The House Intelligence Committee is investigating lawyers tied to Donald Trump over allegations that they “reviewed, shaped and edited” former presidential fixer Michael Cohen’s false testimony to Congress.
Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) asked four attorneys who have worked for the president or his family members to provide documents and sit for interviews related to the claims made by Cohen, Trump’s former longtime personal attorney who is serving a three-year federal prison sentence for financial crimes and lying to the Intelligence Committee in 2017 about the timing of negotiations surrounding the construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow.
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The attorneys — Jay Sekulow, Alan Futerfas, Alan Garten and Abbe Lowell — rebuffed Schiff’s demand for documents, which was first sent on March 14 and obtained by POLITICO on Tuesday. The New York Times first revealed the letters.
“Instead of addressing important intelligence needs, the House Intelligence Committee appears to seek a truly needless dispute — this one with private attorneys — that would force them to violate privileges and ethical rules,” Sekulow’s attorney Patrick Strawbridge said in a statement on behalf of the four attorneys. “As committed defense lawyers, we will respect the constitution and defend the attorney-client privilege — one of the oldest and most sacred privileges in the law.”
Their lawyers told Schiff on April 5 that his request does not have a “proper legislative purpose,” and their clients would therefore refuse to submit to Schiff’s demands for documents and witness interviews.
Cohen testified before three congressional committees earlier this year, including two daylong closed-door appearances before the House Intelligence Committee. Sources familiar with his testimony said Cohen turned over documents showing his false 2017 testimony to the panel about the Trump Tower Moscow project was edited. Cohen told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that Sekulow changed Cohen’s testimony — a claim Sekulow has denied. Cohen pleaded guilty last year to giving false statements to Congress.
In a follow-up letter on May 3, Schiff said some of the attorneys’ clients “may have engaged in discussions about potential pardons in an effort to deter one or more witnesses from cooperating with authorized investigations.”
Additionally, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into Russian election interference said that Cohen had “almost daily” contact with Sekulow, who served as Trump’s personal attorney throughout the Mueller probe. The day before Cohen submitted his false testimony, according to Mueller, he and Sekulow had several phone conversations.
Mueller’s report also stated that Sekulow declined the opportunity to provide more information to investigators about his conversations with Cohen. Mueller’s investigators decided not to pursue the issue further.
Schiff said in a statement to POLITICO that it would be “negligent” for the committee not to investigate those issues.
“If any individual is allowed to lie to our committee or encourage others to do so, hide behind inapplicable privileges, or otherwise fail to provide anything less than full cooperation, other witnesses will be emboldened to similarly obstruct, both now and in the future,” Schiff added. “We must not allow that to happen.”
In his May 3 letter, Schiff threatened to issue subpoenas absent voluntary compliance.
Trump and individuals associated with him have rebuffed nearly all of House Democrats’ demands for documents and witness testimony as part of their investigations targeting the president, his White House, his presidential campaign and his business empire. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report and all of its underlying evidence.
The Intelligence Committee isn’t the only Democrat-led panel working to corroborate allegations made by Cohen. The Oversight Committee issued subpoenas seeking Trump’s financial records after Cohen told lawmakers that Trump artificially inflated and deflated the values of his assets in order to benefit financially, including when he applied for a loan from Deutsche Bank to place a bid on the Buffalo Bills NFL team.
Trump has filed federal lawsuits in his personal capacity to block various subpoenas seeking his financial documents.
Darren Samuelsohn and Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.