By MICHAEL BALSAMO and MICHAEL R. SISAK Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s advisers dangled the possibility of a pardon for his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen last year, Cohen’s attorney said Thursday, as congressional investigators zero in on the president’s pardon power.
The issue of pardons has emerged as a key line of inquiry as Democrats launch a series of sweeping investigations into Trump’s political and personal dealings.
Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, said in a written statement Thursday that his client was “open to the ongoing ‘dangling’ of a possible pardon by Trump representatives privately and in the media” in the months after the FBI raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room in April 2018.
Davis, who was not Cohen’s lawyer at the time, said Cohen “directed his attorney” to explore a possible pardon with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others on Trump’s legal team. The statement appears to contradict Cohen’s sworn testimony last week at a House Oversight Committee hearing that he had never asked for, and would not accept, a pardon from Trump.
Davis’ comment raises questions about whether Cohen — who is slated to begin a three-year prison sentence in May for crimes including lying to Congress — lied to Congress again last week. Giuliani seized on Davis’ statement and called Cohen a “serial liar.”
“Let’s hope Congress and DOJ are outraged at Cohen’s disrespecting them by perjuring himself repeatedly,” Giuliani said.
There is nothing inherently improper about a subject in a criminal investigation seeking a pardon from a president given the president’s wide latitude in granting them. But investigators want to know if the prospect of presidential pardons were somehow offered or used inappropriately.
The House Judiciary Committee, which is conducting a probe into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power, sent letters to the FBI, the Justice Department and others for documents related to possible pardons for Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. All three have been charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.
Giuliani said in June that the president might pardon Manafort and others who were ensnared in the Russia investigation if he believed they were treated “unfairly.” But, he said, that would happen only after Mueller’s work wraps up.
“The president is not going to issue pardons in this investigation,” Giuliani said. “Because you just cloud what is becoming now a very clear picture of an extremely unfair investigation with no criminality involved in it of any kind.”
But, he added, “When it’s over, hey, he’s the president of the United States. He retains his pardon power. Nobody is taking that away from him. He can pardon, in his judgment.”
Cohen has become a key figure in congressional investigations since turning on his former boss and cooperating with the special counsel. During last week’s public testimony, he called Trump a con man, a cheat and a racist.
Trump, in turn, has said Cohen “did bad things unrelated to Trump” and “is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
In his statement on Thursday, Davis tried to downplay the contradiction between his statement and Cohen’s testimony. He said when he was brought on to Cohen’s legal team in June, his client “authorized me as a new lawyer to say publicly Mr. Cohen would never accept a pardon from President Trump even if offered.”
“That continues to be the case,” Davis said. “And his statement at the Oversight Hearing was true — and consistent with his post joint defense agreement commitment to tell the truth.”
Davis did not immediately respond Thursday to text messages and emails seeking additional information.
Cohen is headed to prison in May after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, lying to Congress and other crimes.
Federal prosecutors have said Trump directed Cohen to arrange payments to buy the silence of two women — porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — who had alleged they had sex with Trump. Trump has denied having an affair.
Cohen also admitted that he lied to Congress about the duration of negotiations in 2016 over a Trump real estate project in Moscow.
Sisak reported from New York.