WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen's testimony to Congress regarding any potential pardon for his crimes "could have been clearer," but he never personally asked the president for such a reprieve, Cohen's lawyer said.
In a statement to lawmakers on Tuesday, Cohen's legal team sought to clarify his recent testimony amid questions over whether Cohen sought, or Trump offered, a pardon to the man who once declared he would take a bullet for the Republican president but later flipped to cooperate with federal prosecutors.
Cohen, who is to report to prison in May for campaign finance crimes and previously lying to Congress, said at a public hearing before a U.S. House of Representatives panel last month, "I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from President Trump."
Trump himself challenged that claim. In a tweet on Friday, Trump said that Cohen "directly asked me for a pardon. I said NO. He lied again!" Cohen, in his own tweet, responded, calling the president's assertion "another set of lies."
On Wednesday, two Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which publicly questioned Cohen about possible pardons, asked Representative Elijah Cummings, the Democratic committee chairman, to join them in referring Cohen to the Justice Department for a possible perjury investigation.
Cummings said he did not "see the need for further action - at least at this time."
"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 in a statement.
In Tuesday's letter, an attorney for Cohen said his testimony about not seeking a pardon referred to the period after Cohen decided to break from Trump in June 2018 and left their joint defense agreement.
"Cohen rejected the opportunity to ask for and receive a pardon even though he knew he was going to prison with hardships to his family," Cohen lawyer Michael Monico said in the letter to the Oversight Committee.
Another attorney, Robert Costello, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that Cohen instructed him last year to ask Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani about the possibility of a pardon.
"We have documents to back our position up, and are preparing to provide these to the U.S. Attorney’s office, who has asked for them," Costello said in a statement to Reuters.
Giuliani told Reuters last week that Costello called him around May 2018 and said, "Cohen has asked me to raise with you, can he get a pardon?"
"I told him, no, you’re not going to get a pardon," Giuliani said, adding that at one point Costello told him "Cohen was upset, but he never asked again about a pardon."
Lanny Davis, another Cohen lawyer, said later on Wednesday that "Mr. Cohen’s testimony was truthful. The letter provided greater time frame context for that testimony."
Davis complained that Oversight Committee Republicans had never "mentioned the hush money checks signed by President Trump, proving that the president committed a felony as part of the Stormy Daniels illegal hush money scheme" and questioned why Representative Jim Jordan, one of Trump's most avid defenders on the committee, had ignored this.
Cohen has met with congressional committees four times since being sentenced, including a televised Feb. 27 hearing led by Cummings.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Mark Hosenball; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Paul Simao and Leslie Adler)