WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s lawyer will return to Capitol Hill for a public hearing next month after the Senate intelligence committee abruptly canceled a closed-door staff interview Tuesday morning.
Committee leaders said they called off the interview after Michael Cohen sent a public opening statement to the media just as the meeting was about to start. Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and the panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, issued a sharp statement saying the panel had asked Cohen to “refrain from public comment” and that they would request he return — this time for a public hearing.
“We declined to move forward with today’s interview and will reschedule Mr. Cohen’s appearance before the committee in open session at a date in the near future,” Burr and Warner said in the statement. “The committee expects witnesses in this investigation to work in good faith with the Senate.”
Later in the day, the committee scheduled the public hearing for Oct. 25. Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, said Cohen had accepted the invitation.
The Senate intelligence committee is one of several congressional panels investigating Russia’s interference in the presidential race and potential ties to the Trump campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators are conducting their own criminal investigation.
Burr and Warner said the committee changed its rules after Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, publicly released his 11-page prepared remarks to the panel ahead of his own closed-door interview with the panel. That interview went forward with Kushner answering questions for several hours.
Burr said the committee doesn’t want witnesses to release in public what they are saying behind closed doors.
“We’ve changed the agreement that we have with people since Jared Kushner was in, and this is the model we’ll follow,” he said.
Cohen’s lawyer said they issued the public statement because the meeting had been leaked to the press.
Cohen stayed in the committee’s offices about an hour and a half before emerging and telling reporters that the committee had decided to “postpone” his interview. His interview had been expected to focus at least in part on a discussion to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow right as the presidential campaign was unfolding, a real estate deal he disclosed last month in a statement to congressional investigators. In a prepared statement obtained by The Associated Press ahead of his appearance, Cohen said that the proposal was abandoned before the first Republican primaries and was “solely a real estate deal and nothing more.”
After leaving the committee’s offices, Cohen attorney Ryan said the “statement was factual, it was accurate, and we stand behind that statement.” Ryan said that Cohen still intends to voluntarily cooperate with the committee as well as its counterpart in the House, which is carrying out a similar investigation.
Cohen spoke briefly, saying “I’ll be back.”
In his statement last month, Cohen said he had worked on the Moscow real estate proposal with Felix Sater, a Russian-born associate who Cohen said had claimed to have deep connections to Moscow. Cohen also has said that he emailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary after Sater suggested that the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government.
The discussions about the potential development occurred in the fall of 2015, months after Trump had declared his candidacy, and ended early last year when Cohen determined that the project was not feasible.
In his statement Tuesday, Cohen said the proposal was “solely a real estate deal and nothing more.”
“I was doing my job,” he added.
The Trump Organization has previously said that the licensing deal “was not significantly advanced” and that no site or financing materialized during the negotiations.
Cohen also denounced allegations from a dossier produced by an opposition research firm, calling the document “lie-filled” and fabricated. He said he had never discussed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else a plan to hack into email accounts or to interfere with the election.
“Given my own proximity to the President of the United States as a candidate, let me also say that I never saw anything — not a hint of anything — that demonstrated his involvement in Russian interference in our election or any form of Russian collusion.”
Associated Press writer Chad Day contributed to this report.