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Michael Cohen, former Trump lawyer, agrees to give open testimony in Congress

U.S. President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen will testify in Congress on Feb. 7, according to a schedule released Thursday by the House of Representatives oversight and government reform committee, now led by Democrats.

“I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired,” Cohen said in a statement.

It promises to be a contentious hearing. Cohen has already pleaded guilty to previously making false statements to Congress, in 2017 to a Senate intelligence committee about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Cohen, 52, also pleaded guilty to eight separate counts, including campaign finance violations, that he said were carried out at the direction of Trump.

The session will come just under a month before he is due to turn himself in for a three-year prison sentence.

Former U.S. federal prosecutor Roland Riopelle called it “a very frightening development” for Trump. Riopelle told CBC News the hearing will be a full airing of the hush money payments handled by Cohen and other, potential revelations about Trump’s businesses.

“Mr. Cohen knows where a good many of the bodies were buried during the Trump campaign,” Riopelle said. “That’s all now going to come out in the wide open air. And much of it has been blacked out in the court documents, so far.”

Cohen said he secretly used shell companies to make payments of $150,000 US and $130,000, respectively, to silence former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stormy Daniels for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election.

The women have claimed they had affairs with Trump after the real estate mogul married his third wife, Melania.

Trump said Thursday, during his trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, he’s “not worried about it at all” about the news Cohen will testify.

BREAKING:Chairman <a href=”https://twitter.com/RepCummings?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@RepCummings</a> announces schedule of Oversight Committee hearings. Click here for more. <a href=”https://t.co/vqpc7dwdNP”>https://t.co/vqpc7dwdNP</a>

&mdash;@OversightDems

Trump previously called Cohen “a weak person” and accused him of arranging the payments of his own accord.

Cohen, in an interview with ABC News in December, scoffed at that assertion.

Cohen said Trump directed him to make the payments because of concern about how they might affect the election campaign, adding that, “nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump.”

Cohen said a misplaced sense of loyalty led him to break the law for Trump.

Trump and his backers also tried to downplay the payments, calling them a “simple private transaction,” even though they could run foul of campaign finance laws.

Democrats promise more oversight

The Democrats in the House have promised more oversight into the dealings of the Trump presidential campaign and administration, after investigations in the body over the role of Russian interference descended into partisan bickering during the first two years of Trump’s term.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is also investigating “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated” with the Trump campaign.

At Cohen’s sentencing hearing in December, a prosecutor in Mueller’s office said Cohen “has provided consistent and credible information about core Russia-related issues under investigation” without elaborating.

Committee chair Elijah Cummings of Maryland thanked Cohen for agreeing to appear in a statement on Thursday.

Cohen ‘provided consistent and credible information’ to the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia led by special counsel Robert Mueller, seen here, according to a prosecutor in Mueller’s office. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

“I want to make clear that we have no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations, and to that end, we are in the process of consulting with special counsel Mueller’s office,” said Cummings. “The committee will announce additional information in the coming weeks.”

Cohen is among a number of people in Trump’s orbit who have pleaded guilty to criminal charges. The list also includes his former presidential campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s colleague, Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos,

The president has assailed the various investigations, while Russia has denied trying to interfere in the 2016 election for the purposes of sowing discord and improving Trump’s prospects. Trump said the potential Moscow project was well documented, and he emphasized that the plan was abandoned. But the voters weren’t fully aware of its existence.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the new chairman of the oversight and government reform committee, thanked Cohen for agreeing to testify. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

On the subject of the payments, Trump insisted he only found out about them after they were made, despite the release of a 2016 recorded conversation in which Trump and Cohen can be heard discussing a deal to pay McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair.

At the time of Cohen’s sentencing, federal authorities announced a deal not to prosecute American Media Inc. The parent company of the National Enquirer acknowledged making the $150,000 payment to McDougal “in concert” with the Trump campaign.

As part of the deal, AMI admitted making the McDougal payment to buy her silence about the alleged affair and fend off damage to Trump’s candidacy.

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