House intel interrogates Cohen for eight hours

House intel interrogates Cohen for eight hours
© Stefani Reynolds

The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee privately grilled President Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen for nearly eight hours Thursday, capping a weeklong marathon of closely-watched appearances on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers were tight-lipped about the closed-door discussions, but some signaled it yielded new information relevant to the panel’s revived probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

It also ended with the promise for Cohen to return to complete the testimony next Wednesday -- forecasting more headaches for the White House as the president’s onetime ally and “fixer” continues public appearances in Washington.

“We had a long day, but it wasn’t a long enough day,” Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: YouTube disables 200+ accounts over Hong Kong misinformation | Lawmakers sound alarm over Chinese influence efforts | DHS cyber agency details priorities | State AGs get tough on robocalls | DOJ busts online scammers Nadler asks other House chairs to provide records that would help panel in making impeachment decision YouTube disables over 200 accounts amid protests in Hong Kong MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters after the interview concluded at roughly 5 p.m.

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“And I think we all feel it was a productive interview today where he was able to shed light on a lot of issues that are core to our investigation. We were able to drill down in great detail,” continued Schiff, who said they plan to publicly release his transcript sometime in the future.

Schiff also revealed Thursday the committee would publicly question Trump business associate Felix Sater, who was involved in efforts with Cohen to build a Trump property in Moscow, on March 14.

Cohen, who has cooperated in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE’s investigation into Russian interference, is expected to help the committee shine light on questions about Trump and his associates’ ties to Russia.

Cohen, who appeared tired as he emerged the secure room after the interview concluded and declined to answer questions, told reporters that he set out to tell the truth and that “there is more to discuss.”

Cohen has become a focus of Democrats in Congress after he pleaded guilty to a series of crimes last year and implicated Trump in a scheme to pay off women who alleged affairs with Trump before the 2016 election.

Last November, Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about plans to build a the property in Moscow, and agreed to cooperate in Mueller’s probe. For one, Cohen admitted that the talks extended into June 2016 -- six months later than he initially testified and at which point Trump was the presumptive GOP nominee.

“I’m really convinced he is going to play a major role in helping us truly understand what happened, what role the president played during the campaign in terms of Russian interference and into his presidency,” Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsTrump takes post-Mueller victory lap Trump attorney: 'Case is closed' after Mueller testimony Mueller agrees lies by Trump officials impeded his investigation MORE (D-Fla.) told The Hill during break from the interview to vote House floor about an hour and a half in.

But lawmakers offered few details on what was discussed, as is typical with closed-door interviews in sensitive investigations.

“We talked about a lot of things,” Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierScaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' Epstein death sparks questions for federal government Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess MORE (D-Calif.) said about an hour before the interview wrapped, but added that the committee had only gotten through “a quarter” of its questions.

“We are just now getting into some of the more substantive issues,” she said.

Rep. Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartMoulton, Stewart pen op-ed backing three-digit suicide prevention hotline FCC proposes new 3-digit suicide prevention hotline number GOP lawmaker's town hall erupts in shouting over mass shootings, Trump MORE (R-Utah) also acknowledged that the committee was “learning some new things.”

But some signs suggested partisan divides -- which consumed the Intelligence panel in its first Russia investigation that Republicans abruptly shuttered last year -- could again fester in the new Congress.

“Ugly -- not with Cohen, but with ours,” Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyLawmakers point to entitlements when asked about deficits Mueller Day falls flat Mueller on Trump's WikiLeaks embrace: 'Problematic is an understatement' MORE (D-Ill.) said while heading to vote partway into the interview.

Lawmakers and committee staff both took turns questioning Cohen, with Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeHillicon Valley: YouTube disables 200+ accounts over Hong Kong misinformation | Lawmakers sound alarm over Chinese influence efforts | DHS cyber agency details priorities | State AGs get tough on robocalls | DOJ busts online scammers Lawmakers sound alarm on China's disinformation campaign in Hong Kong President Trump is right: Mainstream media 'do a very good job' MORE (Texas), the only new Republican on the committee and a former prosecutor, taking the lead on questioning for the GOP members.

Cohen’s appearance before the House Intelligence Committee followed his explosive public testimony before the House Oversight Committee, during which he detailed what he described as nefarious and illegal behavior by his former boss.

Lawmakers’ questions largely focused on the president’s conduct and and business, and particularly Cohen’s allegations about Trump’s involvement in a scheme to pay off women who claimed they had affairs with him before the election.

The hearing did, however, yield some new tidbits relevant to probes into links between Trump and Moscow and the possibility his campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 election.

For one, Cohen testified that he did not have “direct evidence” that Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians but that he had his “suspicions.”

Cohen said he believed Trump had advanced knowledge of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting that is eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor PETA billboard in Baltimore calls Kushner a 'rich pest' Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report MORE, arranged with a Russian lawyer after being offered damaging information on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump takes aim at media after 'hereby' ordering US businesses out of China Trump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Taylor Swift says Trump is 'gaslighting the American public' MORE.

Trump seized on that detail in remarks to reporters in Hanoi Thursday, labeling Cohen a liar but saying he was a “little impressed” that Cohen “didn’t lie” on collusion. The president has long denied his campaign colluded with Moscow and derided Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt.”

“He lied about so many different things. I was actually impressed that he didn’t say, ‘well I think there was collusion for this reason or that,’” Trump said.

Cohen also claimed he overheard a phone conversation between Trump and Roger StoneRoger Jason Stone3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 Judge rejects Stone's request to dismiss charges Judge dismisses DNC lawsuit against Trump campaign, Russia over election interference MORE in which the longtime Republican operative said he had talked to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that they were planning to release a tranche of Democratic emails that would hurt the Clinton campaign.

Both WikiLeaks and Stone, who is entangled in the special counsel’s investigation, have disputed Cohen’s account.

Cohen said Trump did not direct him to lie to Congress about plans to build a Trump property in Moscow, but gave him cues to do so. Cohen also suggested that Trump’s attorneys made changes to his 2017 congressional statement about the timing of the talks, which Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow firmly denied that later Wednesday.

Cohen also revealed that he briefed the Trump family about a half-dozen times on the plans between January and June of that year and that Trump asked him for updates. Cohen also testified that he discussed the plans with Trump Jr. and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpThe White House and schools have this in common: Asbestos President tweets 'few work harder' than Ivanka, Jared Dick Cheney to attend fundraiser supporting Trump reelection: report MORE, the president’s daughter.

Cohen spent three days on Capitol Hill this week testifying publicly and privately on Trump, all while the president was overseas meeting with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearization. He also testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in connection with its Russia investigation.

Cohen worked for Trump for roughly a decade in roles at the Trump Organization and as his personal lawyer, but their relationship fractured dramatically last year. Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion, a campaign finance violation and other crimes and implicated Trump in a hush-money scheme. The president has denied wrongdoing and labeled his onetime confidante a “rat” lying to investigators to reduce his prison time.

Cohen is slated to report to federal prison in May to serve a three-year sentence.