WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and one-time “fixer” 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 reports 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 investigation.
But 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 defence 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.
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 and Paul Simao)