Questions mount over Cohen pardon claims

Washington has a pressing question for Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenTrump bemoans 'double standard' in Stone conviction Day one impeachment hearings draw 13.1M viewers, down 32 percent from Comey hearings DC bars to open early for impeachment mania MORE: Did he lie to Congress, again?

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE was among those on Friday claiming that Cohen had lied, stating in a tweet that his former "fixer" directly asked him for a pardon.

“I said NO. He lied again!” Trump added.


That allegation came after Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis acknowledged this week that Cohen had told his former legal team to explore a potential presidential pardon after the possibility was “dangled” by Trump’s lawyers.

Davis’s remarks stood in contrast with Cohen’s public testimony before Congress late last month that he never sought a pardon from Trump — a point Republicans have seized on.

Cohen on Friday almost immediately refuted his former employer’s accusation, tweeting that it was “another set of lies” by Trump.

If he lied, Cohen might also be in trouble with Democrats, who have promised to hold him accountable.

For the moment, key Democrats are urging caution before rushing to take any action.

When asked if he wanted to learn more about Trump’s accusation, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMaya Rockeymoore Cummings reports surgery was a success, will return to campaign trail The Hill's Morning Report — Public impeachment drama resumes today Maloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump MORE (D-Md.) replied that he’d “love to hear about it.”

“If the president wants to, he can pick up the phone and call me,” he said. “I'd welcome a call.”

A representative for Cohen said Friday that Cohen stands by his testimony, and directed The Hill to prior statements from Davis defending the testimony as being truthful.

A source close to Cohen also pushed back against the suggestion that Cohen lied, saying he never personally sought a pardon but rather gave his attorneys the all-clear to explore the option when it was presented to them.

“If he wanted to ask the president for a pardon, he would have done so directly,” the source said, citing the past close relationship between Trump and Cohen.


Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDemocrat unveils bill requiring banks to identify suspicious activity related to guns Brindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite MORE (D-Va.), a member of the Oversight panel, said that Cohen may have only been referring to asking for a pardon after the end of his mutual defense agreement with the president’s legal team.

“There's a difference between saying to your attorney, ‘well since they're dangling that, go ahead and explore that’ as opposed to, ‘no, go ask for one.’ Those are different things,” Connolly said. “And I'm withholding judgment on whether he lied to the committee, or whether he's engaged in lawyerly parsing that most of us mere mortals don't engage in.”

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani also called for Cohen to be prosecuted for perjury

“If they don't prosecute him, it would be a complete outrage after what they did to Flynn and a bunch of other people,” he said during a Friday interview with Hill.TV’s “Rising.” Giuliani was referring to former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia

Democrats already are facing pressure to take action if Cohen made a false statement during his testimony. Cohen pleaded guilty last year to lying to Congress, among other federal charges, and is set to report to federal prison in May to serve a three-year sentence.

Cohen made several bombshell allegations about the president during the course of his public testimony, claiming that Trump was involved in payments to women alleging affairs with him.

The ex-attorney, who worked for Trump for about a decade, also claimed that the president had prior knowledge of WikiLeaks’s release of sensitive Democratic emails ahead of the 2016 election. And he labeled Trump a racist and a rampant liar.

Less than 24 hours after his public hearing with the Oversight and Reform Committee, House Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsDemocrats seize on new evidence in first public impeachment hearing House Republicans call impeachment hearing 'boring,' dismiss Taylor testimony as hearsay Key takeaways from first public impeachment hearing MORE (R-N.C.) and committee ranking member Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanSix memorable moments from Ex-Ukraine ambassador Yovanovitch's public testimony Democrats say Trump tweet is 'witness intimidation,' fuels impeachment push Live coverage: Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies in public impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ohio) requested that the Justice Department investigate Cohen for perjury.

Jordan has since repeatedly called for Cummings to refer Cohen to the Justice Department for prosecution.

He raised the issue again Thursday, tweeting at Cummings, “What do you plan to do to hold [Cohen] accountable?”

Cummings told reporters on Friday that he wanted to be able to examine Cohen’s closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, which he expected to be released in the next three to four weeks, prior to deciding whether the former lawyer actually made a false statement.

The chairman also suggested that rushing to judgment on Cohen could cause the public to lose trust in his committee’s work: The oversight panel is host to a bevy of Democratic investigations spanning the Trump administration, family and private businesses.

“I'm going to be methodical, because it's my integrity and the integrity of my committee, that's the bottom line,” Cummings said.

“One of the problems that we're having now is that we gotta make sure that the public is accepting of whatever we do,” he continued. “And if they feel like it's just a food fight or that we're playing games with them, or that we're not doing our homework or we're not thorough or we're not transparent, then they say ‘We’re not going to listen.’ ”

Some Democrats have suggested they aren’t buying the president’s account.

“Michael Cohen gave sworn testimony. Will you? Under oath to Mueller or Congress?” House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellNew witness claims firsthand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' Overnight Defense: Ex-Ukraine ambassador offers dramatic day of testimony | Talks of 'crisis' at State Department | Trump tweets criticism of envoy during hearing | Dems warn against 'witness intimidation' | Trump defends his 'freedom of speech' MORE (D-Calif.) tweeted Friday at Trump. “If not, get out of our Twitter feed and find a less obstructive way to spend your executive time.”

Cummings also suggested that the president wasn’t necessarily a trustworthy source.

He read to reporters a section of a statement released by Jordan on Thursday urging Cummings to take action on Cohen, which said that the American “system of self-governance relies on people to tell the truth, and those who do not respect this basic tenet of our democracy must be held accountable.”

“He's right, but he needs to tell the president that,” Cummings said of Jordan.