'Chilling' testimony promised from Trump's former lawyer

2019-02-25 13:08
Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer. (Craig Ruttle, AP, file)

Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer. (Craig Ruttle, AP, file)

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Michael Cohen, the longtime personal lawyer to Donald Trump who has since turned against the president, is set to appear before lawmakers eager to press for dramatic details of his former client's business and personal affairs.

Expectations are high for potentially explosive testimony by Trump's onetime fixer in a public hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

The hearing, beginning at 10:00 (15:00 GMT) on Wednesday, is to start just hours before Trump is to sit down for talks in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – a coincidence of timing sharply deplored by Republicans and Trump supporters.

It also comes as special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia is reportedly fast nearing its end.

Cohen's lawyer Lanny Davis recently told ABC News that his client would detail "personal, front-line experiences" of incidents and conduct by Trump that even hardened listeners would find "chilling".

The 52-year-old Cohen is also scheduled to appear on Tuesday before the Senate intelligence committee and on Thursday before its House counterpart, but both hearings will be behind closed doors.

Cohen, who once said he would "take a bullet" for the president, reversed himself last year amid mounting pressure from prosecutors looking into his, and Trump's, affairs.

'A path of darkness'

He said in December that his "blind loyalty" to Trump had placed him on "a path of darkness". Cohen now faces a three-year prison sentence for fraud, tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and lying to Congress.

In deference to the Mueller probe, the Democratic leadership of the House Oversight Committee has said it will not ask Cohen about Russia-related matters. But the two other panels are expected to do so in closed session.

Cohen's dozen years as a trusted Trump lieutenant gave him access to highly sensitive details of the former real estate magnate's business and personal affairs.

The Oversight committee plans to examine Trump's compliance with tax and campaign-finance laws, his potential conflicts of interest, and any payments made to influence the 2016 election, according to a memo from committee chair Elijah Cummings.

Cohen has linked the president to possible federal crimes, including the payment of $280 000 in hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and another woman during the 2016 presidential race – payments Cohen has said were made "in coordination with and at the direction" of Trump.

'Absolutely ridiculous'

Republicans have been blasting away at Cohen's credibility, offering reminders that he pleaded guilty last year to lying to Congress.

Cohen admitted to making "fraudulent" statements to Congress about a prospective Trump Tower deal in Moscow – which never got off the ground – by wrongly suggesting the project was shelved early in 2016, before primary voting began, according to court documents.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt told CBS on Sunday that Cohen lying was "totally unacceptable", and "he's going to go to jail because of it".

Josh Holmes, a former top aide to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, said on Fox that it was "absolutely ridiculous" for Congress to be grilling Cohen "at a moment when the president is sitting down (in Hanoi) for something that can only be described as of top national interest".

Meantime, Mueller is believed to be only weeks from completing his exhaustive investigation and presenting his report to Attorney General William Barr, who has not explicitly said whether the findings will be released publicly.

On Friday, the chairs of six House committees including Cummings wrote Barr to urge he release them "without delay and to the maximum extent permitted by law".

The Democratic chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, told ABC's "This Week" that if Barr refuses to make the report public, "we will subpoena the report and bring Bob Mueller in to testify before Congress and take it to court if necessary".

Cohen had been scheduled to report to prison on March 6. But a judge granted a request from Cohen's lawyers to push the date to May 6 so Cohen could recover from shoulder surgery and prepare for his congressional testimony.

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