Since the moment it was announced that former Trump fixer Michael Cohen would appear in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, February 7 – the day of the Cohen appearance – had been circled on every calendar in Washington.
Until today, that is, when Cohen announced he would not in fact be appearing, due to “ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani,” according to his lawyer Lanny Davis.
Which, well, whoa.
But the announcement left a lot of questions – for me at least. Here are the big ones.
1. What “threats” is Cohen talking about?
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, over the weekend, dropped some hot rhetoric on Cohen’s family. “This reason that is important is, he may have ties to something called organized crime,” Giuliani told CNN’s Jake Tapper by way of explaining why he thought Cohen was lying to protect his father-in-law. He offered no proof of these allegations.
Trump has also pointed to Cohen’s father-in-law.
So, are those the threats? Or are we talking about private threats from either the President or his lawyer? That strikes me as VERY unlikely. But in this White House, who knows?
2. Will Cohen be subpoenaed?
Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, wouldn’t commit to next steps in regards to Cohen – up to and including subpoenaing the lawyer to testify. “We will hear from him,” Cummings told CNN’s Manu Raju, making clear that Congress cannot allow witnesses to be intimidated.
There’s also a timing issue here. Cohen is set to begin a three-year prison term in early March, meaning there’s only a three-week window between his now-canceled February 7 testimony and when he is incarcerated.
3. What will Cohen say (if anything)?
Let’s say Cohen testifies – whether he is compelled to by subpoena or not. It’s not at all clear to me what he will be allowed to say. It had already been leaked that Cohen wasn’t going to address anything related to his role in the Russia investigation, even before he canceled his testimony.
In the statement by Davis, he noted that aside from the threats, there was also “Mr. Cohen’s continued cooperation with ongoing investigations” to think about. Cohen is cooperating with both the Southern District of New York and special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference.
So, what could – or would – Cohen say, even if he decides to sit in front of the Oversight Committee at all?
The Point: Cohen is at the center of so much in Trump’s world that hearing anything from him would likely shed at least some light on a still very opaque situation.