Cohen says Trump attorney told him to say Trump Tower talks ended earlier than they did

The House Intelligence Committee has released transcripts of its private interviews with Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenWyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Hope Hicks defends accuracy of her congressional testimony Gaetz cleared by Florida Bar after Cohen tweet probe MORE, revealing that he told lawmakers President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump watching 'very closely' as Portland braces for dueling protests WaPo calls Trump admin 'another threat' to endangered species Are Democrats turning Trump-like? MORE's attorney Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowTrump, RNC sue to block California law requiring release of tax returns Voters sue California over tax return law targeting Trump Team Trump blasts California bill requiring candidates release tax returns to appear on ballot MORE encouraged him to testify falsely to Congress in 2017 about the duration of discussions around building a Trump property in Moscow. 

The committee interviewed Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and "fixer," behind closed doors on February 28 and March 6 — before he reported to prison to serve a three-year sentence for bank fraud, campaign finance violations and other charges — as part of an investigation into the president’s business dealings in Russia and other foreign countries. 

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The interview focused heavily on Cohen’s previous false statement to Congress on discussions within the Trump Organization about building a Trump Tower in Moscow as well as other topics.

According to the transcript, Cohen told lawmakers in February that he discussed his false statement to Congress with Sekulow in 2017 before he delivered it and that Sekulow encouraged him to say the Trump Tower Moscow discussions ended in January 2016. Cohen also said he believed Sekulow knew the discussions extended beyond the Iowa caucus into June 2016.

“To the best of my recollection, yes,” Cohen told the panel when asked if he recalled speaking with Sekulow about the discussions about Trump Tower Moscow carrying into June 2016.

During the subsequent March interview, Cohen also said he believed Sekulow was the one who suggested January 2016 as the end date for the Moscow property discussions.

“To the best of my recollection it was Jay Sekulow,” Cohen said, according to the second transcript.

Monday’s vote came roughly a week after it was revealed the committee has been investigating whether attorneys connected to Trump and his family, including Sekulow, helped obstruct the investigation by editing or shaping Cohen’s false testimony.

Jane Serene Raskin and Patrick Strawbridge, attorneys for Sekulow, said in joint statement that it “defies logic” that any congressional committee would rely on Cohen’s statements “for any purpose.”

“Michael Cohen’s alleged statements are more of the same from him and confirm the observations of prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that Cohen’s ‘instinct to blame others is strong,’” Raskin and Strawbridge said.

“That this or any Committee would rely on the word of Michael Cohen for any purpose - much less to try and pierce the attorney-client privilege and discover confidential communications of four respected lawyers - defies logic, well-established law and common sense,” they said.

The Moscow property plans never came to fruition. Still, the discussions — and Cohen's false statements about them — have become a central point of scrutiny among Democrats because they occurred during the campaign at a time Trump was making overtures toward Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinWyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Trump's winning weapon: Time Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE. Trump also denied having business dealings in Russia. 

According to the transcript, Cohen told lawmakers Trump indirectly encouraged him to lie to Congress through a sort of  “code,” telling him to “stay on message.”

“The message that he would constantly relay had to do with it's all – it's not – this investigation is not going anywhere, just – there's no Russia. I mean, I don't know how many times he said to me: There's just no Russia. This whole thing is a giant witch hunt. It's a witch hunt,” Cohen said.

Cohen also claimed he had “quite a few” direct discussions with Sekulow about the possibility of a presidential pardon, saying they occurred both before and after he provided his statement to Congress in August 2017.

Cohen said one, maybe two, of these conversations focused on the possibility of a “pre-pardon” that basically gives immunity to witnesses before they are charged with committing a crime. But Sekulow dismissed the prospect of a “pre-pardon” because such individuals granted immunity would still be required to answer questions if they testified before the House.

When pressed further, Cohen said the White House initially considered issuing pre-pardons to everybody as a way to “shut this whole thing down,” before deciding against this path, according to the transcript.

Cohen also said that he believed his conversations with Sekulow about pardons were done with Trump's knowledge and authority. 

And Cohen claims another person, aside from Sekulow, with ties to the president also passed along messages — by either text or email — from the White House to him regarding the possibility of a pardon, though the transcript redacted information about this individual. These conversations allegedly took place after federal authorities conducted a raid of his home and office in April 2018, at which point, Cohen said, pardon conversations with Sekulow had ceased.

Cohen said that he was initially willing to continue the conversations about pardons in order to end his involvement in the Russia investigations.

"I was 100 percent open to accepting it. Anything to end this," he said.

He also described his interactions with Robert Costello, a defense attorney close with Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiTrump retweets baby elephant video Epstein death sparks questions for federal government Booker, Biden's 'Kool-Aid' exchange was second debate's top-tweeted moment MORE, who was by then the president's personal lawyer.

Cohen testified that Costello essentially pitched himself as a "back channel" to receiving a pardon.

The House panel voted 12-7 at a closed-door meeting Monday evening to release the transcripts.

In a statement, Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Schiff offers bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime New intel chief inherits host of challenges MORE (D-Calif.) said the former Trump ally “presented significant and troubling new detail regarding the false statement that he provided to our Committee” that has prompted the panel to follow up with lawyers involved in the joint defense agreement “to determine whether they aided in Cohen's obstruction of the Committee's investigation.”

The interviews marked a return appearance for Cohen, who pleaded guilty last November to lying to the House and Senate Intelligence committees about discussions to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Along with transcripts of Cohen’s testimony, the committee has also voted to release exhibits that Cohen provided the panel. The documents total more than 600 pages. 

Cohen was the committee’s first major witness after Schiff revived and expanded the committee’s investigation into Russian interference to include looking at Trump’s foreign financial dealings and the possibility he or others in his inner circle could be subject to compromise by a foreign power.

Cohen’s marathon appearance on Capitol Hill took place roughly a month before special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Kellyanne Conway: 'I'd like to know' if Mueller read his own report MORE concluded his two-year investigation into Russian interference. Mueller did not find evidence to charge members of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia, and he did not reach a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice.

Schiff’s investigation is one of several in the Democratic-led House that Trump is fighting. The White House has accused Democrats of overreaching and trying to score political points against the president on the verge of an election year. Democrats, meanwhile, are intent on drilling down on a series of investigations into Trump’s conduct and his administration, arguing it is their prerogative to serve as a check on the executive branch.

Trump and Republicans have repeatedly attacked Cohen's credibility, accusing him of lying to reduce his prison term.

In a statement late Monday, Cohen attorney and spokesman Lanny Davis commended Schiff for releasing the transcripts but said he was not consulted about the move. 

"Michael Cohen lied only once and that was to Congress — specifically for the benefit (and in accordance with the directives) of Donald Trump to cover for Trump’s repeated public lies during the 2016 campaign of no Russia deals or contacts," Davis said. "To anyone who questions the veracity of Michael Cohen’s testimony, I ask: 'Will you testify under oath?'"

In February, Cohen told the House Oversight and Reform Committee during public testimony that Trump’s attorneys reviewed his false statement before he delivered it to Congress in 2017 and that changes were made to it with respect to the duration of the Trump Moscow property discussions within the Trump Organization.

Sekulow pushed back forcefully on Cohen’s testimony at the time, saying his allegations that the president’s attorneys changed his statement by altering the duration of the Moscow property talks are “completely false.”  

Cohen, who reported to prison earlier this month to begin serving a three-year term, pleaded guilty last November to lying to Congress as part of a deal to cooperate with Mueller. Cohen admitted that the discussions about the property plans extended into June 2016 — six months longer than he initially testified — among other things.

Schiff’s panel has sought testimony and documents from Sekulow and other attorneys linked to the president’s family in connection with an investigation into whether they edited or shaped Cohen’s 2017 testimony, which was given in connection with the committee’s original GOP-led investigation into Russian interference during the last Congress.

“If there were others that were participating in that act of obstruction of justice, if there were others that were knowing of that false statement, participated in the drafting of that false statement, we need to know about it and we need to expose it,” Schiff told reporters last week.

Schiff’s committee is also examining whether the attorneys dangled possible pardons to witnesses to deter them from cooperating.

The panel has sent requests to Sekulow; Alan Futerfas, Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpHouse chairman warns foreign governments to 'cease and desist' spending money at Trump properties Chris Cuomo: 'I should be better than the guys baiting me' Trump Jr. dismisses conflicts of interest, touts projects in Indonesia MORE's attorney; Alan Garten, the Trump Organization's top lawyer; and Abbe Lowell, Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpTrump Jr. dismisses conflicts of interest, touts projects in Indonesia Ivanka Trump talking to lawmakers about gun reform legislation: report Assistant secretary of State resigns after immigration clash: report MORE's attorney.

Cohen also said during his March interview with lawmakers that he communicated with lawyers such as Lowell about his original statement to Congress as part of a joint defense agreement with Trump Organization members.

He testified that the changes requested by Lowell in particular — including that Cohen did not tell Ivanka Trump about the discussions he had with businessman Felix Sater — were inaccurate.

Sater is a longtime business associate of the president's and was a key player in negotiating the Trump Tower Moscow project. He was scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in March, but his appearance was postponed amid new revelations about Mueller's investigation.
 
The lawyers through their own attorneys have thus far declined to cooperate, describing the demands as outside the scope of the panel’s oversight authorities and asserting that the information requested would fall under attorney-client privilege.

Cohen told investigators in March that he spoke periodically with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. about the Moscow Trump Tower development, noting that they had a stake in the project should it be added to the family's real estate portfolio.

He told the panel that he kept the two Trump children up to date on the development, "but not with the same regularity that I did with Mr. Trump."

"The way it would work is once the project would come to fruition, one of the three children would become assigned to the project, and I had the best working relationship with Don Jr. so he was the one that would become the family project manager on it,” Cohen said.

Investigators at one point appeared to home in during the March interview on the accuracy of Donald Trump Jr.'s recounting of his knowledge of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations.

When pressed by an investigator, Cohen said he agreed it would be false for Trump Jr. to say he did not recall whether he was aware that Cohen and his father had been in contact regarding the project.

The tower, were it built, would have been the tallest building in Europe, Cohen told the panel. It would have been a three-party property that included residential, commercial and hotel space.

Cohen confirmed that Sater came up with the idea of offering Putin the penthouse of the building as a marketing ploy. Cohen testified that he spoke with Trump about that idea and that the president “thought it was funny.” 

“He did not dismiss it,” Cohen said, noting that it never came to fruition. “He also didn’t bless it, but he didn’t dismiss it.”