Michael Cohen ‘could have been clearer’ on pardon talks, attorney says

Christal Hayes

WASHINGTON — An attorney for Michael Cohen sent a letter to members of Congress on Tuesday addressing concerns he may have committed perjury when discussing a possible pardon by President Donald Trump.

The letter says Cohen, who served as Trump’s former fixer and personal attorney, “could have been clearer” when discussing whether a pardon was ever on the table during his legal woes. 

Cohen, during his public testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Committee last month, said: “I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from President Trump.”

Since that testimony in late February, Cohen’s attorneys admitted that he directed his former lawyer to explore the possibility of a pardon when Cohen was part of a joint defense agreement. 

On Tuesday, one of Cohen's current attorneys, Michael Monico, clarified the remarks but largely stood by Cohen's original statements. 

“In retrospect, while the sentence could have been clearer regarding the time frames, the sentence is true, and Mr. Cohen stands by his statement," the letter reads. 

Monico explains that Cohen's statement was "in the context" of Cohen's decision to leave the joint defense agreement in June 2018, when Cohen started the process of cooperating with federal prosecutors. 

"At no time did Mr. Cohen personally ask President Trump for a pardon or did the President offer Mr. Cohen the same," Monico writes in the letter. "In retrospect, the above sentence in his testimony could have been clearer and more complete regarding the distinction between the pre-JDA and post-JDA time periods." 

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The explanation was not enough for Republicans, who have called for the Justice Department to again investigate whether Cohen lied.

On Wednesday, Oversight Committee Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Mark Meadows, R-N.C., asked Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, who heads the committee, to join them in referring Cohen to federal authorities on allegations of perjury. They had previously sent a 30-page letter to Attorney General William Barr in which they referred Cohen for investigation on perjury charges, alleging he made false statements to "make himself look better on a national stage." 

"Cohen's denial of ever seeking a pardon, which he made during his carefully crafted opening statement, contained no qualifiers about the context of his statement," the letter reads. "It did not restrict his denial to the period after Cohen left the joint defense agreement. In fact, there is no mention whatsoever in Cohen's prepared testimony about the joint defense agreement. Simply put, Cohen's denial of ever seeking a pardon, as uttered under oath in his testimony, was absolute and unequivocal." 

The two Republicans continued, saying, the House "cannot stand idly by when a witness comes to a hearing, swears an oath to testify truthfully, and provides material testimony that appears on its face to be demonstrably false."

But, Cummings, in a statement to Axios, said he was satisfied with Cohen's explanation in the letter but said he would review statements Cohen made to other congressional committees once they were available. 

"Our practice on this Committee is to give witnesses an opportunity to clarify their testimony, and that is what Mr. Cohen has done," Cummings said. "I do not see the need for further action—at least at this time."

It wasn't only members of Congress attacking Cohen. The president also chimed in with a series of tweets, accusing Cohen of lying to Congress, only months after pleading guilty to lying to Congress about a Trump Tower deal in Moscow. Cohen will begin serving a three-year prison term in May.

"He directly asked me for a pardon. I said NO. He lied again!" Trump tweeted last week. "He also badly wanted to work at the White House. He lied!"

Cohen replied on Twitter, calling Trump a liar

"Just another set of lies by @POTUS @realdonaldtrump," he tweeted.

Another of Cohen's attorneys, Lanny Davis, said in a statement after Cohen's testimony that his client was willing to explore a pardon but that ended when Cohen pulled out of the agreement.

Davis said Cohen "directed his attorney to explore possibilities of a pardon at one point with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani as well as other lawyers advising President Trump." 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michael Cohen ‘could have been clearer’ on pardon talks, attorney says