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 TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerRussia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless Bipartisan trio asks US intelligence to investigate ‘deepfakes’ 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 KingRestoring our national parks would be a bipartisan win for Congress Restore our parks Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash 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 assures storm victims in Carolinas: 'We will be there 100 percent' Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas Graham: Mueller is going to be allowed to finish investigation 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 ManafortHillicon Valley: Trump's exclusive interview with Hill.TV | Trump, intel officials clash over Russia docs | EU investigating Amazon | Military gets new cyber authority | Flynn sentencing sparks new questions about Mueller probe Comey: Mueller may be in 'fourth quarter' of Russia probe Flynn sentencing move spurs questions about duration of Mueller probe MORE, Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Manafort’s plea deal — the clear winners and losers Five takeaways from Manafort’s plea deal MORE, Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpFlake condemns Trump Jr. Instagram post mocking Kavanaugh accuser Trump Jr. campaign event looks for new venue after Montana restaurant declines to host The Hill's 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh controversy consumes Washington | Kavanaugh slated to testify Monday | Allegations shake up midterms 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 ClintonHillicon Valley: Trump's exclusive interview with Hill.TV | Trump, intel officials clash over Russia docs | EU investigating Amazon | Military gets new cyber authority | Flynn sentencing sparks new questions about Mueller probe READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV Keeping up with Michael Avenatti 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 LankfordConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Outdated global postal system hurts US manufacturers Tech mobilizes to boost election security 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 WydenWyden says foreign hackers targeted personal accounts of senators, staffers Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless 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.