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 TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ 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 WarnerLeaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Mobile providers at center of privacy storm Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks 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 KingGOP senators challenge Trump on shutdown strategy Will Trump declare an emergency tonight? Only he knows for sure Senate in last-minute talks to find deal to avert shutdown  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 BurrManafort developments trigger new ‘collusion’ debate Three GOP Senate candidates, NRA may have illegally coordinated ads: report Cohen to testify publicly before Congress 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 ManafortMnuchin meets with Senate GOP to shore up ranks on Russia sanctions vote Mueller files status report highlighting cooperation by key witness Barr: It would be a crime for president to pardon someone in exchange for their silence MORE, Jared KushnerJared Corey Kushner'Vice' director shrugs off report that Ivanka and Jared walked out of screening Chris Christie claims Jared Kushner enacted 'hit job' as revenge for prosecuting father White House announces reduced delegation to travel to Davos amid shutdown MORE, Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpCNN's Gergen: Trump discouraging next generation from civil service The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump AG pick Barr grilled at hearing | Judge rules against census citizenship question | McConnell blocks second House bill to reopen government Trump shares article blasting federal workers, calling for long shutdown 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 ClintonGillibrand announces exploratory committee to run for president on Colbert Former PepsiCo CEO being considered for World Bank chief post: report Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing 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 LankfordWhat the government shutdown means for our nation’s cybersecurity GOP senators challenge Trump on shutdown strategy GOP senator: No border security plan without a wall 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 WydenMobile providers at center of privacy storm Hillicon Valley: House chair seeks emergency briefing on wireless industry's data sharing | AG nominee to recuse himself from AT&T-Time Warner merger | Dem questions Treasury, IRS on shutdown cyber risks On The Money: Trump says he won't declare emergency 'so fast' | Shutdown poised to become longest in history | Congress approves back pay for workers | More federal unions sue over shutdown 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.