The House Intelligence Committee is investigating whether attorneys representing President Donald Trump, his family and the Trump Organization misled the committee or obstructed its Russia investigation in the preparation of Michael Cohen’s false 2017 statement to Congress, according to letters obtained by CNN.
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff sent letters in March to four lawyers who were part of the President’s joint defense agreement asking for documents and testimony related to the crafting of Cohen’s 2017 statement to the committee and any discussions of presidential pardons.
But the Trump lawyers rejected the request in a letter responding to Schiff, accusing the committee of overreaching in its oversight request and raising attorney-client privilege concerns.
In a followup sent this month, Schiff set a deadline for the end of last week for the attorneys to cooperate. Schiff is prepared to issue a subpoena if the attorneys won’t cooperate, a senior committee official said.
Schiff rejected the notion that the material would be covered by attorney-client privilege, while arguing that Cohen submitted a statement that was “coordinated, reviewed, shaped and edited” by the attorneys. Schiff said that Cohen’s statement had “false materials” and “omission of fact” with the “intended effect of impeding the investigation.”
The New York Times first reported the document requests.
Schiff said in a statement Tuesday that the committee had to get to the bottom of whether there was an effort to obstruct the panel’s Russia investigation.
“Material in the Committee’s possession, as well as Michael Cohen’s Committee testimony and admissions to the Special Counsel’s Office, raise serious, unresolved concerns about the obstruction of our Committee’s investigation that we would be negligent not to pursue,” Schiff said. “If any individual is allowed to lie to our committee or encourage others to do so, hide behind inapplicable privileges, or otherwise fail to provide anything less than full cooperation, other witnesses will be emboldened to similarly obstruct, both now and in the future.”
The Trump lawyers argue that Schiff’s document request is “far afield from the any proper legislative purpose” and would force them to violate attorney-client privilege.
“Instead of addressing important intelligence needs, the House Intelligence Committee appears to seek a truly needless dispute — this one with private attorneys — that would force them to violate privileges and ethical rules,” Patrick Strawbridge said in a statement on behalf of the four attorneys. “As committed defense lawyers, we will respect the Constitution and defend the attorney-client privilege — one of the oldest and most sacred privileges in the law.”
When Cohen testified before Congress in 2017, he lied about how long the discussions surrounding a Trump Tower Moscow project extended into the presidential campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and other charges last year and began serving a three-year prison sentence this month.
Cohen testified again before Congress earlier this year, and he told lawmakers his false opening statement had been edited by attorneys representing Trump and his team. He also provided documents to the House Intelligence Committee that showed the edits to his statement by Trump’s lawyers.
“There were changes made, additions – Jay Sekulow, for one,” Cohen said in his February public testimony before the House Oversight Committee. “There were several changes that were made including how we were going to handle that message, which was – the message of course being – the length of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project stayed and remained alive.”
CNN has previously reported the lawyers had no indication at the time that Cohen’s testimony was inaccurate.