Thursday 25 April 2019

Democrats planning new lines of investigation into Russia claims

Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen gives evidence to a Congressional committee. Photo: Getty Images
Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen gives evidence to a Congressional committee. Photo: Getty Images

Mary Clare Jalnock

After three days of grilling Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Democrats are quickly using his words as a roadmap to open new lines of investigation into the president's ties to Russia and summon additional witnesses.

Mr Cohen completed a third day of testimony on Capitol Hill on Thursday, one day after publicly branding his former boss a racist and a conman who lied about business dealings in Russia and directed him to conceal extramarital relationships.

He was interviewed behind closed doors by the House Intelligence Committee for more than eight hours.

As he left the House Intelligence interview, Mr Cohen said he would be returning to Capitol Hill on March 6 for another round of questioning.

The gauntlet of interviews with Mr Cohen launched what is expected to be months of investigations into Mr Trump and those connected to him.

Multiple Democrat-led House committees are pledging to investigate not only Mr Trump's campaign's ties to Russia, which are also the subject of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, but presidential conflicts of interest, possible money laundering and other oversight matters that Democrats said were ignored under GOP control.

House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff called the closed-door session with Mr Cohen productive and said politicians were able to "drill down in great detail" on issues they were investigating. Another Democratic committee member, Eric Swalwell, said Mr Cohen "has been asked, based on a lot of new evidence we learned today, to bring corroborating materials that he believes he has".

Mr Schiff said the committee would hear from Felix Sater, a Russia-born executive who worked with Mr Cohen on an ultimately unsuccessful deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, in an open hearing on March 14.

In addition, a committee aide said the panel also anticipated inviting Trump Organisation chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to testify.

Mr Cohen mentioned him in his public House Oversight testimony, linking him to hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with Mr Trump. The president denies the affair. The Oversight Committee is also planning on calling additional witnesses after Mr Cohen's testimony.

The committee's chairman Elijah Cummings indicated the panel could bring in a broad swathe of people that Mr Cohen mentioned.

He told reporters that his panel was poring over the transcript and anyone mentioned multiple times had a chance of hearing from them.

Based on who was mentioned in the hearing, possible witnesses could include Mr Weisselberg and two of the president's children, Donald Jr and Ivanka. Ms Daniels was also mentioned frequently.

Mr Cohen, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to Congress about the Moscow real estate project and reports to prison in May for a three-year sentence, gave harsh testimony about Mr Trump on Wednesday.

He said Mr Trump knew in advance that damaging emails about Democrat Hillary Clinton would be released during the 2016 campaign - a claim the president has denied - and accused Mr Trump of lying during the campaign about the Moscow deal.

Mr Cohen also said Mr Trump directed him to arrange the hush money payment to Ms Daniels. He said the president arranged to reimburse Mr Cohen, and Mr Cohen brought to the hearing a cheque that he said was proof of the transaction.

He said prosecutors in New York were investigating conversations Mr Trump or his advisers had with him after his office and hotel room were raided by the FBI last April.

Mr Cohen said he could not discuss that conversation, the last contact he said he has had with the president or anyone acting on his behalf, because it remained under investigation.

Two of Mr Trump's most vocal defenders, politicians Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, sent a referral to the Justice Department alleging Mr Cohen lied in his testimony.

Irish Independent

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