Cohen draws fresh scrutiny from key Senate panel

Michael Cohen has attracted fresh scrutiny from lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, with some saying they want him to come back to testify a second time in the panel’s Russia investigation.

Cohen, President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE’s former personal lawyer who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to campaign finance violations and other crimes, is seen as a key witness in the committee’s inquiry into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

Cohen testified behind closed doors before committee staff in October. But lawmakers have signaled that they want to bring him back for additional questioning following press reports and statements from Cohen’s attorney about potentially valuable knowledge he has for special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation.

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Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Trump pushes to speed up 5G rollout | Judge hits Roger Stone with full gag order | Google ends forced arbitration | Advertisers leave YouTube after report on pedophile ring Warner questions health care groups on cybersecurity Cohen to testify before Senate Intel on Tuesday MORE (D-Va.), the committee’s vice chairman, told The Hill Thursday that Cohen should “absolutely” testify a second time.

“I think that’s a good idea,” echoed Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingTexas senator introduces bill to produce coin honoring Bushes Drama hits Senate Intel panel’s Russia inquiry Warner, Burr split on committee findings on collusion MORE (I-Maine), another member of the committee. “I think his testimony would be important to our committee.”

Cohen has attracted intense attention since pleading guilty to eight felony counts after striking a deal with prosecutors in New York. In court testimony, Cohen implicated Trump in a scheme to pay off two women to prevent damaging information from coming out that could have influenced the election in 2016.

In a rare statement following his guilty plea, Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrTrump says ‘witch hunt’ must end as reports say Mueller preparing to file report Cohen to testify before Senate Intel on Tuesday Harris on election security: 'Russia can't hack a piece of paper' MORE (R-N.C.) and Warner revealed they had “recently re-engaged” Cohen to verify his previous testimony, after press reports suggested Cohen had advance knowledge of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortMueller won't deliver report to Justice Dept. next week New York preps state charges for Manafort in case of a Trump pardon: report Defending the First Amendment, even for Roger Stone MORE, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerFive things to know about Trump confidant Tom Barrack Dems open new front against Trump Dems launch investigation into Trump administration's dealings with Saudi Arabia MORE, Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpAnother New York condo votes to remove 'Trump' from name Trump's son attacks LGBT magazine op-ed that calls effort to decriminalize homosexuality 'racist' Gillibrand uses Trump Jr. tweet to fundraise MORE and a Russian lawyer.

Trump addressed those reports in a tweet on Saturday, saying he did not know about the meeting before it happened.

Cohen, the lawmakers said, had testified that he was not aware of the meeting before it was disclosed in the press last summer. When asked whether he stood by his testimony, Cohen’s legal team said that he did.

In that same statement, Burr and Warner alluded to the prospect of calling Cohen back to testify.

“We hope that today’s developments and Mr. Cohen’s plea agreement will not preclude his appearance before our Committee as needed for our ongoing investigation,” they said.

No firm agreement has been reached for Cohen’s return. Burr said Thursday that it is “yet to be determined” whether Cohen needs to come back.

“So far, Michael Cohen’s only statement to us is that he stands by his testimony from the committee,” Burr said.

In addition to questioning Cohen on other fronts, lawmakers are likely to want to get to the bottom of what Cohen knows about the Trump Tower meeting, which the president has since acknowledged was arranged to get damaging information on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDem strategist says Clinton ‘absolutely’ has a role to play in 2020 Left-leaning journalist: Sanders would be 'formidable candidate' against Trump Clinton hits EPA for approval of pesticide dump: ‘We need bees!’ MORE.

Burr confirmed to The Hill that Cohen told committee staff behind closed doors that he did not know whether Trump had advance knowledge of the meeting.

CNN reported in July that Cohen had told associates that Trump had prior knowledge of the meeting — a detail he was willing to pass along to Mueller.

Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, batted down that report in an appearance on CNN Wednesday night. When asked by Anderson Cooper if Cohen has information that Trump knew about the meeting before it occurred, Davis replied, “No, he does not.”

But hours earlier, Davis, a contributor for The Hill, suggested to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Cohen was “present during a discussion” between Trump and his eldest son about the meeting. He added that his testimony to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees was “accurate.”

Since Cohen’s guilty plea, Davis has said that Cohen has knowledge of various topics of interest to Mueller, including details that could inform his collusion inquiry as well as information on Russian hacking.

When asked whether the statements square with what Cohen told the committee behind closed doors, Warner replied, “I think rather than trying to litigate that back and forth, let’s just bring him in.”

A Democratic committee aide told The Hill that it is “pretty likely” that an agreement will be reached to secure Cohen’s return, though it’s unclear when that might happen. Davis did not return requests for comment.

Steven Cash, a lawyer at Day Pitney and former counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it would make sense for lawmakers to grill Cohen a second time in light of new developments. 

“Anything he told you, you’d want to ask him again, and say, ‘answer truthfully,’ ” Cash said. 

Still, others on the committee do not see the immediate need to bring Cohen back.

“We’ve been able to clarify a statement that he made to us,” said Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordHarris on election security: 'Russia can't hack a piece of paper' GOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees GOP senator calls Omar's apology 'entirely appropriate' MORE (R-Okla.). “He came back and clarified to us that his statement to us was the one that was correct, the one that was under oath."

“So, I don’t know that there’s a need,” Lankford said.

Cohen is of interest to the committee for several reasons, including his possible knowledge of the Trump Organization and his work on the proposed Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen is also mentioned in the Trump-Russia dossier written by former British spy Christopher Steele, though he has said the allegations about him within it are false.

A second appearance by Cohen would give lawmakers the chance to question him themselves, in contrast to his first interview, which was done by committee staff.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Top Dems call for end to Medicaid work rules | Chamber launching ad blitz against Trump drug plan | Google offers help to dispose of opioids Top Dems call for end to Medicaid work rules after 18,000 lose coverage in Arkansas Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Drug pricing fight centers on insulin | Florida governor working with Trump to import cheaper drugs | Dems blast proposed ObamaCare changes MORE (D-Ore.) said that Cohen should be brought back to testify “in public.”

“I called for it a year ago. I was told that that was going to happen. Then there was a change,” said Wyden. “I’m going to push it every single opportunity. I think the public’s got a right to know. It should have happened a year ago and it’s got to be in public.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been investigating Russian interference in the election since January 2017, when the intelligence community revealed that Moscow waged a multifaceted campaign aimed at influencing the election. The probe has run concurrent to Mueller’s investigation.

The committee, unlike its counterpart in the House, has maintained the appearance of a bipartisan investigation. The probe has already yielded reports on election security and the intelligence community assessment, and the committee expects to release reports on the Obama administration’s actions and Russia’s use of social media in the near future.

Eventually, the committee will look to answer the collusion question, though it’s possible that it could divide Republicans and Democrats. Burr told The Associated Press in a recent interview that there is “no factual evidence today that we’ve received” but signaled he had not come to a final conclusion.