Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and longtime fixer, announced through a spokesman Wednesday that he wouldn’t testify before Congress on Feb. 7 because of “threats” from the president.
Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison for a series of federal crimes, including campaign finance violations and tax evasion. He was scheduled to testify about his dealings with Trump before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Cohen’s testimony was highly anticipated because he is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into election interference and Cohen’s payoffs to two women just before Trump’s election in 2016.
For years, Cohen worked as Trump’s most strident defender in legal, business and political matters yet turned on him as federal prosecutors honed in on his business and legal dealings. Cohen referred to threats from Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
“Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani, as recently as this weekend, as well as Mr. Cohen’s continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel, Mr. Cohen’s appearance will be postponed to a later date,” said Lanny Davis, a Cohen spokesman. “This is a time when Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first.”
Cohen, reached by phone Wednesday, declined comment. He is scheduled to turn himself in to prison March 6.
Asked about Cohen’s allegations, Trump said Wednesday at the White House: “He’s only been threatened by the truth.”
Trump has called Cohen a liar and said he was unaware of his criminal activities.
Giuliani said on CNN on Sunday that Cohen’s father-in-law “may have ties to something called organized crime.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who heads the Oversight and Reform Committee, and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who heads the Intelligence Committee, said in a joint statement that they understood Cohen’s concerns and called efforts to intimidate congressional witnesses “textbook mob tactics that we condemn in the strongest possible terms.” The lawmakers and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who heads the Judiciary Committee, expect Cohen to appear before each of the panels.
“We will get the testimony, as sure as night becomes day,” Cummings told reporters at the Capitol. “We should have no one from either party intimidating any witness – and their families – causing them to get to a point where they feel fearful coming before the Congress of the United States.”
Cummings said he hasn’t decided yet whether to subpoena Cohen.
Cohen acknowledged arranging hush money payments before the 2016 election to two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed affairs with Trump. Cohen has implicated the president in the payments, saying he made them at the direction of Trump.
Daniels encouraged Cohen in a tweet laced with profanities Wednesday to testify. Daniels had told “60 Minutes” news show in 2011 that she was threatened in a parking lot with her infant daughter when she was first considering selling her story about the alleged affair with Trump.
“This is your chance to be a hero!” Daniels said in her tweet.
The payments led in August to Cohen pleading guilty to a series of crimes, including campaign finance violations and tax evasion in the Southern District of New York.
Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress in the Mueller probe. He has cooperated heavily with Mueller’s team and sat down with investigators on seven different occasions, offering details that were “core” to the Russian investigation, according to a court filing by Mueller ahead of Cohen’s sentencing last month.
“My own weakness was blind loyalty to the man that caused me to choose the path of darkness,” Cohen said during his sentencing hearing in New York. “Time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.”
Cohen said during the hearing that he took “full responsibility” for the nine felonies to which he pleaded guilty – “the personal ones to me and those involving the president of the United States of America.”
Earlier this month, Cummings announced Cohen planned to appear voluntarily. Before Democrats took over leadership of the House, Cummings had repeatedly expressed his interest in obtaining Cohen’s testimony.
“Mr. Cohen wishes to thank Chairman Cummings for allowing him to appear before the House Oversight Committee and looks forward to testifying at the appropriate time,” Davis said.