Michael Cohen delays congressional testimony, citing "ongoing threats" from Trump and Giuliani

"This is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first," Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis says

Published January 23, 2019 2:43PM (EST)

Michael Cohen (AP/Getty/Salon)
Michael Cohen (AP/Getty/Salon)

Michael Cohen, the attorney who spent many years working as President Donald Trump's personal "fixer," announced on Wednesday his decision to postpone his scheduled congressional testimony, citing what his lawyer alleged were " ongoing threats" from the commander-in-chief and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Cohen, who had been scheduled to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 7 to discuss his work for Trump, will delay the appearance indefinitely, his attorney, Lanny Davis, said in a statement.

"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," Davis said. "This is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first."

Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison in December, was previously one of the president's most loyal and ardent defenders in business and in politics. He indicated earlier this year that his loyalty to Trump might be wavering as he vowed to "put family and country first" by cooperating with prosecutors. His decision to cooperate with Mueller has made him arguably one of the most key witnesses against his former boss — and the special counsel's office, for its part, appears to view Cohen as a valuable cooperator who can highlight Trump's business dealings as Mueller continues to probe any connection the president has to Russia. Mueller's prosecutors did not recommend a specific sentence in their case and said that Cohen should not receive additional prison time beyond his sentence in the New York case.

Cohen's sentencing was unusual because it involved guilty pleas that he made in two separate cases: one brought by prosecutors in New York over tax evasion, bank fraud allegations and campaign finance violations; and a later one by the team of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The investigation into Cohen's business dealings placed him under immense pressure in the Southern District of New York, while Mueller continued his separate investigation. (Some of the evidence incriminating Cohen was reportedly uncovered by Mueller's investigators, who then handed it over to federal prosecutors.)

In the case brought by Mueller's office, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a Trump Tower project in Moscow, as well as about the extent of Trump's involvement. At the time, Cohen said the president's company pursued the development during the Republican primary, but that talks ended "for a variety of business reasons" in January 2016. His plea, however, indicated that discussions extended much longer into the presidential campaign than he had indicated — into June 2016. Cohen also claimed that Trump was personally aware of the deal, signing a letter of intent and discussing it with Cohen on two other occasions.

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office's investigation of Cohen emerged into public view in April after FBI agents raided his office, apartment and hotel room. Agents seized a trove of potential evidence contained in eight boxes of paperwork, about 30 cellphones, iPads and computers — and even the contents of one of his shredders. Four months later, on Aug. 21, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges and admitted that he paid off adult film actress Stormy Daniels "at the direction of the candidate," referring to Trump, "for the principal purpose of influencing the election" for president in 2016. The $130,000 payment to Daniels is considered by the government to be an illegal donation to Trump's campaign since it was intended to improve Trump's election chances. The legal limit for individual contributions is $2,700 in a general election. Cohen also admitted he arranged a $150,000 payment by American Media Inc. to a former Playboy playmate, Karen McDougal, in late summer 2016 to silence her about an alleged affair she says she had with Trump. He also pleaded guilty to multiple counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and making false statements regarding a credit decision.

Trump and his legal team have attempted to downplay the crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to last year and implicated the president in. Trump previously argued that Cohen deserves a "full and complete" sentence. He also argued that his business dealings were "very legal" and "very cool." He told reporters at the time, "When I'm running for president, that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to do business." The president also and called Cohen "a weak person and not a very smart person," and said that his company’s plans in Moscow was "a well-known project" that he ultimately aborted. Trump also insisted that the hush-money payments to women were "a simple private transaction" rather than a violation of campaign finance law. He also said that, even if the hush-money payments were campaign transactions, any failure to obey federal election regulations should be considered only a civil offense — not a criminal one.

Meanwhile, Mueller's team has credited Cohen with providing "useful information" about the ongoing Russia investigation, as well as "relevant information" about his contacts with people connected to the White in 2017 and 2018, suggesting an ongoing inquiry into obstruction of justice. Notably, the special counsel indicates that Cohen "described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements within it." That statement signals that Mueller believes someone in the Trump administration knew of and approved in advance Cohen's misleading statements to Congress, which is potentially impeachable if Trump himself is implicated.

By Shira Tarlo

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