President Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen is on Capitol Hill Tuesday, speaking behind closed doors. He will publicly testify Wednesday in a highly anticipated hearing, before his three-year prison term begins in May.
Cohen has pleaded guilty to a number of crimes including campaign finance violations connected to hush money payments to women who say they had affairs with Trump before the 2016 election.
What could Cohen’s testimony reveal?
Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan and a former U.S. attorney appointed by President Obama, says she expects most of the key information from Cohen to emerge in his closed-door interviews Tuesday and Thursday before the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, respectively, because the committees are permitted to ask about the ongoing Russia investigation.
“But even in the open hearing [Wednesday] that is before the [House] Oversight Committee … I think there could still be some very interesting questions relating to the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, whether President Trump did indeed direct him to make those payments, any coordination with President Trump and also bigger-picture issues about President Trump’s finances,” McQuade tells Here & Now‘s Eric Westervelt (@Ericnpr).
Wednesday’s testimony could yield new revelations about alleged criminal conduct, like money laundering with Russians, along with “why the president is so guarded about his tax returns,” McQuade says. There are also reports Cohen may talk about Trump’s alleged use of racist language.
But Cohen faces significant questions about his credibility. President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has called Cohen a convicted criminal and a liar, and Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. In a statement Tuesday, the White House dismissed Cohen’s allegations.
McQuade says while it’s certainly fair to be skeptical, Cohen can address that skepticism head-on by presenting objective documents that corroborate his statements. “The documents might speak more loudly than Mr. Cohen,” she says.
“I also think that he can say that, at this point, he has nothing left to hide: He has pleaded guilty. His previous lies to Congress were to protect people in the administration,” McQuade says. “He doesn’t have any motive anymore, other than to sort of clear his own name.”
Another element may cause Cohen to be cautious as he navigates lawmakers’ questions Wednesday, McQuade says: special counsel Robert Mueller.
“He has probably talked with Robert Mueller and his team — who by the way cannot prohibit Michael Cohen from answering these questions, but they might counsel him that, ‘It doesn’t help our investigation for you to publicly disclose certain facts that we’re investigating, because it tips off other people who might be under investigation.’ And so that will be a really interesting dynamic to watch.
“It could be — and I think it’s likely — that Michael Cohen will decline to answer some of the questions that he knows that either Mueller and his team or the Southern District of New York are looking at. The Democrats probably don’t want to do anything to damage those investigations, and the Republicans are probably reluctant to have them just come out and smear the president,” she says.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.