WASHINGTON – Michael Cohen, the pugnacious lawyer and problem-solver for Donald Trump who has confessed to committing crimes for his benefit, is scheduled to testify for the first time in public on Wednesday before members of Congress eager to explore the details of his work for the president.
Cohen has pleaded guilty and agreed to provide evidence to prosecutors in two separate criminal investigations into Trump and those around him. He admitted to illegally paying hush money to two women who claimed to have had sex with Trump and lying to Congress about the extent of negotiations for a Trump real estate project in Russia.
The question looming over his testimony will be whether the president himself participated in those crimes.
A person familiar with Cohen’s planned testimony said he was prepared to testify about “criminal conduct” by Trump after he assumed the presidency. The person, who was not authorized to speak publicly, declined to characterize the conduct but said it happened during Trump’s first year in the White House.
Trump has said he was not involved in Cohen’s crimes. He argued some of them weren’t crimes at all, and he derided Cohen as a “liar” and a “rat.” Both Cohen and the Justice Department have said in court that Trump directed payoffs to two women in the final months of the 2016 campaign. And prosecutors have confirmed that they are scrutinizing the circumstances that led Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee plans to delve widely into Trump’s businesses and finances, exploring his debts and payments for the 2016 election, his compliance with campaign finance and tax laws, his business practices, the Trump Foundation and the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Cohen had been an executive vice president and special counsel to the Trump Organization.
The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. EST Wednesday.
Cohen met behind closed doors Tuesday with the Senate Intelligence Committee and is scheduled to appear in private Thursday before the House Intelligence panel. Both of those committees planned to focus their questioning on their investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I look forward to tomorrow, to being able to in my voice, to tell the American people my story,” Cohen told reporters as he left the closed-door session. “I’m going to let the American people decide exactly who is telling the truth.”
Asked Tuesday what he hoped to learn from a man who had already confessed to lying to Congress, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence panel, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., replied: “The truth.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said lawmakers gave Cohen “an extensive grilling” on Tuesday, but she and other lawmakers declined to describe the questions they asked or the answers Cohen provided.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called Cohen a “disgraced felon” and said that “it’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies.”
The oversight chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Congress has an obligation to conduct independent and robust oversight of the executive branch.
The hearing, where Cohen is appearing voluntarily after being subpoenaed by the Senate, is not supposed to include questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election, which is being investigated by the House and Senate Intelligence committees and special counsel Robert Mueller.
Republicans are expected to attack Cohen’s credibility. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the panel, expressed disappointment with limits on questions and said he planned to ask Cohen about the crimes he admitted and other activities he refused to disclose. Jordan criticized Democrats for promoting an admitted liar as part of an effort to impeach Trump.
“Mr. Cohen cannot be trusted to partake in honest fact-finding before our body,” Jordan said.
Cohen once declared that he would “take a bullet” for Trump. Less than a year later, he became one of Trump’s main antagonists, providing information to federal prosecutors in two criminal investigations focused on the president.
In one of those cases, Cohen pleaded guilty in New York in August to tax evasion, to making false bank statements and to making illegal campaign contributions for paying hush money to two women who said they had sex with Trump.
Cohen also pleaded guilty in Mueller’s investigation in November to lying to Congress about talks for a Russian real estate project in what he described as an attempt to reduce attention on Trump’s overseas business. He told the House and Senate Intelligence committees that talks ended in January 2016 – before the Iowa caucuses – even though talks extended through at least June 2016, when Trump had effectively wrapped up the Republican nomination.
“The defendant’s false statements obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government,” prosecutors working for Mueller wrote in a court filing in that case. “If the project was completed, the company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues.”
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison. He is scheduled to surrender May 6.
Cohen had been scheduled to testify earlier, but the sessions were postponed because Cohen said he and his family faced intimidation from Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Trump had tweeted that investigators should watch Cohen’s father-in-law, and Giuliani said in television interviews that the relative “may have ties to something called organized crime.”
Contributing: Kevin Johnson
More about Michael Cohen and the charges against him:
Michael Cohen postpones congressional testimony, claims ‘threats’ from President Trump and Rudy Giuliani
Cohen takeaways: As Trump’s former lawyer heads to prison, political and legal implications grow for White House
Michael Cohen, Donald Trump and Russia: Prosecutors document series of lies by president’s former fixer