Michael Cohen to testify publicly before House panel in early February

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen has agreed to testify in a public hearing next month before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, panel Democrats announced Thursday.

Cohen agreed to the Feb. 7 appearance voluntarily, committee chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said in statement.

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"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," Cummings said, promising that the panel would announce more information about the hearing in the coming weeks. Special counsel Robert Mueller III is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether anyone in Trump's campaign participated in those efforts.

Cohen was sentenced last month to three years in prison for financial crimes and lying to Congress about work he did on behalf of President Trump before he took office. At his sentencing, Cohen said that had felt a "blind loyalty" to Trump that compelled him to cover up his former client's "dirty deeds," and that he was sorry to have done it. Cohen promised to continue to cooperate with Mueller's investigation.

Democratic lawmakers have wanted to call Cohen back to Capitol Hill since the special counsel determined Cohen lied during his previous testimony - lies that formed at least part of the foundation of a controversial investigative report that House Intelligence Committee Republicans released last year, concluding there was no evidence of links between Trump's campaign and Russian officials.

On Thursday, Cohen said in a statement that he had accepted Cummings' invitation to testify "in furtherance of my commitment to cooperate and provide the American people with answers."

"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," he continued in the statement.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who sits on the oversight panel, accused Democrats Thursday of making "a political decision, not an oversight decision" in calling Cohen to testify.

"Democrats complained about every single witness we called before the task force for 18 months almost, saying that we shouldn't interfere with the Mueller investigation until it's complete," Meadows said, referring to the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees' joint investigation of FBI and Justice Department officials' conduct during their probes of Trump and Hillary Clinton.

"Right out of the bat, the very first witness they want to call is Michael Cohen, because they think it supports their narrative," Meadows continued. "If we're going to bring in Michael Cohen, let's bring in Rod Rosenstein."

Before they lost the majority, House Republicans had wanted to interview Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, about reports he suggested secretly recording Trump in an attempt to remove the president from office. A session with the leaders of the Judiciary and Oversight panels was organized, but later canceled and never rescheduled.

Rosenstein is expected to depart the administration if Trump's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, is confirmed.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a statement Thursday that he welcomed Cohen's upcoming public testimony, but added that Cohen would need to speak to lawmakers in a private setting as well.

"Mr. Cohen has expressed an interest in telling his personal story in open session, and we welcome his testimony before the Committee on Oversight and Reform," he said. "It will be necessary, however, for Mr. Cohen to answer questions pertaining to the Russia investigation, and we hope to schedule a closed session before our committee in the near future."

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