WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, has agreed to testify next month before the House Oversight Committee, potentially providing explosive public testimony on the inner workings of Trump's business, personal life and political campaign.
"In furtherance of my commitment to cooperate and provide the American people with answers, I have accepted the invitation by Chairman Elijah Cummings to appear publicly on February 7th before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform," Cohen said Thursday (Jan 10) in a text message.
"I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired."
After the announcement, Trump told reporters, "I'm not worried about it at all" during a tour of the US border with Mexico in McAllen, Texas.
Trump has previously dismissed Cohen as a liar who "became a 'Rat"' after the FBI searched his office.
Cohen's scheduled testimony is a significant early sign that House Democrats are determined to deliver on their pledges to pursue investigations of the president and those around him.
It's a dramatic turnaround from when Republicans ran the House. They focused instead on what they asserted was anti-Trump bias in the Justice Department and the FBI.
Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, said Cohen's appearance is "voluntary" and that the committee, newly controlled by Democrats, will be careful not to undermine the continuing Russia investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
"I want to make clear that we have no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations, and to that end, we are in the process of consulting with Special Counsel Mueller's office," Cummings said in a statement.
Republican Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who's now the top Republican on the Oversight panel, said the planned hearing with Cohen is "just pure political theatre."
Government lawyers often blocked Republican efforts to bring in witnesses about the inner workings of the FBI and Justice Department as too sensitive, he said, "but now, the Democrats' first move is to bring in Mueller's 'star witness."'
Cohen has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for making hush-money payments to two women who claimed past affairs with Trump. Cohen has said Trump directed him to do so to avoid any negative fallout for his presidential campaign.
In a separate guilty plea tied to Mueller's investigation, Cohen has admitted to lying to Congress about Trump's efforts to build a tower in Moscow. The lawyer told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump had scrapped the project in January 2016 while negotiations actually continued through June of that year, well into Trump's presidential campaign.
Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate panel, said in a statement that Cohen has "had in his possession for months a request to return to the Senate Intelligence Committee for additional closed-door testimony, made all the more necessary by Mr Cohen's indictment and guilty plea for making false statements to committee investigators." Burr said that request still stands.
The House Intelligence Committee also has been seeking a closed-door session with Cohen to discuss Russia-related matters. Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, the committee's chairman, said in a statement on Thursday that he understands "Mr. Cohen has expressed an interest in telling his personal story in open session" as well.
The public release of a redacted transcript of Cohen's previous closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in its own Russia investigation is expected to be released soon, along with the testimony of dozens of other witnesses in that probe.
Three-Year Sentence Cohen is scheduled to present himself on March 6 to begin serving his three-year sentence for nine felonies.
While Mueller's prosecutors said Cohen helped the core Russia inquiry, federal prosecutors in Manhattan who handled the hush-money payments and other matters criticized him for withholding information. In asking for a lighter sentence, Cohen's lawyer pledged in court that his client would continue to help inquiries that could continue for years.
Cohen has said he accepted full responsibility for his crimes, but he also described the burden of his role as a fixer for Trump's business and later his campaign.
"It was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds," he said.