President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen announced he is postponing his public congressional testimony that was scheduled for February 7, citing “ongoing threats against his family” from the President and his attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Cohen is alleging witness tampering by Trump, a felony crime. If the Special Counsel agrees, charges should be filed.
“Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani, as recently as this weekend, as well as Mr. Cohen’s continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel, Mr. Cohen’s appearance will be postponed to a later date,” Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis said in a statement. “Mr. Cohen wishes to thank Chairman Cummings for allowing him to appear before the House Oversight Committee and looks forward to testifying at the appropriate time.”
Davis added, “This is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first.”
A source told CNN on Wednesday that Cohen’s wife and father-in-law feel threatened by comments by the President and Giuliani, Trump’s attorney. It has been Cohen’s intention to testify, but he has had reservations — and vacillated — because of concerns for his family given the Trump and Giuliani statements, the source said.
Cohen’s decision raises questions about whether he will ultimately testify publicly. He reports to prison for a three-year sentence on March 6.
Cummings told reporters that he believed Cohen was acting in good faith, but he was determined to have Cohen testify one way or another. Cummings said he hadn’t decided yet whether to issue a subpoena.
“I promise you we will hear from Mr. Cohen. Now, we will make those determinations soon and we will let you know how we plan to proceed, but we will get the testimony as sure as night becomes day and day becomes night,” Cummings said.
Asked if he could get Cohen to testify after he’s already in prison, Cummings said: “Of course we can.”
Cummings and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff — a California Democrat who wants Cohen to return to his panel for closed-door testimony — issued a joint statement slamming Trump and Giuliani for “efforts to intimidate witnesses, scare their family members, or prevent them from testifying before Congress.”
“We understand that Mr. Cohen’s wife and other family members fear for their safety after these attacks, and we have repeatedly offered our assistance to work with law enforcement to enhance security measures for Mr. Cohen and his family,” Cummings and Schiff said.
Like Cummings, Schiff told CNN on Wednesday that he expects Cohen to appear before his committee. Schiff said he was prepared to subpoena Cohen if he would not testify voluntarily before he reports to prison.
“When our Committees began discussions with Mr. Cohen’s attorney, not appearing before Congress was never an option,” Cummings and Schiff said. “We will not let the President’s tactics prevent Congress from fulfilling our constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities. … We expect Mr. Cohen to appear before both Committees, and we remain engaged with his counsel about his upcoming appearances.”
After Cohen’s public testimony was announced earlier this month, the President attacked him in a Fox News interview, suggesting without evidence that he was aware of damaging information about Cohen’s family.
Then on Twitter, the President added: “Lying to reduce his jail time! Watch father-in-law!”
Giuliani appeared on news shows over the weekend, including CNN, where he called Cohen “a serial liar.” On CNN’s “State of the Union,” host Jake Tapper asked Giuliani how Trump’s repeated calls for investigation into Cohen’s family members ahead of Cohen’s previously scheduled testimony did not amount to intimidating a witness or obstruction of Justice.
When Tapper asked if it was OK to go after Cohen’s father-in-law, Giuliani responded, “it is, if the father-in-law is a criminal.”
‘Overwhelming consensus’ to subpoena
Democrats on the Oversight Committee say they expect Cummings will follow through with a subpoena. Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, said that he’s spoken with Cummings and the “overwhelming consensus” among members of the committee is that Cohen should be subpoenaed. Lynch said that Cummings was still conferring with Democrats on his panel before making a final decision.
“I believe Chairman Cummings will institute the process of subpoenaing,” Lynch said. “He is conferring with other members of the committee right now, but so far I believe the overwhelming consensus is we should move forward with a subpoena.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat on the committee, said he hadn’t spoken to Cummings yet but supported a subpoena so the public would hear his story.
“I would support the issuance of a subpoena, however reluctantly,” Connolly said. “This is not a reluctant witness, at least up until now, and the reason for his reluctance isn’t our committee, it is the client he fears puts his family at risk.”
Before the postponement, Cummings had said that Cohen would not testify on matters related to the ongoing special counsel investigation, and that he was in consultations with Mueller’s office.
This is a concern over avoiding the Oliver North and John Poindexter congressional fuckup in the Iran-Contra Affair hearings. But that involved Congress improvidently granting immunity to Reagan administration figures like North and Poindexter over the reservations of the independent prosecutor, Lawrence M. Walsh.
As long as Congress does not grant Cohen immunity, Cohen has already plead guilty and has been sentenced. There is no concern for testimonial evidence before Congress being used against him at trial. (The immunity issue centered on the question of whether a defendant can be brought to trial on the same basic facts to which he has previously testified under a grant of immunity, which could be a violation of the constitutional right against compelled self-incrimination.)
The only issue would be additional charges for lying to Congress in his testimony.
UPDATE: In December, legal experts said Trump’s tweets amounted to witness tampering. Today, a witness chose not to testify. Michael Cohen says Trump and Giuliani threatened him. Does that amount to witness tampering?
UPDATE: A day after Michael Cohen pulled out of testifying before a House committee, Senate Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Trump Attorney Michael Cohen. Democrats in charge of the House Oversight and Intelligence committees have signaled in recent days that they may follow suit and issue subpoenas of their own.