Trump's lawyer had been scheduled to meet with Senate Russia investigators
Michael Cohen did not explain why the testimony had been postponed
The leaders of the Senate intelligence committee said Tuesday they want President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and longtime associate to testify in public after Michael Cohen released to the media his opening statement he planned to give at a closed door meeting.
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, announced Tuesday evening they had invited Cohen to reappear before the committee on October 25 in public session. Cohen has accepted the invitation and expects to appear, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The invitation for a public hearing with committee members came just hours after the panel postponed its planned staff interview Tuesday. Burr and Warner released a joint statement saying they were “disappointed that Mr. Cohen decided to pre-empt today’s interview.”
“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 senators said. “The committee expects witnesses in this investigation to work in good faith with the Senate.”
Burr told reporters that the committee had changed its policy about witnesses releasing statements after Jared Kushner did so during his closed-door appearance.
“What we do is behind closed doors,” Burr said. “We don’t expect individuals who come behind closed doors to publicly go out and tell (their side only).”
After spending about 90 minutes in the intelligence committee’s secure meeting room, Cohen and his lawyer told reporters the committee has postponed his testimony and he would return voluntarily at a later date. Cohen did not answer questions about why he was meeting with the committee staff for an hour if the meeting had been postponed.
Cohen was expected to vigorously deny participating in any collusion with the Russians to help Trump get elected in testimony before the Senate intelligence committee Tuesday, according to a copy of his opening statement obtained by CNN.
“I emphatically state that I had nothing to do with any Russian involvement in our electoral process,” Cohen’s statement says.
Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, said that Cohen had intended to deliver the statement during Tuesday’s interview.
“That statement was factual, it was accurate, it was respectful, and we stand behind that statement,” Ryan said. “The committee has chosen to postpone today’s meeting, and we will come back for a voluntarily interview whenever we can to meet with them.”
In the statement, Cohen specifically denies working with Russia to interfere with the US election or to “hack anyone or any organization,” including Democratic Party computers. He also denies any role in the creation of so-called fake news stories, which the US intelligence community linked to a Russian campaign that used propaganda and online trolls to promote stories critical of Hillary Clinton and help Trump.
“I have never engaged with, been paid by, paid for, or conversed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else to create fake news stories to assist the Trump campaign or damage the Clinton campaign,” Cohen’s statement reads.
Cohen also defends Trump in his statement. “I never saw anything – not a hint of anything – that demonstrated his involvement in Russian interference in our election or any form of Russian collusion.”
Much of the statement seeks to rebut the 35-page dossier prepared by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Cohen, saying his reputation has been damaged by the document, calls it “a shoddily written and totally fabricated report filled with lies and rumors.”
While the most salacious allegations in the memos haven’t been verified, the broader conclusions that Russia meddled in the election are now accepted as fact by the US intelligence community – with special counsel Robert Mueller now investigating whether Trump associates participated in the Russian effort.
A key accusation of the dossier was that Cohen had traveled to Prague to meet with Russians but Cohen in the statement denies ever having been to Prague or anywhere in the Czech Republic.
Finally, Cohen addresses the story that he asked for assistance from a senior Kremlin official for a Russian real estate deal during Trump’s presidential campaign. Cohen has made the case that he found the official’s email address on Google.
That proposal would have seen the development of Trump Tower Moscow, “the world’s largest building in Moscow,” but was abandoned in January 2016. Cohen explained in a written statement to the House intelligence committee, “I lost confidence that the prospective licensee would be able to obtain the real estate, financing and government approvals necessary to bring the proposal to fruition.”
Cohen, who also denied that the deal was “in any way” related to the campaign says in his statement to the Senate committee “this was solely a real estate deal and nothing more. I was doing my job.”
In addition to Cohen’s role in an effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and his email to a senior Kremlin official about the project, the Senate committee is also interested in his role in crafting a peace plan for Ukraine and about reports that he passed along the proposal to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to an intelligence committee source.
A Ukrainian lawmaker met Cohen earlier in January in New York City and said they discussed a peace plan for Ukraine that would involve leasing Crimea – annexed by Russia in 2014 – to Moscow for 50 to 100 years. In exchange, Russia would withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s separatist regions. Cohen confirmed to CNN that he met the lawmaker, Andrii Artemenko, but denies discussing any peace deal, and denies delivering any proposal to Flynn or the White House.
Cohen is not expected to be under oath during the appearance, but all witnesses appearing before congressional committees are required to tell the truth or potentially face criminal charges.
Cohen’s appearance before the committee is also voluntary, a source with direct knowledge of the process has told CNN.
This story has been updated to reflect breaking news.
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.