Republicans accuse Cohen of perjury, again, but Dems say documents back up key claims

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, is sworn in to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Michael Cohen returned to Capitol Hill Thursday for his third consecutive day of congressional testimony, meeting privately with the House Intelligence Committee, but some questions raised during his intense public grilling by the House Oversight and Reform Committee Wednesday will likely linger well beyond the end of the week.

At a press conference in Hanoi Thursday, President Donald Trump said he had “tried to watch as much as I could” of his former attorney and fixer’s testimony, but he did not see much because he was busy with his summit with Kim Jong Un over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

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“Having it during this very important summit is sort of incredible,” Trump said. “And he lied a lot, but it was very interesting because he didn’t lie about one thing. He said no collusion with the Russian hoax. And I said, ‘I wonder why he didn’t just lie about that, too, like he did about everything else?’”

Cohen spent more than five hours Wednesday fielding questions from lawmakers about his years of work as President Trump’s attorney and the criminal charges for which he has been sentenced to three years in federal prison. He testified he did not have “direct evidence” of collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government, but he had suspicions about it.

Specifically, Cohen alleged he heard Trump talking to former adviser and confidant Roger Stone about an imminent release of Democratic National Committee emails obtained by WikiLeaks before the Democratic National Convention. He also claimed to have seen Donald Trump Jr. tell his father, “The meeting is all set,” the day before Trump Jr. met with Russians he believed had damaging information about Hillary Clinton in June 2016.

“Certainly, Congress and a prosecutor’s office might now have some evidence of possible substantive violations of law relating to President Trump while in office,” said Kenneth McCallion, a former federal prosecutor and author of the forthcoming book, “Treason & Betrayal: The Rise and Fall of Individual-1.”

According to Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., the testimony Wednesday helped flesh out some connections between Trump and Russia, but it mostly reinforced what lawmakers already knew.

“I’ve always thought there was a conspiracy, and I believe there was a conspiracy, and I believe when all the fact are known and the truth is out, people will see Donald Trump should be in the dustbin of history,” Rep. Cohen said.

Michael Cohen is set to report to prison in May after pleading guilty to several criminal charges, including lying to Congress, which is something Republicans reminded him of often during Wednesday’s hearing.

“You’re a pathological liar,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., told him at one point.

Cohen maintains he only lied about negotiations over a Trump Tower project in Moscow in order to protect President Trump, a decision he now says he regrets. In testimony Wednesday, Cohen said Trump did not explicitly ask him to lie but he believed that was what Trump wanted him to do.

“He would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie,” Cohen claimed.

Members of both parties acknowledged Cohen’s crimes severely damaged his credibility, but even some Republicans suggested the president’s longtime personal attorney accusing him of participating in multiple criminal conspiracies before and during his time in office merited the attention of Congress.

“He’s already been shown to come to Congress and not tell the truth. I certainly think this is the reason why we need hearings like this,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., adding that he hopes Democrats are not just trying to use Cohen to build a case to impeach Trump.

Democrats agreed skepticism of Cohen’s claims is appropriate, but they also noted some of his allegations are backed up by documents he provided to the committee or by other sources. Those documents included a check apparently signed by Trump after he became president that Cohen says was part of his reimbursement for a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to stop her from talking to the press about an alleged affair.

“The testimony by Mr. Cohen, I found particularly telling,” said Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif. “The documentary evidence supporting his assertions were very convincing.”

If, as New York prosecutors alleged and Cohen admitted, the payments to Daniels constituted a campaign finance law violation, the signed check could implicate Trump in that crime.

“Those canceled checks appear to provide some support for Cohen’s testimony he was not left holding the bag for the $130,000 payment,” McCallion said.

Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Penn., suggested Trump has no one to blame but himself if unscrupulous characters like Cohen have seemingly incriminating information about him.

“I’m not an attorney but my understanding is anytime you’re dealing with a witness who has flipped, typically you’re talking about someone who has lied previously or done some previous bad act,” Boyle said. “This is someone who President Trump entrusted for over a decade to be his personal attorney, so that’s not the fault of prosecutors. That’s the fault of President Trump.”

While Cohen provided answers to some major questions stemming from investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, his testimony also produced some new ones that could have legal ramifications for him and the president.

If Cohen’s claims that Stone told Trump about the WikiLeaks email dump, that Trump was informed about the June 2016 meeting beforehand, or that Trump was directly involved in the Stormy Daniels payments are true, they could implicate Trump in felonies.

Cohen declined to answer some questions, citing the ongoing investigation by the SDNY, but he said he did have information about Trump’s involvement in other unspecified crimes. His testimony also linked Trump’s children and Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg to potential criminal acts, increasing the likelihood they could soon face congressional subpoenas.

Cohen has already been sentenced for his crimes, but McCallion said he can still use his cooperation with congressional investigators this week to argue for a shorter prison term.

“Up to at least a year after his sentencing, if in fact, the Justice Department feels there’s additional information he’s provided, they can bring that to the attention of the sentencing judge,” he said.

Cohen’s testimony about Trump was not all negative. He insisted Trump would never beat his wife and never had a “love child” with another woman, to his knowledge, and he directly contradicted two media reports about Mueller’s investigation by denying that Trump directed him to lie to Congress and denying that he had ever been to Prague.

The Prague claim was notable because a dossier of raw intelligence collected by former British spy Christopher Steele for Democrats that has become a hotly-contested element of the Russia probe alleged Cohen went there in 2016 to meet with Russians. Though Cohen has long disputed it, McClatchy had reported Mueller has evidence Cohen’s phone was near Prague at the time.

In the past, though, Cohen mentioned having been to Prague once more than a decade ago, so his blanket denial of ever going there is curious. People associated with Trump’s campaign and transition, including his sons, have also taken issue with Cohen’s insistence that he did not seek a job in the White House.

“Michael was lobbying EVERYONE to be ‘Chief of Staff,’” Eric Trump tweeted in response. “It was the biggest joke in the campaign and around the office. Did he just perjure himself again?”

Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, are asking the Justice Department the same question.

"It is essential that the Department of Justice investigate these remarkable contradictions between Mr. Cohen, the SDNY prosecutors, and the public accounts of witnesses with firsthand information," they wrote Thursday.

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, told CNN the perjury claim is “a sad misuse of the criminal justice system with the aura of pure partisanship.”

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