cohen plea gives Dems new momentum for Russia probes

Cohen plea gives Dems new momentum for Russia probes

Democrats are abuzz with newfound energy this week after learning that Michael Cohen lied before Congress, giving lawmakers an opening to demand that he testify again on Capitol Hill about President TrumpDonald John TrumpProsecutors investigating Trump inaugural fund, pro-Trump super PAC for possible illegal foreign donations: NY Times George Conway: Why take Trump's word over prosecutors' if he 'lies about virtually everything' Federal judge says lawsuit over Trump travel ban waivers will proceed MORE’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign.

The revelation that Cohen gave false statements about his efforts to arrange a Trump Tower deal in Moscow — a development that surfaced when the president’s former attorney pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday — contributes to a growing body of evidence that people in Trump's orbit had been concealing their ties to the Kremlin, according to some Democratic lawmakers.

“This is yet another example of the President's closest allies lying about their contacts with Russia,” Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation The Year Ahead: Pressure mounts on election security as 2020 approaches Hillicon Valley — Presented by AT&T — NRCC exposes security flaws 2 years after Russia hacks | Google Plus to shut down early | Scathing House report scolds Equifax for breach | McCarthy knocks Google ahead of CEO's hearing MORE (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT

The House and Senate Intelligence panels interviewed Cohen last year, months before he began cooperating with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s team.

Individuals who lie to Congress can be charged and prosecuted for perjury, even if they weren’t under oath when providing testimony.

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffIntel panel expects to refer more cases of suspected lying to Mueller Adam Schiff: Justice should ‘re-examine’ whether it can indict sitting president Democrats signal growing interest in examining ties between NRA, Russia MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that in addition to wanting Cohen to testify again, this recent development warrants further scrutiny of Russia probe-related congressional testimony from other witnesses.

“We think that the special counsel ought to have the benefit of transcripts, not only of Mr. Cohen's testimony but other witnesses like Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneRoger Stone challenges Dems to produce WikiLeaks evidence Google chief defends company during Capitol Hill grilling Alex Jones heckles Google CEO heading into House hearing MORE who may similarly have attempted to mislead the committee,” Schiff told reporters on Thursday.

Democrats on other investigative committees echoed that view.

“I think there is going to be a fresh reexamination of the testimony of all witnesses before Oversight, just as probably Mr. Schiff is doing on Intelligence,” said Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiPelosi divides Democrats with term-limit proposal GOP, Comey have tense day — with promise of a second date Cohen plea gives Dems new momentum for Russia probes MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “I think this culture of telling things that are basically not true and just flat-out telling falsehoods starts at the top, and it just permeates through all the agencies.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Democrats are already scrutinizing conflicting accounts between Cohen and other witnesses. They are also looking to find other false or misleading statements Cohen may have made to congressional intelligence panels.

Despite the false statements, Democrats view Cohen as a witness with a lot of potential.

After he began cooperating with Mueller’s team, he abruptly shifted from being the president’s most loyal defender to a top White House political foe. If House Democrats — who are gearing up to launch a series of investigations into the Trump administration next year — can persuade Cohen to turn on his longtime former boss, they would have a close-up source to speak about the president and his business dealings.

Cohen’s cooperation with Mueller appears to have softened his previous critics.

“I think because he is cooperating so completely with the special counsel, we probably see more flexibility,” a Democratic lawmaker on the House Intelligence panel told The Hill.

Separately, Schiff told The Hill on Friday that he doesn’t think his panel has been in contact with Cohen’s lawyers since the plea deal.

Cohen's legal team did not respond to a request for comment on whether he would agree to testify again before certain congressional committees.

Republicans have also displayed an appetite to examine whether they were misled by Cohen.

“Michael Cohen’s indictment and guilty plea is once again an example that you cannot lie to Congress without consequences,” Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrIntel panel expects to refer more cases of suspected lying to Mueller Senate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation NRCC breach exposes gaps 2 years after Russia hacks MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “It should be no surprise that Mr. Cohen has had in his possession for months a letter requesting return visits to the Committee.”

The misleading testimony also raised concerns with Rep. Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyGOP struggles to win votes for Trump’s B wall demand The Year Ahead: Pressure mounts on election security as 2020 approaches Cohen plea gives Dems new momentum for Russia probes MORE (R-Fla.), who served as a senior member of the House panel’s investigation into Russian interference.

“It did make me think about what other witnesses we had,” said Rooney, who is retiring from Congress in January.

However, Rooney suggested it would not be particularly fruitful for Democrats to bring Cohen back, saying that his testimony would just rehash that he had lied to them.

Cohen initially testified that the president did not have ties to Moscow, a statement he reversed in his guilty plea. He now says he kept Trump and his family updated about negotiations over the Moscow Trump Tower deal as late as June 2016.

Before the plea deal, Cohen was entangled in the courts over his involvement with providing a hush payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels. In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion connected to those payments.

News of Cohen’s plea deal also came amid reports that Trump has responded to a series of Mueller’s questions that focus on his knowledge of events as well as actions during the 2016 election.

"Trump said he had no dealings with the Russians, that is now shown to be a lie," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is expected to lead the House Judiciary Committee starting in January. "He lied about it to the American people during the election."