Lawmakers Exploring Possible Pardon Talks Involving Michael Cohen
Lawmakers are investigating whether President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen was involved in any discussions about possible pardons — which they view as a potentially ripe area of inquiry into whether anyone sought to obstruct justice, people familiar with the matter said.
Cohen has said publicly he never asked for — and would not accept — a pardon from Trump. But people familiar with the matter said his knowledge on the topic seems to extend beyond that statement.
Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, declined to comment on the closed-door testimony, though he said on MSBNC on Thursday night that “new information was developed that could be game changing,” and it was about “lying and obstruction evidence.”
That assertion has been called into question by Cohen’s own public statements and White House officials. Trump tweeted after the hearing that Cohen “committed perjury on a scale not seen before.”
Cohen described in testimony this week how he lied over and over for the president — even if it put himself in legal jeopardy because he sought to cover up crimes, or relayed falsehoods to Congress. But he asserted he was no longer under the spell of the commander in chief and was ready to come clean.
Legal analysts said Cohen’s testimony, while noteworthy, probably offered more new details to lawmakers and the public than it did to law enforcement. Cohen has said he would continue to cooperate with the special counsel and federal prosecutors, and he revealed during his testimony that he was in “constant” contact with the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.
“I can’t imagine he was saying things that suddenly comprised new information for the Southern District of New York or for Mueller to consider,” said James M. Trusty, a former federal prosecutor and Justice Department organized-crime chief now in private practice at Ifrah Law.
Cohen asserted that the president and his supporters even threatened him as he prepared to testify before Congress. On the eve of his public appearance Wednesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tweeted, without evidence, an allegation that Cohen had extramarital affairs. Gaetz soon deleted the message and apologized.
Cohen also hinted at an investigation involving the president, asserting that federal prosecutors in Manhattan had asked him not to discuss his communication with Trump after the FBI raided his home and office in April.
“He goes, ‘It’s all a witch hunt,’ and he goes, ‘This stuff has to end,’ ” Cohen said.
“Did you take those comments to be suggestive of what might flavor your testimony?” Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) asked.
“Sir, he’s been saying that to me for many, many months, and at the end of the day, I knew exactly what he wanted me to say,” Cohen responded.
Ultimately, Cohen would testify to Congress that discussions about a possible Trump Tower project in Moscow ended in January 2016 — when in fact they continued for months after that, into the heart of the presidential campaign. Cohen would later plead guilty to the lie.
The topic remains of keen interest to lawmakers. Cohen conceded that Trump had not asked him to lie, though he noted that Sekulow, as well as attorney Abbe Lowell — who represents Ivanka Trump, Trump’s daughter, and her husband, Jared Kushner — reviewed his written testimony before it was submitted.
“I should not have used the words that ‘everyone knew’ the statement was false,” Davis said. “My only excuse for the error is sleep deprivation. Apologies.”
A person familiar with Cohen’s account said he cannot say with certainty whether Sekulow, Lowell or other White House advisers knew the discussions about the Trump Tower project extended well into 2016, and thus knew Cohen’s statement was false. Sekulow said in a statement that Cohen’s assertion that “attorneys for the President edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false.”
Cohen said that in a meeting in the Oval Office, he and the president had discussed Cohen’s being repaid, and he said also that during his presidency, Trump personally signed a check to reimburse him.