President Donald Trump’s onetime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen told congressional investigators this year that his discussions with Trump’s legal team about a potential pardon continued longer than previously known, newly released transcripts show, the New York Times informs.
In a pair of private interviews in February and March, Cohen told the House Intelligence Committee that he had conversations about pardons with Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, until his decision in July 2018 to withdraw from a joint defense agreement with the President and his allies and begin cooperating with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Cohen said that Sekulow told him that the Trump’s team was considering possible pardons for him and other witnesses because they could help to “shut down the inquiries and to shut the investigation down.”
Cohen’s explosive claims about possible pardons in exchange for loyalty comport with earlier revelations that lawyers for Trump raised the prospect of pardons in 2017 with lawyers of two other former advisers tied up in the case. But despite prosecutors’ reliance on him, Cohen has also faced persistent questions about the extent of his truthfulness, the Times noted.
The details of his testimony also hand House Democrats investigating Trump yet another thorny mound of evidence to try to untangle as they weigh whether to begin impeachment proceedings or otherwise hold the President accountable, the Times noted.
According to the Times, Cohen’s assertion about pardons was not the only prominent mention of Sekulow in his hours of testimony before the committee. Cohen also told lawmakers that “to the best of my recollection,” Sekulow suggested he falsely state in his 2017 statement to Congress that negotiations around a possible Trump project in Moscow had ended in January 2016 – when in fact the talks carried on until that June.
Sekulow’s lawyers also vigorously disputed Cohen’s accounts, which more broadly suggested lawyers tied to the president had dangled pardons to try to secure his cooperation and helped shape his initial false statement to Congress.
The findings from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, are now available to the public – the redacted report details his two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The purported conversations between Cohen and Sekulow were included among hundreds of pages of transcripts and background materials from interview sessions in February and March that the committee voted 12 to 7 along party lines to disclose on Monday.
It was unclear how much their release would affect the public’s view of Trump after a months-long drip-drip of revelations about what Cohen told federal investigators and his blockbuster public testimony before Congress in February. Cohen also cooperated with prosecutors working for Mueller and for the Southern District of New York and is now serving a federal prison sentence, in part for lying to Congress in his 2017 false statement.
“The public should judge for themselves both the evidence released today in conjunction with Cohen’s testimony related to Trump, his troubling relationship with Russia, and the efforts by Trump and those close to him to hide the relationship and potential business deals,” Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the committee’s chairman, said in a statement. “The public also deserves the chance to judge Cohen’s credibility for themselves, including by examining some of the evidence he provided.”
The alleged conversations between Cohen and Sekulow were included among hundreds of pages of transcripts and background materials from interview sessions in February and March that the committee voted 12 to 7 along party lines to disclose on Monday.
Democrats on the Intelligence Committee appear to be particularly interested in the testimony Cohen gave about the false statement he delivered to Congress in 2017 and discussion of possible pardons with Trump lawyers. Committee members have begun investigating whether those lawyers helped obstruct the committee’s own investigation of Russian election interference.
Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress for the false 2017 statement, and began serving a three-year prison sentence this month, the Times notes. He also pleaded guilty last year to campaign finance charges connected to hush money payments made during the 2016 campaign to a pornographic film actress who said she had an affair with Trump.