WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic chairmen of two House committees pledged Friday to investigate a report that US President Donald Trump directed his personal attorney to lie to Congress about negotiations over a real estate project in Moscow during the 2016 election.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said “we will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.” He said the allegation that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie in his 2017 testimony to Congress “in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date.”
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, said directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime.
“The @HouseJudiciary Committee’s job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work,” Nadler tweeted.
The report by BuzzFeed News, citing two unnamed law enforcement officials, says that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress and that Cohen regularly briefed Trump and his family on the Moscow project — even as Trump said he had no business dealings with Russia.
The Associated Press has not independently confirmed the BuzzFeed report.
An adviser to Cohen, Lanny Davis, declined to comment on the substance of the article, saying that he and Cohen wouldn’t answer questions out of respect for special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Mueller is investigating Russia meddling in the election and contacts with the Trump campaign.
The BuzzFeed story says that Cohen told Mueller that Trump personally instructed him to lie about the timing of the project in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, scoffed at the report, saying in a statement, “If you believe Cohen I can get you a good all cash deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress in 2017 to cover up that he was negotiating the real estate deal in Moscow on Trump’s behalf during the heat of his presidential campaign. The charge was brought by Mueller and was the result of his cooperation with that probe.
Cohen was recently sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to tax crimes, bank fraud and campaign violations. He is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee February 7.
The report comes as House Democrats have promised a thorough look into Trump’s ties to Russia. Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has discouraged any talk of impeachment in the early days of her new majority, some senior Democrats said that if the BuzzFeed report is true, Trump’s actions could rise to that level.
“If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached,” tweeted Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, a member of the House intelligence panel.
Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted that if Trump directed Cohen to lie, “that is obstruction of justice. Period. Full stop.”
William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, said at his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that a president or anyone else who directs a witness to lie is illegally obstructing an investigation. That statement attracted attention given Barr’s expansive views of presidential powers and his belief that presidents can’t be scrutinized by prosecutors for acts the Constitution allows them to take.