Democrats on oversight panel to quiz ex-Trump lawyer Cohen on hush money payments: memo

February 27, 2019

By Mark Hosenball and Nathan Layne

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic lawmakers will question U.S. President Donald Trump’s former aide Michael Cohen at a public hearing on Wednesday over whether Trump’s lawyers misled ethics officials about illegal hush payments to women during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a memo seen by Reuters.

Cohen will be asked in the House of Representatives Oversight Committee about his decade of work as Trump’s personal lawyer and self-described “fixer” before he pleaded guilty to crimes last year and turned on his former boss.

A Democratic staff memo outlining plans for the hearing said Trump’s lawyers “appeared to provide false information” to federal ethics officials about whether Trump reimbursed Cohen for hush payments made to a former adult film star known as Stormy Daniels, who said she had sex with Trump in 2006.

The White House had no immediate comment on the Democrats’ assertions on Tuesday.

Cohen pleaded guilty last August to helping arrange a $130,000 payment to Daniels, and $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, in violation of campaign finance laws.

Cohen said Trump directed him to organize the payments. Trump has denied the claim and has called his former aide a “rat”. In December, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison. A judge ordered Cohen to begin his sentence on March 6.

Cohen was set to offer lawmakers new information about Trump’s private affairs over three consecutive days of discussion with congressional committees that began on Tuesday. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, commenting on the committee hearings, said: “It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies.”

Federal prosecutors in New York said in December that Trump ordered the illegal payments to protect his election campaign.

The House Oversight Committee is particularly interested in the payment to Daniels, whom Cohen paid from his own funds, according to people familiar with the probe.   

The Democrats’ memo said Trump “made no mention of any liability owed to Mr. Cohen” in a personal financial disclosure signed by the president and filed with the Office of Government Ethics on June 14, 2017, covering the period January 2016 to April 15, 2017.

It said that disclosure does not tally with prosecutors’ findings that the president’s Trump Organization real estate firm paid Cohen $35,000 per month throughout 2017 for a range of services, including reimbursement for his payment to Daniels.

Cohen’s testimony coincides with talk in Washington that Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be near the end of his probe into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in collusion with Trump’s campaign, which Moscow and Trump deny.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball and Nathan Layne; editing by Grant McCool)

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