Washington: In testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week, Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump’s former attorney, made several devastating revelations about the president - revelations that portend a new era of accountability for the president and his close associates.
It was a big day, but it is only the first of many.
The House oversight hearing with Trump’s former attorney, coming in advance of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, heralds what Democrats in Congress view as the long days ahead providing checks and balances on the Oval Office. For some, the outcome may - or may not - lead to grounds for impeachment. For others, this merely a political exercise and impeachment cannot come fast enough. What is certain, though, is the mounting tension.
The president’s former chief counselor, Steve Bannon, had warned before the 2018 elections that Democrats would impeach the president if they won control of Congress.
Republicans are taking up that mantle. At the start of the Cohen hearing, the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, said the only reason for the session was so Democrats could pursue impeachment. Another committee Republican, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, called the hearing a “circus” not worth Americans’ time. And newly elected Republican Rep. Carol Miller of West Virginia said the sole purpose was “discrediting the president.”
“If it was not already obvious,” Miller said, “there are members here with a singular goal in Congress to impeach President Trump.”
The American people expect us to hold the administration accountable. And if during the course of that we come upon sufficient evidence that warrants his removal, I think they expect us to do that.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has kept calls for impeachment at bay by insisting that Mueller first must be allowed to finish his work, which reports suggest could happen in the coming weeks, and present his findings publicly - though it’s unclear whether the White House will allow its full release.
Cohen will return to Congress next week for more testimony, US lawmakers said, after three days of marathon appearances.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff also revealed that Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer who claims strong connections to the Kremlin, and who reportedly pitched the Moscow Trump Tower project to Trump’s team, will testify before the committee on March 14. The public hearing is believed to be the first scheduled appearance before Congress for Sater, who once had an office in Trump Tower and is seen as a mysterious figure who could shed light on dealings between the Trump organization, his campaign and Russia.
Cohen meanwhile will return on March 6 for additional closed-door testimony to the Intelligence Committee, Schiff said. “It was a very productive interview, where he was able to shed light on a lot of issues that are very core to our investigation, and we were able to drill down in great detail,” Schiff said, adding that he intented to publicly release transcripts of Cohen’s testimony “at the appropriate point.”
It was a very productive interview, where he was able to shed light on a lot of issues that are very core to our investigation, and we were able to drill down in great detail.
Cohen - who is to report to prison on May 6 to begin serving a three-year sentence for fraud, tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and lying to Congress - expressed regret for his years of devoted service to Trump. The onetime lawyer, who has been disbarred, said Trump directed him to lie about hush payments made to a porn actress to silence her claims of a 2006 affair with the real estate tycoon. He also said Trump knew in advance in mid-2016 that WikiLeaks would publish emails stolen by the Russians from rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Nevertheless, Cohen produced no fresh evidence that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia during the election, the subject of an investigation by Mueller.
While Cohen’s credibility repeatedly came under attack by the president’s allies on the committee, some say there are reasons to trust what the ex-lawyer said. After his prosecutions, Cohen knows well the costs of lying.
“The American people expect us to hold the administration accountable,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I, a member of House leadership. “And if during the course of that we come upon sufficient evidence that warrants his removal, I think they expect us to do that.”
But Democrats are not there yet, at all. So far, the Democratic Party’s potential 2020 class has tried to avoid the impeachment question altogether, fearful it could undermine the process and trigger a voter backlash. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts sent an email during the hearing promising, if she becomes president, not to pardon anyone implicated in the Trump investigations. She set down a challenge for others running to do same.