President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has now become a focus of the expanding congressional investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.
Cohen told ABC News on Tuesday that he was asked by House and Senate investigators “to provide information and testimony” regarding communication he has had with people connected to the Russian government.
“I declined the invitation to participate as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen said in an email.
After Cohen rejected the congressional requests for cooperation, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to grant the chairman, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, and ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, blanket authority to issue subpoenas as they deem necessary.
He was quoted in 2015 telling Daily Beast reporters “I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know … So I’m warning you, tread very f—ing lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting.”
In a 2016 appearance on CNN that went viral, the stone-faced attorney flashed anger when anchor Brianna Keiler said the Trump campaign was “down.”
“Says who?” Cohen challenged. When she cited polls, Cohen countered, “Which polls?” She replied, “All of them.” Cohen’s final response in that exchange proved prescient: “You’re going to all be very surprised when he polls substantially higher than what you all are giving him credit for.”
After the 2016 campaign, Cohen left The Trump Organization to become the president’s personal attorney, a job he still holds. From that post, Cohen has continued to weigh in on Trump’s behalf on Twitter and during occasional television appearances.
After Trump dismissed FBI Director James Comey, for example, Cohen tweeted: “I believe @POTUS was justified in terminating #Comey as @FBI director. #RT if you agree with me!”
— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) May 9, 2017
ABC News added:
“Cohen was also made a deputy national finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, a position that gives him some sway on how money will be allocated to Republican candidates. And in April, Cohen announced he had formed a “strategic alliance” with the powerful D.C. lobbying firm Patton Boggs, a firm whose clients include Russia’s third-largest bank, Gazprombank. The arrangement enabled Cohen to work out of Squire Patton Boggs’ offices in New York, Washington and London, according to the announcement.
The emergence of Cohen as a subject of the Senate probe brings renewed attention to a strident Trump advocate who had been named in the unverified dossier prepared by a former British intelligence agent during the 2016 campaign and provided by the FBI to Sen. John McCain, which contains a number of unconfirmed allegations that Cohen played a role in working with the Russians on the hack of the Democratic party during the campaign.”
In January, Cohen told ABC News the allegations in the dossier were “laughably false.”
“I don’t even think my father-in-law has ever been to Moscow,” Cohen told ABC News earlier this year. “I wonder who’s living in the dacha.”
Another suggestion in those documents — that Cohen supposedly met with the Russians in Prague last August — is also false, he said. Then-President-elect Trump pushed back against the claim in a wide-ranging news conference held in January, saying that he saw Cohen’s passport himself.
“I said, ‘I want to see your passport.’ He brings his passport to my office. I say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. He didn’t leave the country. He wasn’t out of the country.’ They had Michael Cohen of the Trump Organization was in Prague. It turned out to be a different Michael Cohen,” Trump said. “It’s a disgrace what took place. It’s a disgrace and I think they ought to apologize to start with Michael Cohen.”
Democrats in Congress have argued it is conceivable he entered Europe through another country. For instance, he was in Italy on vacation around the time the dossier alleges he was in Prague and his passport would not receive a stamp for crossing the border. However, no proof of any such trip has been produced.
“I’ve never actually walked the land in Prague,” Cohen told ABC News. “And last August I was not in Prague.”
So far, congressional investigators have identified four Trump campaign advisors as people of interest because of their interactions with Russian officials.
Reports in recent days have focused on Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, who reportedly sought in December to set up a backchannel line of communication between the Trump transition team and Moscow.
The Justice Department earlier this month named a special counsel to investigate Russian election meddling.