With his ex-employer publicly attacking him on a regular basis, President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen is reported beginning to worry that the president’s attacks are putting his family in danger and is having second thoughts about testifying in an open session of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform next month as currently scheduled, a new report by ABC News indicates.
Cohen implicated the president as an unindicted co-conspirator in his guilty plea to felony campaign finance violations connected to his payouts — made at Trump’s personal direction, according to the lawyer’s plea — to two of Trump’s mistresses, adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, to silence them at a crucial point in his campaign when any additional scandal could have derailed his candidacy.
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“As the president continues to engage in what Cohen sees as reckless and unsubstantiated claims he believes are intended to intimidate him, Cohen has expressed to friends his concern that Trump’s heated rhetoric on television and Twitter could incite an unstable person to target him or his family.”
The network cites sources close to Cohen as saying that he is reconsidering whether a public hearing is in his own interest at this point, a factor that friends suggest may lead him to withdraw from his commitment to the voluntary testimony.
President Trump has been attacking Cohen relentlessly on Fox News and on Twitter in what many see as a reaction to the terror he feels over what Cohen may reveal publically before Special Counsel Robert Mueller issues his own report, a report which would include the Trump Organization fixer’s revelations from his secret grand jury testimony.
Cohen’s cooperation in the Mueller probe is separate from the campaign finance case which was prosecuted by the office of the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York.
Trump told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro that Michael Cohen was “weak’ and was merely lying to try to get a more lenient sentence. He also made a threat so thinly veiled that it could add another charge of obstruction of justice to the many incidents already under investigation by the Special Counsel’s office.
“[Cohen] should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that’s the one that people want to look at,” Trump told Pirro, going straight for Cohen’s jugular. “That’s the money in the family.”
Trump’s comment was particularly disturbing since no indication that Cohen’s father-in-law was the subject of any criminal inquiry has been made public to date.
“It’s an absolutely shocking violation of norms for the chief executive to suggest a retaliatory investigation against the relative of a witness against him,” former federal prosecutor Kenneth White said. “This is Nixonian ‘enemy list’ stuff, but instead of the public finding out about it through secret tapes and insiders, the president is saying it openly on TV.”
Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the new chairman of the House committee from which Cohen had last week accepted the invitation to speak before, condemned Trump for his threatening remarks.
“The integrity of our process to serve as an independent check on the Executive Branch must be respected by everyone, including the President,” Cummings wrote in a statement he issued jointly with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
“Our nation’s laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress. The President should make no statement or take any action to obstruct Congress’ independent oversight and investigative efforts, including by seeking to discourage any witness from testifying in response to a duly authorized request from Congress,” the Democratic Congressional leaders’ statement said.
Cohen defended himself against Trump’s accusations that his cooperation with prosecutors was solely self-serving in an interview earlier this month with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
“I did not do it to embarrass the president. He knows the truth. I know the truth, many people know the truth,” Cohen said. “Under no circumstances do I want to embarrass the president of the United States of America. The truth is, I told the truth. I took responsibility for my actions. And instead of him taking responsibility for his actions, what does he do? He attacks my family.”
Cohen surely knows Trump well enough after working for him for so many years that he understands how the president reacts when he’s cornered and fearful of losing everything.
Let’s hope that Cohen still has the courage to continue to disclose Trump’s dirty business dealings and criminal behavior to the public and thereby redeem himself for his own considerable misdeeds.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.
Original reporting by Eliana Larramendia and James Hill at ABC News