Washington: The House Intelligence Committee is investigating whether four lawyers tied to President Donald Trump, his family and businesses helped to devise false testimony given by Trump’s long-time lawyer Michael Cohen to Congress in 2017.
The committee is demanding they turn over documents and agree to interviews, chairman Adam Schiff said Tuesday. The California Democrat said the focus is on “unresolved concerns about obstruction” of the panel’s investigation into the Trump Organization’s failed efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow.
“Among other things, it appears that your clients may have reviewed, shaped and edited the false statement that Cohen submitted to the committee, including causing the omission of material facts,” Schiff said in letters dated May 3 to attorneys for the four lawyers and provided by a committee official.
The four lawyers are Jay Sekulow, who represents Trump; Alan Futerfas, who represents Donald Trump Jr.; Alan Garten, a Trump Organization top lawyer; and Abbe Lowell, who represents Ivanka Trump and her husband, senior adviser Jared Kushner. Schiff’s demand to the lawyers was reported earlier Tuesday by the New York Times.
“Instead of addressing important intelligence needs, the House Intelligence Committee appears to seek a truly needless dispute – this one with private attorneys – that would force them to violate privileges and ethical rules,” lawyer Patrick Strawbridge said in an emailed statement that he said was on behalf of the four lawyers. “As committed defence lawyers, we will respect the constitution and defend the attorney-client privilege – one of the oldest and most sacred privileges in the law.”
The move is fresh indication that Democrats who control the House are pressing ahead with investigations of the president and those around him. That’s despite criticism from Trump and Republicans that “it’s over,” as Senator Lindsey Graham put it, after Special Counsel Robert Mueller didn’t find Trump or those around him conspired in Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Timing of talks
In Cohen’s initial written testimony to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in August 2017, he said that work on a deal for a Trump tower in Moscow ended in January 2016, before the Republican presidential primaries began. He would later plead guilty to filing a false statement to those panels, acknowledging that negotiations continued to June 2016, well into the presidential campaign.
Cohen was since sentenced to a three-year prison term, which he began serving last week. But in February, after his plea, Cohen testified publicly to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and privately to the Intelligence Committee.
During his Feb. 27 public testimony, Cohen said in a prepared statement that “Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it.”
Later, under questioning, Cohen was asked which specific lawyers edited his statement on the Moscow tower talks, and were changes made. He responded, “There were changes made, additions,” Cohen said, adding of the lawyers involved, “Jay Sekulow for one.” Sekulow has denied that claim.
In his May 3 letters to the attorneys , Schiff wrote that the committee has a “good-faith” basis for believing their clients “may have engaged in efforts to obstruct authorized investigations” as part of a joint defence agreement. He said that’s based on Cohen’s closed-door testimony on Feb. 28 and March 6 to the Intelligence Committee “and corroborating evidence.”
Schiff also said “certain of your clients may have engaged in discussions about potential pardons in an effort to deter one or more witnesses from cooperating with authorized investigations.”