National Security

Cohen grilled by Senate Intelligence panel

Michael Cohen told reporters he was looking forward to a chance to “clear the record” on Wednesday following a closed-door hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee that begins three days of marathon testimony for President Trump’s former personal attorney.

The Senate panel met with Cohen for nine hours, and when it was done the president’s former confidant told reporters he appreciated the opportunity to “tell the truth.”

{mosads}“I really appreciate the opportunity that was given to me to clear the record and to tell the truth, and I look forward to tomorrow, to being able to use my voice to tell the American people my story,” Cohen said in a brief statement as he exited.

“I’m going to let the American people decide exactly who’s telling the truth,” Cohen said, declining to take further questions.

Cohen’s testimony marked a return appearance before the committee for Trump’s former lawyer, more than a year after he lied to the panel about discussions within the Trump Organization to build a Trump property in Moscow.

The hearing was expected to focus primarily on Cohen’s October 2017 testimony to the committee, though lawmakers declined to offer specific information about the questioning as they entered and exited the room throughout the day.

Lawmakers raised questions about Cohen’s credibility ahead of Tuesday’s hearing — a theme that is expected to also emerge on Wednesday and Thursday.

As he entered the secured room just before 9:30 a.m., Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said he wanted “the truth” from Cohen, but noted that he had a questionable track record.

In cryptic comments shortly before re-entering the room around 5:30 p.m., Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the committee’s top Democrat, said that nothing he heard from Cohen “dissuades” him from his view of the investigation’s gravity.

“When this investigation started, I said it may be the most important thing that I’m involved in in my public life in the Senate,” Warner told reporters. “Nothing I have heard today dissuades me from that view.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters earlier she was “not permitted” to discuss what happened during the closed-door meeting but described it as an “extensive grilling.”

“He’s been asked many, many questions,” Collins said.

When asked whether Cohen said anything that surprised her, Collins replied, “Uh, yes. But you know he’s a very different guy.”

At the outset of the hearing, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the more vocal members of the committee, signaled he would question Cohen about Trump’s financial ties to Russia.

“My big interest has been in the ‘follow the money’ issues. And, obviously, I can’t talk about what goes on inside the committee, but what I intend to keep focused on is untangling the very complicated financial arrangements between Donald Trump and Russia,” Wyden told reporters.

And when asked what she wanted to question Cohen about, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) replied, “Everything.”

In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to the House and Senate Intelligence committees about the timing and nature of the Trump Tower Moscow discussions, admitting that the talks extended as late as June 2016 — six months later than he initially said — at which point Trump was the presumptive GOP nominee for president.

Cohen also admitted to lying about the extent to which he briefed Trump and members of his family and about his discussions with Russians regarding the proposal.

The project never came to fruition. However, Democrats and some Trump critics have raised questions about Trump’s pursuit of the project at a time he was running for president.

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has offered varying accounts of Trump’s knowledge of the property plans, but has said in interviews that Trump’s answers to special counsel Robert Mueller acknowledge that the talks could have extended as late as November 2016.

The property plans have been subject to intense media scrutiny. BuzzFeed News reported in January that federal investigators have evidence that Trump told Cohen to lie to Congress. However, Mueller’s office rebuked the report as inaccurate in a rare public statement released the day after its publication.

Cohen, who is due to report to prison in May for various federal crimes, has attracted scrutiny from Congress since his August and November guilty pleas. Cohen’s appearance Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee was under subpoena.

Senators investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia are still questioning witnesses and preparing three reports, but the probe is expected to wrap up in the coming months.

Burr said in interviews last month that he still has seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, but hasn’t ruled out the possibility.

Both Burr and Warner, who lead the probe, declined to answer questions posed by reporters, at one point exiting the interview and sharing an elevator together.

The committee plans to issue a single, fact-driven report at the conclusion of the probe that lays out findings about the Trump campaign’s links to Russia. But it’s possible that Republicans and Democrats could reach different conclusions about what the findings mean with respect to collusion.

Meanwhile, Mueller’s investigation appears to be in its later stages and there is intense speculation that it could soon wrap up. The president has lambasted the special counsel probe for over a year, deeming it a “witch hunt” and denying allegations of collusion between his campaign and Moscow. Cohen agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s probe as part of a deal with federal prosecutors in November.

Cohen will only have a brief reprieve before returning to Capitol Hill Wednesday for testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is expected to focus on Trump’s business dealings and involvement in a scheme to pay off women who alleged affairs with him before the 2016 election.

That appearance, which is public, will offer many more fireworks than Tuesday’s closed-door meeting.

Separately, Cohen will also testify behind closed doors on Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its revived and expanded probe into Russian interference, where he is expected to field more questions about the Trump Moscow plans.

Cohen’s credibility had already come under fire by the White House ahead of Tuesday’s closed hearing, forecasting how Trump and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill would message Cohen’s three-day tour in Washington.

“It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Jordain Carney contributed.

Tags Donald Trump Mark Warner Richard Burr Robert Mueller Ron Wyden Susan Collins

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