Dems warn Trump on Co­hen com­ments

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Ni­cholas Fandos and Mag­gie Haber­man

WASH­ING­TON – Three newly em­pow­ered Demo­cratic House com­mit­tee chair­men, alarmed by state­ments over the week­end by Pres­i­dent Trump about his for­mer lawyer’s planned tes­ti­mony be­fore Con­gress, cau­tioned Sun­day that any ef­fort to dis­cour­age or in­flu­ence a wit­ness’ tes­ti­mony could be con­strued as a crime.

The warn­ing, a stark and un­usual mes­sage from some of Con­gress’ most in­flu­en­tial Democrats, un­der­scores the in­creas­ing le­gal and po­lit­i­cal peril fac­ing Trump. Democrats are be­gin­ning their own in­ves­ti­ga­tions of him as spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller ap­pears to move to­ward a con­clu­sion in his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Trump cam­paign’s ties to Rus­sia and po­ten­tial ob­struc­tion of jus­tice by Trump.

In a Fox News in­ter­view Satur­day night, Trump ac­cused the for­mer lawyer, Michael Co­hen, of ly­ing about him to win le­niency from fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors and spoke cryp­ti­cally of the ex­is­tence of dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion against Co­hen’s fa­ther-in-law. Co­hen, who has been sen­tenced to three years in prison, has ac­cused Trump of di­rect­ing him to make il­le­gal hush pay­ments dur­ing the cam­paign.

“Our na­tion’s laws pro­hibit ef­forts to dis­cour­age, in­tim­i­date or oth­er­wise pres­sure a wit­ness not to pro­vide tes­ti­mony to Con­gress,” the chair­men wrote. “The pres­i­dent should make no state­ment or take any ac­tion to ob­struct Con­gress’s in­de­pen­dent over­sight and in­ves­tiga­tive ef­forts, in­clud­ing by seek­ing to dis­cour­age any wit­ness from tes­ti­fy­ing in re­sponse to a duly au­tho­rized re­quest from Con­gress.”

The mes­sage seemed to im­ply that if Democrats in the House were to ever try to build an im­peach­ment case against Trump, at­tempts to in­ter­fere with their work could be used as ev­i­dence. One of the chair­men who signed the let­ter, Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, D-Md., who leads the Over­sight and Re­form Com­mit­tee, an­nounced last week that Co­hen would tes­tify pub­licly for the first time next month about his work on be­half of Trump. The hear­ing prom­ises to be a block­buster ses­sion that could fur­ther erode Trump’s pub­lic im­age and clar­ify the ex­tent of his le­gal ex­po­sure.

In Au­gust, Co­hen pleaded guilty in fed­eral court in Man­hat­tan to tax fraud, mak­ing false state­ments to a bank and a cam­paign fi­nance vi­o­la­tion. He later pleaded guilty to an ad­di­tional charge of ly­ing to Con­gress about how long ne­go­ti­a­tions for a Trump Tower project in Moscow went on in 2016. He ac­knowl­edged that Trump’s as­so­ciates pur­sued the project well into 2016, as the Krem­lin was es­ca­lat­ing its ef­forts to in­ter­fere in the U.S. elec­tion on his be­half. In court, he said Trump had di­rected him to ar­range pay­ments to two women dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign to stop them from speak­ing pub­licly about af­fairs they said they had with him. He worked closely along­side Trump dur­ing his time as a busi­ness­man and can­di­date, and has spent more than 70 hours with fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan as well as with Mueller’s team.

Trump’s com­ments about Co­hen on Satur­day, made dur­ing a friendly in­ter­view with Jea­nine Pirro of Fox News, were his first ex­tended re­marks on the mat­ter since Co­hen’s con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony was an­nounced. Asked by Pirro if he was “wor­ried” about the tes­ti­mony, Trump called Co­hen “weak” and as­serted – in con­tra­dic­tion to fil­ings by fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan – that Co­hen had “no in­for­ma­tion” on him.

“He’s in trou­ble on some loans and fraud and taxi­cabs and stuff that I know noth­ing about,” Trump said. “And in or­der to get his sen­tence re­duced, he says, I have an idea, I’ll tell – I’ll give you some in­for­ma­tion on the pres­i­dent.” Trump then im­plied that Co­hen ought to be shar­ing in­for­ma­tion in­stead on his fa­ther-in-law, whose name he said he did not know.

“But he should give in­for­ma­tion maybe on his fa­ther-in-law, be­cause that’s the one that peo­ple want to look at,” he said, adding, “That’s the money in the fam­ily.” Pressed by Pirro for more de­tails, Trump said, “I don’t know, but you’ll find out, and you’ll look into it be­cause no­body knows what’s go­ing on over there.”

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