President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen alleges that the President’s attorney Jay Sekulow knew that Cohen’s claim to Congress that the Trump Tower Moscow project ended in January 2016 was false, Cohen told the House Intelligence Committee in March.
The claim comes from a transcript of the roughly 15 hours of closed-door testimony that Cohen gave the committee and the panel voted to release Monday evening.
“Just to be perfectly clear about this, the statement about the Trump Tower negotiations ending in January that was part of your original draft was false, and Mr. Sekulow knew that it was false?” asked committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, according to the transcript.
“Yes, sir,” Cohen answered.
Cohen said it was Sekulow who was the one who decided to pick January 2016 as when they stopped working on Trump Tower Moscow.
Sekulow’s attorneys said in a statement Monday that Cohen was trying to “blame others.”
“Michael Cohen’s alleged statements are more of the same from him and confirm the observations of prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that Cohen’s ‘instinct to blame others is strong,’” said Jane Serene Raskin and Patrick Strawbridge, the attorneys, said in the statement. “That this or any Committee would rely on the word of Michael Cohen for any purpose – much less to try and pierce the attorney-client privilege and discover confidential communications of four respected lawyers – defies logic, well-established law and common sense.”
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani also came to Sekulow’s defense, saying that he was “one of the very most ethical lawyers and honest men I have ever known.”
“Michael Cohen is a serial liar. Cohen should be prosecuted for his blatant perjury before the House committee. Jay should receive the most effective and ethical lawyer of the year award,” Giuliani tweeted.
Cohen appeared behind closed doors before the committee in February and March, testifying about his work on the Trump Tower Moscow project, as well as how he prepared for his congressional testimony in 2017, in which he lied about how long negotiations for the project extended into the 2016 presidential campaign.
Cohen is now serving a three-year prison sentence for financial crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress in his 2017 testimony. But his congressional appearances earlier this year – including a public hearing before the House Oversight Committee – remain a source of debate within the House.
Cohen’s two-day, closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee spanned a wide range of topics. He told the panel about discussions with Trump’s lawyers involving a possible pardon as well as the fact that he did not know of any evidence of collusion between Trump’s team and the Russian government.
The preparation of Cohen’s false testimony – which he later pleaded guilty to delivering – has been a key point of contention after Cohen appeared before three committees earlier this year before reporting to prison to begin serving a three-year sentence in May.
Schiff is seeking documents from Sekulow and three other lawyers who represented Trump and his family related to Cohen’s 2017 statement. The attorneys have rejected his request, accusing the committee of overreaching and trying to violate attorney-client privileges.
Schiff told reporters Monday he was considering whether to subpoena the attorneys to try to obtain the documents he’s seeking.
From pardons to the dossier
Cohen weighed in on a variety of topics in his two days of testimony, from the prospect of pardons to the claims made about him in the opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia.
During his March testimony, Cohen told the committee that Sekulow told him pardons were under consideration for both him and others to “shut down the inquires and to shut the investigations down,” Cohen testified.
Asked if Trump knew about those discussions, Cohen said “virtually all my conversations were referred back to (Trump). Jay wasn’t going to speak on behalf of the President, he was relaying messages back and forth.”
Cohen said he asked Sekulow about his own pardon possibilities, along the lines of “what about me?” Sekulow responded: “The President loves you and you’re going to be just fine. This isn’t going anywhere,” Cohen testified.
But Cohen was also difficult to pin down when it came to the subject of pardons. Questioned by Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican, Cohen said he testified the pardon discussion happened with Trump’s knowledge based on his beliefs.
“The communications that I had with the various different individuals. lt’s my belief. I am entitled to, the belief is that it started at a specific time, and I had conversations with individuals,” Cohen said.
“But at no time did either of them tell you they had discussed this with the President?” Stewart asked.
“At no time did either of them say that they spoke to the President about it,” Cohen said.
Not ‘an agent of Russia’
Cohen also told the panel in February that he knew of no evidence of collusion between the President’s campaign and the Russian government, though he had several circumstantial reasons to believe there was collusion.
“I have no direct evidence of any information of coordination between then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump to interfere with or influence the 2016 primary or general election,” he said.
Yet Cohen still outlined specific instances he believed were collusion between Trump’s operations and the Russian government in influencing the 2016 election, including a conversation he believed he witnessed between Donald Trump Jr. and Trump about an upcoming meeting – potentially the meeting with Russians and the campaign – and a call over speakerphone he says he overheard where Roger Stone and Trump discussed WikiLeaks
According to Cohen, Trump asked him if he believed Stone was telling the truth. “I said, I don’t know. You know, Roger is Roger. You never – you never know.” Because of Trump’s skepticism, Cohen believed that this was the first time Trump had heard of the “Assange scenario.”
This conversation details appear to be redacted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report likely due to charges Stone is currently facing. The committee investigators also walked Cohen through several claims made in the dossier about him and his connections to Russians related to the election. He said they were false, except regarding his work on the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Pressed on whether Cohen believed Trump was an “agent of Russia,” Cohen said he did not.yes
“I don’t think he’s an agent of Russia. I think he likes Russian women, but I don’t think he’s an agent of Russia.” Cohen’s lawyer, Michael Monico, replied: “That’s not a crime, liking Russian women,” to which Cohen said, “No. Actually, it’s funny, I have a document that he wrote on the Miss Universe Pageant with a letter that he had sent, I think, to Vladimir Putin: ‘Russian women are beautiful,’ with an exclamation mark. So, yes, he does like Russian women, for the record.”
Reviewing his testimony
Cohen said he had at least 20 conversations with Sekulow prior to his written statement and testimony concerning Trump Tower Moscow. Most of those conversations were one-on-one with Sekulow, Cohen testified, and took place with the approval of Cohen’s then-attorney, Stephen Ryan.
Regarding Cohen’s eventual statement that the Trump Tower discussions ended in January 2016, Cohen said he and Sekulow “talked about staying on message. And the message was always was whether I was – when I was with Mr. Trump or during these conversations, it was always about to stay on message, which is there’s no Russia, there’s no collusion, there’s no business deals. And that was the message that we were staying on. And that was the message that I was going to put into the statement.”
Cohen testified that the reason he and Sekulow settled on using January 2016 as a false end date for the talks was that there was documentary evidence – text messages between Cohen and Felix Sater – that appeared to support that assertion. In January 2016, Cohen recalled, Cohen had sent a text to Sater saying, “I’m done. We’re finished,” followed by a text telling Sater to call Putin’s secretary if Sater doubted the project was dead.
“That’s why we used January as the date,” Cohen told the committee. Sekulow supported using that false narrative, saying, “Good. Good. Let’s just stay on message. Keep this thing short,” Cohen testified. Asked if Sekulow knew the deal was, in fact, discussed through June of 2016, Cohen said, “I believe so.”
When pressed by Rep. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat, how Trump’s attorney knew that the Moscow project went past January 2016 into June, Cohen said it was his belief that because Sekulow spoke to the President, he should have known the January date was not true.
“I believe if he took it to his client, which he stated to me that he did, that he spoke to the client, that he would know that it would be false,” Cohen said, explaining that the January date aligned with text messages exchanged with Felix Sater.
CNN has reported that Trump’s legal team has said it was unaware that the testimony was false, because all documentation and correspondence regarding Trump Tower ended in January 2016.
“All communications, all document that we have (about) Trump Moscow end by January 2016,” a source told CNN back in November 2018. The person added, if Cohen continued to work on the project into 2016 “we weren’t aware of it.”
Cohen appeared before the House Intelligence Committee as part of Schiff’s wide-ranging investigation into the President’s finances and possible Russian collusion. The committee hasn’t conducted additional interviews though as it has turned its attention to obtaining Mueller’s counterintelligence information.
The Justice Department did not comply with the committee’s subpoena to provide the information last week, and Schiff said he will take an unspecified “enforcement action” against the Justice Department in response.
Cohen’s 2017 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee has not yet been released. The committee voted in the last Congress to release transcripts of its interviews with Cohen and more than 50 other officials who were interviewed as part of the panel’s Republican-led investigation into Russian election interference.
Those transcripts have yet to be released publicly, as they were sent to the intelligence community for a declassification review.
This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz, Ellie Kaufman, Manu Raju and Brian Rokus contributed to this report.