House lawmakers clash over GOP allegations Dems coached Cohen

Lawmakers are clashing over GOP allegations that Democrats met extensively with Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenJudge rejects Michael Cohen's plea for early prison release amid coronavirus Michael Cohen cites 'absence of presidential leadership' over coronavirus in effort to move to home confinement Free Roger Stone MORE before his scheduled testimonies, an early sign of partisan divides growing deeper amid the House investigations into the Trump administration.

Republicans claim Democrats knew ahead of time what the president’s former personal lawyer was planning to testify to on Capitol Hill, voicing concern of cooperation — and even coaching — between Cohen and the committee majorities.

Democrats have strongly rejected these claims, stating that meeting in advance with potential witnesses is standard practice for committees conducting investigations.

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One such clash took place over the weekend when conservative Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senators clinch deal on T stimulus package White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package MORE (R-N.C.) accused House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Texas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill Schiff: Remote voting would not compromise national security MORE (D-Calif.) of meeting with Cohen for 10 hours ahead of his planned testimony.

“Before Michael Cohen’s testimony last week, he and Adam Schiff met for TEN hours. But last Sunday, Schiff told CBS his only contact with Cohen was to ‘invite him to testify’ and ‘allay concerns.’ Really? That took 10 hours?” Meadows said on Friday in a tweet, which President TrumpDonald John TrumpHealth insurers Cigna, Humana waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment Puerto Rico needs more federal help to combat COVID-19 Fauci says April 30 extension is 'a wise and prudent decision' MORE then retweeted.

“Did Democrats lead the witness?” continued Meadows, a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Schiff fired back, calling Meadows’s claims “false.”

“Sorry, Mr. Trump and Mr. Meadows. I was not part of any of the staff proffer sessions with Mr. Cohen,” Schiff tweeted.

“You really should be more careful about making or propagating false statements if you wish to condemn Cohen and others,” he added.

Lanny Davis, a spokesman and attorney for Cohen, also weighed in, telling The Hill that Schiff “did not” attend the pretestimony interviews and adding that “Mr. Meadows is in the habit of accusing first [and looking] for facts second.”

A source familiar with the situation confirmed that Cohen met with Democratic staffers four separate times, for a total of 10 hours. The Daily Beast first reported the length of their interviews.

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During these interviews, Cohen largely went over the text of his prior 2017 testimony with the congressional investigators, the source said.

But Meadows doubled down Monday, while also attacking Cohen on his credibility.

“You would think after prepping with Adam Schiff’s team for 10+ hours, Mr. Cohen could make it through a hearing without lying to Congress... again. Apparently not,” Meadows tweeted.

Republicans have argued that Cohen cannot be trusted to tell the truth because he is a known liar who has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.

Other Democrats on the Intelligence panel came to Schiff’s defense.

“Now THIS is a false statement. They never met before. Rep. Mark Meadows should delete this tweet & apologize,” Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellKey House chairman cautions against remote voting, suggests other options amid coronavirus outbreak House Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Congress tiptoes toward remote voting MORE (D-Calif.) tweeted Saturday.

“Mark, I was in the room. No one said Adam met with Cohen for 10 hours. That didn’t happen. Will you take down your post?” Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesDemocrats get assurances from Cuccinelli on immigrants, coronavirus care Gaetz wears gas mask on House floor during vote on bill to fight coronavirus Democrats press World Bank chief on meeting with Ukrainian president amid Trump pressure MORE (D-Conn.) also wrote on Twitter.

A source familiar with the matter maintained that “only topics” were discussed in advance of Cohen’s testimony, not “answers to any questions.”

“Speaking to congressional staff before a witness testifies is commonly done and appropriate,” the source told The Hill. “The meetings with Mr. Cohen were to allow him to reread his prior testimony. In addition, Mr. Cohen has been willing to meet with Republican staffers and members ahead of the testimony. Congressional [staffers] traveled to New York to see him as a courtesy because he was sick.”

An Oversight committee source indicated that Cohen also spoke to Republican committee staff ahead of the hearing.

Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who served as chairman of the then-House Government Reform Committee from 2003 to 2007, said this is a practice that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have used with witnesses over the past 30 years — and one that will likely occur again in the future.

“It is not best practices, but it is not uncommon. And what I found out is Democrats screamed when Republicans did it, and now Republicans are obviously doing the same thing,” Tom Davis told The Hill in an interview, calling it both a “legitimate” concern and a complaint.

“I don’t think this is the last time that this will happen. But look, the disadvantage is that whenever you do that, you make yourself vulnerable to charges of coaching the witness. That is the downside. Maybe you were and maybe you weren’t, nobody is there to know,” he continued.

He said while it does not help with bipartisan relations, it can help the majority prove their point, as the public hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee did.

“It certainly allows the majority in this case to be able to get their witness across and prove their point. And this was a star witness for them. You haven’t seen more cameras up there in a long, long time ... So, you want to make sure, at least, your star witness is going to support your claims or your narrative,” Tom Davis said.

“They want to make sure this runs smoothly, and I think they are going to want to know in advance what he is likely to say so they can elicit it in public,” he said.

Judicial Watch, a right-leaning government watchdog group, has seized on the Republicans’ concerns, filing a complaint against Schiff that asks the head of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to investigate whether the Intelligence chairman inappropriately interacted with witnesses.

“We call upon the OCE to investigate Rep. Schiff and his previously undisclosed, inappropriate contact with key witnesses in congressional investigation over which that Member holds significant sway,” reads the Judicial Watch complaint, which was addressed to OCE Chairman David Skaggs.

“Rep. Schiff’s conduct creates the appearance of unethical collusion and synchronization of efforts that calls into question whether Cohen’s testimony was a legitimate congressional hearing or well-rehearsed political theatre,” it continues.

Meadows’s tweet came two days after Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), a member of the Intelligence Committee, pressed Cohen on whether he “coordinated” with Democrats or their aides to help him prepare his statements.

“Clearly, there will be questions as to whether or not such contacts, if they occurred, constitute witness tampering, obstruction of justice, or collusion, collaboration, and cooperation between the House Democratic majority, their staff, and you,” reads the letter Turner delivered to Cohen while he was testifying before the panel for a second time.

Turner, who asked Cohen to answer a series of questions regarding the extent of contact he had with Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence committees as well as the House Oversight and Reform Committee, noted that Cohen acknowledged to lawmakers during his Oversight hearing that he had contact with Schiff prior to his testimony.

“Were any such meetings helpful to Cohen in the preparation of his statements?” he asked.

“If these meetings occurred, did Democratic members or staff assist Cohen in preparation of his statements?”

Cohen’s Oversight testimony was public, but he met privately with the House Intelligence Committee twice.

Other lawmakers circled around whether Cohen met with Democratic staff ahead of his testimony on the Hill.

During his public testimony before the Oversight panel, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTrump, privacy hawks upend surveillance brawl Top GOP post on Oversight draws stiff competition McConnell, top GOP senators throw support behind surveillance deal as deadline looms MORE (Ohio) — the committee’s top Republican — and Rep. Jody HiceJody Brownlow HiceTop GOP post on Oversight draws stiff competition House Republicans press Trump officials on plans to contain coronavirus at border Loeffler works to gain traction with conservatives amid Collins primary bid MORE (R-Ga.) questioned Cohen on the matter.

“Did you or anyone else on your team cooperate with the Democratic Party in preparing for this hearing?” Hice asked Cohen last week.

“We’ve spoken to the party,” Cohen replied.

Jordan later followed up on Hice’s questioning, asking: “Have you spoken to Chairman [Jerrold] Nadler or anyone on his staff or have any of your attorneys spoken to Chairman Nadler?”

Cohen said “no” he had not had such conversations, while also noting that he is “not aware” what conversations his legal team had, but he said he will ask them.

Patrick Boland, a Democratic spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee, described last week that the process of meeting a witness ahead of time as standard and “appropriate.”

- Updated at 9:09 a.m.