Donald Trump‘s former lawyer Michael Cohen is to publicly testify in front of congress next month, in the first major move by Democrats to bring in a Trump associate connected to Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Cohen has implicated the president in a scheme to pay hush money during the 2016 presidential campaign to two women who have claimed affairs with Mr Trump. He will face the House of Representatives Oversight Committee next month.
In agreeing to attend the hearing, Cohen has promised to “give a full and credible account” of his work for the president. Cohen, as a key member of Mr Trump’s team, is likely to have been privy to key moments that form part of Mr Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling in 2016 and any possible collusion with Trump campaign officials.
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Cohen pleaded guilty in August to tax fraud and campaign finance violations. New York prosecutors said he was acting at the behest of the president in making the payments to silence the two women – adult actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Mr Trump has denied the accusations of affairs.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison over those charges, as well as another charge of lying to congress in written statements about an unsuccessful effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. That extra charge – which Cohen also pleaded guilty to – was brought by special counsel Mr Mueller’s team. Cohen falsely claimed that conversations about the Moscow project ended in early 2016, when in fact efforts was continuing until at least June 2016. That was about the time Mr Trump was securing the Republican nomination for president.
Shortly after the committee’s chairman, Elijah Cummings, announced that Cohen would be testifying on 7 February, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Adam Schiff, said that “it will be necessary, however, for [Cohen] to answer questions pertaining to the Russia investigation, and we hope to schedule a closed session before our committee in the near future”.
The testimony will complete Cohen’s switch from a man who previously said he would “take a bullet” for the president to someone Mr Trump has described as “weak” in tweets about his case.
When he was sentenced last month, an emotional Cohen said his “own weakness and a blind loyalty to” Trump had “led me to choose a path of darkness over light”.
“Time and again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds,” Cohen said in federal court in Manhattan, where he was ordered to begin serving his prison stint on 6 March. Cohen is out on bail until then.
In a statement about the new hearing, Cohen said we wa “looking forward” to the hearing. The blockbuster testimony threatens to further damage the president’s image, and perhaps clarify the legal issues Mr Trump faces.
“In furtherance of my commitment to cooperate and provide the American people with answers, I have accepted the invitation,” the statement said.
“I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired,” it added.
Mr Cummings said that earlier this week he had sent letters to the White House and the Trump organisation renewing a previous request from four months ago for documents related to Mr Trump’s apparent failure to report debts and payments to Cohen. Those documents are now due on 22 January 2019.