The Slatest

Michael Cohen Cancels Testimony Before Congress Citing “Ongoing Threats Against His Family” by Trump and Giuliani

President Trump speaks with conservative leaders at the White House on January 23, 2019.
President Trump and Giuliani’s offensive could amount to witness tampering.
MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen canceled his scheduled testimony before Congress next month citing what he took to be threats against his family by President Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Cohen was scheduled to appear voluntarily before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7th in what was lining up to be a blockbuster appearance by the former Trump insider who has been cooperating with the Mueller investigation. Given Cohen’s proximity to Trump and his years of service as his personal lawyer, the president’s former fixer presented a potentially existential threat to the Trump presidency. Trump and Giuliani have countered by calling into question Cohen’s character—which, fair enough—saying he was lying to get a lighter sentence, as well as making oblique references to Cohen’s family members.

“Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani, as recently as this weekend, as well as Mr. Cohen’s continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel, Mr. Cohen’s appearance will be postponed to a later date,” Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis said in a statement Wednesday. “This is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Giuliani over the weekend if such threats amounted to witness tampering or obstruction of justice. “We are so distorting the system of justice just to get Donald Trump, it’s going to hurt us so much,” Giuliani responded. Tapper followed up by asking if targeting Cohen’s father-in-law was within bounds. “It is, if the father-in-law is a criminal,” Giuliani responded. Legal experts, however, disagree with Giuliani’s interpretation of the law. “The statements by Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani, who have accused Mr. Cohen of lying to get a reduced sentence, would most likely amount to sufficient evidence of witness tampering, according to legal experts, though they cautioned that prosecutors would bring such a case only if they viewed the tampering as part of a larger pattern of obstructive behavior,” the New York Times reports. “And a longstanding Justice Department view has held that a sitting president cannot be indicted.”

The indefinite delay has put Democrats looking to publicly air Trump’s misdeeds in a bind as Cohen is scheduled to report to prison on March 6th to begin serving his three-year sentence. House Democrats could subpoena Cohen in order to compel his testimony before or after he reports to prison, though questions remain about what Cohen will be willing and able to divulge in his testimony. “[Cohen] has said he does not want to be the ‘villain’ of the Trump presidency and had originally pledged to give “a full and credible account” of his work for Mr. Trump to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, though lawmakers had warned that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, would most likely keep him from discussing matters related to Russia.”