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Michael Cohen's perjury problem: Witnesses refute testimony about not wanting White House job

Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenMichael Cohen writing second book on Trump administration's Justice Department Bruce Ohr retires from DOJ Trump again asks Supreme Court to shield tax records MORE, the disgraced former lawyer for President TrumpDonald John TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study MORE, repeatedly and aggressively lobbied for a job in the White House but was rejected, according to more than a half-dozen Trump insiders whose accounts contradict Cohen’s sworn testimony to Congress.

Those I interviewed said Cohen aimed high in the beginning, asking to be considered for the White House chief of staff’s position, then lowered his targets for a job in communications or the counsel’s office.

“Michael came in and said, ‘Hey, I want to be chief of staff and would you sort of put in a good word for me,’” David Bossie, an outside adviser to the president who served as a top deputy on the White House transition team, told me.

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Bossie said he couldn’t recall the exact date but that the conversation occurred at Trump Tower in New York City between Trump’s election victory on Nov. 8, 2016, and the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.

“I didn’t do anything with it,” recalled Bossie, who described the frenetic two-month window of the transition as a period when “a thousand people a day are asking me for a job.”

Each of the people I interviewed disputed Cohen’s testimony Wednesday to the House Oversight Committee, in which he claimed he had no interest working in the Trump White House. "I was extremely proud to be the personal attorney for the president of the United States of America. I did not want to go to the White House. I was offered jobs," Cohen claimed.

Cohen, under repeated challenges by lawmakers who doubted that part of his testimony, doubled-down on his answer.

A former campaign official who was close to the president-elect during the transition said he witnessed Cohen’s lobbying for a White House job and his later complaints of having been passed over.

“There wasn’t a person at the top of the campaign nor the transition who didn’t hear from him or know he wanted to be chief of staff. It just wasn’t going to happen. And later he told people he’d settle for something in the counsel’s office as long as he could have proximity to the president,” the former official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he now works in a private-sector job.

“He kept trying to make the case he needed to be near the president because he was the only one who really understood him and that he was also working on these special projects for the president,” the official recalled.

Later, the Trump insider said, he engaged in a conversation in which Cohen “was just bemoaning the fact that he hadn’t been picked yet.”

Not only did top campaign and transition officials dispute Cohen’s testimony, so did one of his friends.

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Ohio pastor Darrell Scott, who said he knew Cohen as a friend for six years, took to Twitter after Cohen’s testimony to insist the former Trump lawyer was lying about his interest in a White House job.

“Michael Cohen asked ... no, BEGGED me REPEATEDLY, to ask the POTUS to give him a job in the Administration! He’s STILL lying under oath!” Scott tweeted during Wednesday’s testimony.

Scott served on the Trump transition team, and before that worked directly with Cohen on the campaign to create a diversity outreach effort supporting Trump. 

In an interview with me on Thursday, Scott said: “I like Michael and still consider him a friend but I couldn’t just sit there and let him say something that wasn’t true.”

He said Cohen asked him four or five times to lobby Trump to get him a job: “Several times when he knew I was going to see the president, he would ask me to tell the president to bring him to D.C. to the White House or Cabinet.”

Two of the president’s sons also used Twitter to emphatically dispute Cohen’s claim he didn’t want to work in the White House.

“Michael was lobbying EVERYONE to be ‘Chief of Staff.’ It was the biggest joke in the campaign and around the office. Did he just perjure himself again?” Eric Trump tweeted during the testimony.

Added Donald Trump Jr.Don John TrumpTrump Jr. returning to campaign trail after quarantining Trump Jr., UFC star launch anti-socialism bus tour through South Florida Donald Trump Jr. urges hunters to vote for his father MORE in his own tweet on Thursday: “Cohen told CNN in 2016 that he would 'hopefully' have White House job, but swore in congressional hearing yesterday that he NEVER wanted a White House job.”

The president’s eldest son referred to a CNN appearance Cohen made with anchor Chris CuomoChris CuomoLast hurrah for the establishment media CNN's Lemon: Asking Biden, Harris about 'hypothetical' court packing 'not a legitimate question' California Republicans ordered to remove unofficial ballot drop boxes MORE in November 2016 in which Cohen said he had not been asked to go to Washington but “I certainly hope so.”

When Cuomo said he couldn’t wait to see where Cohen landed, the lawyer answered: “Hopefully it will be in Washington.”

The CNN footage isn’t the only independent evidence suggesting Cohen wanted a job in Washington.

Federal prosecutors in New York, where Cohen pleaded guilty to crimes and was sentenced to three years in prison, stated in court documents that they had evidence the Trump lawyer wanted to work for the administration. Cohen “privately told friends and colleagues, including in seized text messages, that he expected to be given a prominent role and title in the new administration,” prosecutors said in their filings.

Lanny Davis, one of Cohen’s attorneys, said Thursday his client stands by his testimony: “Mr. Cohen testified truthfully before the House Oversight Committee. He took full responsibility for his guilty pleas. He also backed up much of his testimony with documents.”

At first blush, such pushback by Trump supporters might be dismissed by Democrats as a political vendetta to punish a former insider who turned on the president. But, in fact, it could have real consequences for Cohen legally.

Reps. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanJordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats Republicans lash out at Twitter and Facebook over Hunter Biden article Meadows hosted wedding despite guidelines banning gatherings of more than 10 people: report MORE (R-Ohio) and Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsSides tiptoe toward a COVID-19 deal, but breakthrough appears distant Batten down the Hatch Act: Trump using tax dollars to boost his 'brand' This week: Clock ticks on chance for coronavirus deal MORE (R-N.C.) formally asked the Justice Department on Thursday to investigate Cohen for lying during his most recent testimony, creating a vehicle for prosecutors to review the matter and possibly bring new charges against him.

“I think the legal jeopardy is clear, the only question is whether the Justice Department thinks it is worth the time,” said Victoria Toensing, a former top official in the Reagan Justice Department and a private legal confidante of the current president.  

She said there is more evidence today that Cohen’s testimony was false than what was used by special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE to secure convictions against former Trump advisers Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos. Cohen’s denial involves a material fact that goes to whether he is a biased witness against Trump, making a potential lie an even more serious offense.

“If you compared this to the Papadopoulos and Flynn charges, this is a slam-dunk that he (Cohen) should be charged again,” Toensing said.

Beyond the legal jeopardy, Cohen’s testimony being challenged so directly by eyewitnesses may have a profound effect on whether the public trusts he was honest in his second go-round with Congress. After all, he has already admitted to lying the first time.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill’s executive vice president for video.


Editor’s note: Attorney Victoria Toensing, quoted in the column, has long represented columnist John Solomon. 

This post was updated at 7:39 AM on Feb. 19, 2020.