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By Rebecca Shabad and Allan Smith
WASHINGTON — Michael Cohen, former lawyer and fixer to President Donald Trump, has agreed to testify publicly before Congress early next month before he goes to prison.
Cohen, 52, said in a statement on Thursday that he agreed to appear before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7 “in furtherance of my commitment to cooperate and provide the American people with answers.”
“I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired,” he added.
In December, Cohen was sentenced to 3 years in prison for what a Manhattan federal court judge called a “veritable smorgasbord” of criminal conduct, including making secret payments to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, lying to Congress about the president’s business dealings with Russia and failing to report millions of dollars in income.
Asked about Cohen’s plan to testify in open session, Trump said on Thursday during his trip to the U.S.-Mexico border that he wasn’t “worried about it at all.”
Two of the nine felony counts Cohen has pleaded guilty to involved the payments to women, which he helped facilitate in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
Cohen and federal prosecutors said the president’s former attorney made those payments at Trump’s direction to help his candidacy.
“My weakness can be characterized as a blind loyalty to Donald Trump, and I was weak for not having the strength to question and to refuse his demands,” Cohen said at his December sentencing hearing, adding that he “felt it was my duty to cover up” Trump’s “dirty deeds.”
Cohen also pleaded guilty to a single count of making false statements to Congress about the scope and status of the Trump Tower Moscow project. Cohen provided the Senate Intelligence Committee inaccurate information about the project so to minimize links between the president and efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and to give the false impression that the efforts had ended before the Iowa caucuses in February 2016 when they had actually continued well beyond the initial voting.
Trump has denied any affairs and said Cohen is a liar. Following Cohen’s sentencing, Trump defended his efforts to build a Trump-branded tower in Russia while running for president of the United States as “very legal” and “very cool.”
Though Cohen has previously appeared before Congress in closed door sessions related to the Russia investigation, this will be the first time he will testify in public at a hearing chaired by Democrats, who have made clear since resuming control of the chamber that they plan to conduct robust inquiries on a number of fronts. Last year, House Republicans ended the House Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian election interference even as Democrats blasted the decision was premature.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement on Thursday that the “the American people voted overwhelmingly for Congress to do two things—address the core issues that affect their daily lives, and fulfill our Constitutional responsibility to serve as an independent check and balance on the Executive Branch by restoring accountability and transparency.”
Calling Cohen to come voluntarily before the committee to speak publicly is part of that, he said, though he added that he has no interest in “inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations, and to that end, we are in the process of consulting with Special Counsel Mueller’s office.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, which includes investigating possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s campaign. Congress is also conducting investigations into Russian election meddling.
The new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said that it will also be necessary “for Mr. Cohen to answer questions pertaining to the Russia investigation, and we hope to schedule a closed session before our committee in the near future.”