WASHINGTON: Michael Cohen is about to make his long-awaited public appearance before Congress amid partisan debate over how much damage Donald Trump’s ex-fixer and longtime lawyer can do to his former boss.
Cohen’s credibility will be on trial in the three-day event, after he pleaded guilty to nine felonies, including lying to Congress.
He will appear on Tuesday and Thursday behind closed doors before the Senate and House intelligence committees, where some of the questions will focus on his role in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The main event for the public will be Wednesday, when he testifies in an open session of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Cohen, who is scheduled to report to prison on May 6, will face questions from Democrats about Trump’s business deals and hush-money payments – and from Republicans who maintain that nothing he says can be trusted.
Cohen is expected to for the first time publicly accuse Trump of criminal conduct while in office related to payments made to an adult-film actress, Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, to keep her quiet about allegations she had an extra-marital affair with Trump, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
The newspaper, citing a person familiar with his planned congressional testimony, reported that Cohen is also set to reveal some of Trump’s private financial statements and allege that Trump has occasionally over- or under-estimated his net worth – at times to avoid paying property taxes.
Cohen’s testimony is reported by the Journal and The New York Times to also include allegations that Trump used racist language.
‘Story to tell’
“Obviously, he has a story to tell and he wants to tell it. And I want him to tell it,” said Democrat Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat and the chairman of the Oversight subcommittee on government operations. When it comes to Trump’s businesses and Trump personally, Connolly said, “This is not just some marginal figure.”
But Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Oversight panel’s top Republican, says there’s nothing to be gained.
“That’s right,” Jordan said in a tweet. “Oversight Dems first big witness: a guy going to prison in two months for LYING TO CONGRESS.”
Cohen’s has admitted that he lied to Congress last year when he testified that a proposed Trump tower in Moscow had been scrapped in Jan 2016. In fact, he said, the talks continued through June of that year, well into Trump’s presidential campaign.
Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, has circulated a memo that spells out an agreement on what topics can be discussed during his panel’s public hearing.
He said Monday night the list is based on consultations with Mueller, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and Justice Department officials from the Southern District of New York. “So we’re going to be strictly limiting our questions to those items,” he said.
Cohen won’t be allowed to discuss matters still under investigation by Mueller, who’s almost finished with his probe into whether Trump or anyone close to him was involved in Russian interference in the 2016 election. Cohen also cannot talk about “any financial or other compromise or leverage foreign actors may possess” over Trump, his family, his business interests, or his associates, according to the memo.