Senate Calls Trump Attorney In For Open Session After Reports About Closed One

Sep 19, 2017
Originally published on September 19, 2017 4:10 pm

Updated at 5:09 p.m. ET.

The Senate Intelligence Committee said it would require a longtime attorney for Donald Trump to appear in a future open session after his statement for a closed one on Tuesday began appearing beforehand in the press.

Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said they had "postponed" a closed-door meeting between Michael Cohen and committee staffers.

"We were disappointed that Mr. Cohen decided to pre-empt today's interview by releasing a public statement prior to his engagement with committee staff, in spite of the committee's requests that he refrain from public comment," they said. "As a result, we declined to move forward with today's interview and will reschedule Mr. Cohen's appearance before the committee in open session at a date in the near future."

The committee leaders said later they have invited Cohen to an open hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. on Oct. 25.

Cohen used the four-page written statement to deny ever engaging with Russians or anyone else to interfere in the election. He also said he never saw "a hint of anything" that indicated Trump himself was involved in Russia's meddling.

"Let me be totally clear that I am innocent of the allegations raised against me in the public square, which are based upon misinformation and unnamed or unverifiable sources," Cohen wrote.

NPR obtained a copy of the statement.

Cohen served as Trump's personal lawyer and as a senior Trump Organization executive. His attorney, Stephen Ryan, said Cohen stands by the written statement he intended to deliver.

"We will come back for a voluntary interview whenever we can," Ryan said. "We will continue to cooperate."

The panel and its House counterpart are more than nine months into separate investigations into what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was a multifaceted Russian operation during the 2016 election to undermine American democracy, damage Hillary Clinton and help Trump win.

Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller is overseeing the FBI's Russia probe. Mueller was appointed a week after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey.

Cohen's role in the Russia matter came under special scrutiny after BuzzFeed News published an unsubstantiated dossier that claimed Cohen acted as a pivotal middleman in an alleged covert relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In his statement for the Senate committee, Cohen said his "reputation was damaged" by the publication of the dossier, which he said was "riddled with total falsehoods and intentionally salacious accusations."

The dossier was compiled in the summer and fall of 2016 by a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele. Some of the document's broad conclusions — that Russia sought to interfere in the election and reached out to Trump campaign officials — have been bolstered by public reporting since its publication.

NPR and other news organizations, however, have mostly avoided reporting about the contents of the dossier in detail since it is unverified, a point Cohen seized upon Tuesday.

"In my opinion, the hired spy didn't find anything factual, so he threw together a shoddily written and totally fabricated report filled with lies and rumors," Cohen said.

This is not the first time Cohen has denounced the dossier and rejected its claims. Last month, he sent congressional investigators an eight-page letter with a point-by-point rebuttal of the dossier's allegations against him.

He reiterated many of those denials Tuesday, saying he has "never engaged with, been paid by, paid for, or conversed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else" to hack a person or institution, interfere in the election or create fake news stories.

"I emphatically state that I had nothing to do with any Russian involvement in our electoral process," he said. "In fact, I find the activities attributed to the Russian Federation, if found to be true, to be an offense to our democracy."

Cohen also discussed his attempt in January 2016 — during the presidential campaign — to engage with a senior aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin to enlist his help with a stalled Trump Tower project in Moscow.

Cohen outlined those efforts in a two-page statement to congressional investigators last month.

"This was solely a real estate deal and nothing more," Cohen said in his statement Tuesday. "I was doing my job."

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