NEW YORK, Feb 26 — President Donald Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen plans to tell US lawmakers this week that Trump asked him several times about a proposed skyscraper project in Moscow long after he secured the Republican presidential nomination, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Cohen's assertion that Trump was inquiring about the project as late as June 2016, if true, would show Trump remained personally interested in a business venture in Russia well into his candidacy. Cohen, scheduled to report to prison in May, has already said he briefed Trump on the project in June 2016.
As Special Counsel Robert Mueller nears the end of a 21-month probe into whether the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 presidential election in collusion with Trump's campaign, Cohen was set to offer lawmakers new information about the president's private affairs over three consecutive days starting on Tuesday.
Russia denies interfering in the 2016 election and Trump has denied any collusion took place between his campaign and Moscow.
Tomorrow, in a public session before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen also intends to give lawmakers "granular details" about Trump's hush-money payments to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, and information about a "money trail" after Trump became president, said the source, who asked not to be identified.
In addition, Cohen will offer new information on Trump's financial statements that "have never been produced before" relating to how Trump represented the values of his assets in financial transactions and other matters, said the source.
Cohen pleaded guilty last year to criminal charges including tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. In December, he was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes including orchestrating hush-money payments to women in violation of campaign laws before the 2016 election. He is scheduled to begin serving his prison sentence on May 6.
His in-depth discussions on Tuesday and Thursday with the intelligence committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives will be behind closed doors. The Tuesday session in the Senate will focus mainly on what Cohen knows about Trump and associates' dealings with Russia, as well as about Cohen's previous lying to Congress, said two congressional sources.
Cohen once said he would "take a bullet" for Trump, but he has since turned against his former boss. When Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, he implicated the president, who afterward called him a "rat" on Twitter.
In the only public session of the three this week, House Oversight Committee Democrats said they planned to question Cohen about Trump's personal finances, including the payments to women, as well as alleged efforts by Trump and his lawyers to intimidate Cohen to try to keep him from testifying.
On Nov. 29, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress by telling lawmakers in 2017 that all efforts relating to the Moscow project had ceased by January 2016. In fact, Cohen said, those efforts continued until June 2016.
Cohen paid US$130,000 (RM528,814) weeks before the 2016 election to Daniels, who said she had an affair with Trump. When Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws for that, he said he made the payment at Trump's direction.
Led by Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, the Oversight Committee plans to limit its questioning of Cohen.
The panel said in a statement it would steer clear of the House Intelligence Committee’s inquiry into "efforts by Russia and other foreign entities to influence the U.S. political process during and since the 2016 US election, and the counterintelligence threat arising from any links or coordination between US persons and the Russian government."
That will put off-limits for Cummings' committee questions about "any financial or other compromise or leverage foreign actors may possess over Donald Trump, his family, his business interests, or his associates," the committee said.
Cummings' panel will focus on Trump's debts and payments "relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election," as well as his compliance with financial disclosure, campaign finance and tax laws, it said.
Possible conflicts of interest faced by Trump, including at his Trump International Hotel in Washington, will be targets for the Cummings panel, as will the Trump Foundation and "efforts by the president and his attorney to intimidate Mr. Cohen or others not to testify," the committee said. — Reuters