BY: TANNER KENNEY
On Wednesday, January 23, 2019, President Donald Trump’s embattled former personal attorney and ‘fixer,’ Michael Cohen, reversed his decision to testify before the House Oversight Committee on February 7th, 2019, citing threatening remarks publicly offered by Trump and his current attorney and oft-spokesperson, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Following the announcement, numerous members of Congress, former federal prosecutors, and legal observers, alike, made it clear that they believe that the accusations made by Cohen could amount to obstruction of justice via witness tampering. Last week, Cohen’s ‘legal advisor’ Lanny Davis stated that Cohen has been subpoenaed for similar testimony by the Senate Intelligence Committee, itself led by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC).
Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) have characterized Cohen’s “fear” as “legitimate” due to the aforementioned “attacks” and hope to find another date at which Cohen feels comfortable testifying, but have not ruled out the potential for additional subpoenas to appear in front of both Committees. Davis also publicly requested a Congressional censure on behalf of Cohen over the remarks made by Trump and Giuliani, stating the latter “does not have likely presidential immunity.” The animus between the parties stems from an agreement Cohen made with prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, which sees additional cooperation from the defendant with the Special Counsel’s Office, resulting in public admonishment from his former employer as well as Cohen’s current analogue.
While the primary focus of Congressional inquiries relate to payments made by Cohen on behalf of Trump through a shell company to at least 2 women accusing the then-candidate of adultery, the lines of questioning may very well expand into Cohen’s role in the obstruction of justice in the Special Counsel’s investigation, as well (of which there may be audio recordings). Cohen had previously agreed to testify before the Oversight Committee to answer questions related, but not limited, to his work for Trump prior to his presidential candidacy and throughout the election as well as his association with the inaugural committee, and his role as a Deputy Finance Chairman for the Republican National Committee (RNC).
Prior to any testimony, public or private, questions from Congresspersons will most likely be submitted in writing to both Cohen and the Special Counsel’s Office to ensure the secrecy of classified information. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) attorneys have previously limited the public testimony of witnesses like former FBI Director James Comey whilst the utmost care has been taken to prevent the potential for the identify of a state-owned corporation to emerge appearing to be a target of Mueller’s team. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D–NY) hopes to expand the line of questioning of Cohen to include current the current head of the DOJ, Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, and his role in updating the president as to the goings-on of the Special Counsel’s Investigation.
Following a report from BuzzFeed News stating that President Trump suborned perjury in directing Cohen to falsify testimony to Congress about a Trump Tower proposal in Moscow, which allegedly led to an investigation by the Special Counsel, Mueller’s spokesperson, Peter Carr, issued a rare and brief public statement indicating that the report was “not accurate[,]” but did not elaborate on the comment. The statement created quite a buzz amongst legal scholars as to the nature of the report’s inaccuracy. For its part in publishing the controversial story, BuzzFeed News issued a response stating the information is accurate, requesting clarification, and that the organization stands by the authors and their reporting.
Shortly after Davis’ announcement that Cohen would respond positively to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s subpoena, in the early hours of Friday, January 25th, 2019, former Trump Campaign Advisor Roger Stone was arrested by the FBI and indicted by the Special Counsel for lying to Congressional investigators, obstructing justice, and, among other charges, witness tampering. Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the Washington, D.C. District was assigned to Stone’s case, an interesting note considering she currently presides over the trial of former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort. Stone is set to be arraigned on January 29th, before Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson in Washington D.C. The prosecutors currently assigned to the case are from the U.S. Attorney’s office, not the Special Counsel’s office.
Stone was a close confidant of the then-candidate and worked closely with allies such as former Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon while allegedly contacting international political actors, most notably Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. This angle of the overarching investigation into American election interference points directly to the Russian government’s alleged hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, primarily then-candidate Hillary Clinton and her Campaign Chairman, John Podesta.
In the past, President Trump has touted numerous ‘scandals’ and ‘crises’ threatening American security such as the “Migrant Caravan” during the 2018 Midterm Elections in order to distract the general public from his mounting legal concerns, and the Stone indictment is no different. With the government consistently hamstrung and barreling towards inoperability, the President’s approval ratings have plummeted even within the most generous political-metrics-clearinghouses.
All of these events occurred as the federal government remained closed due to a lack of Congressional funding, resulting in (as of publication) 11 lawsuits being filed to reopen vital federal institutions– some anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the employees’ on-the-job responsibilities. The reopening of the government late last week took some of the attention away from the series of events that put the Trump administration at the front and center of the Mueller Investigation. However, the reopening of the government without a promise for a wall marked a significant departure from the staunch stance that President Trump has taken since the 2016 election. More importantly, it offers a look at the road ahead for the administration in its fight against a Democratic House. With the government reopened, at least for the near term, and Roger Stone all set to appear today in court in Washington D.C., the Trump Administration must brace itself for a tough road ahead.
Tanner Kenney is an energy and media professional with a background in journalism and received his M.S. in Global Affairs, Environment & Energy Policy from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Recently, Tanner has focused on the advocacy of sustainable development through renewable energy technologies, transportation efficiency, and inclusive public policy.
Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.