Senate investigators postpone meeting with Trump’s lawyer

19 Sep

Senate investigators postponed their scheduled meeting with Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and longtime confidant Michael Cohen in the ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election on Tuesday.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., released a statement after the meeting came to an early and abrupt end, chastising Cohen releasing his own statement ahead of the interview.

“We were disappointed that Mr. Cohen decided to pre-empt today’s interview by releasing a public statement prior to his engagement with Committee staff, in spite of the Committee’s requests that he refrain from public comment,” the statement reads. “As a result, we declined to move forward with today’s interview and will reschedule Mr. Cohen’s appearance before the Committee in open session at a date in the near future. The Committee expects witnesses in this investigation to work in good faith with the Senate.”

As he left the meeting, Cohen said he plans to return and looks forward to cooperating with Congress.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is one of at least four congressional committees looking into aspects of suspected Russian interference in the election. The committee has studied classified documents and quietly interviewed dozens of officials involved in the 2016 campaign, with the goal of documenting any foreign interference in order to prevent similar episodes from occurring.

In a statement released on his attorney’s website ahead of the meeting, Cohen forcefully denied engaging with any Russian government officials “to hack anyone or any organization” or “hack or interfere with the election” and asked the panel to verify or deny the charges made against Cohen in the infamous dossier of unverified allegations against Trump produced by Fusion GPS.

Of Trump, Cohen said he “never saw anything – not a hint of anything – that demonstrated his involvement in Russian interference in our election or any form of Russian collusion.”

One of the few people trusted with the secrets of the President’s business and personal life, Cohen was deeply involved in negotiations over a once-confidential proposal to build Trump Tower Moscow in late 2015 and early 2016. Documents obtained by ABC News show the plan involved building what was to be the tallest skyscraper in the world.

Trump personally signed a non-binding letter of intent with a Russian developer to build the tower, a deal that would have included a $4 million initial payment to Trump had it gone forward, and 5 percent of the initial sales. Cohen said he nixed the proposal in January 2016.

Trump has repeatedly said that his company has “nothing to do with Russia,” but Cohen’s correspondence with Congress has painted a more nuanced picture of the mogul’s interests in the region. Specifically, he has said the potentially-lucrative Russian business deal being floated in the midst of the campaign had nothing to do with Trump’s political ambitions.

“The Trump Tower Moscow proposal was not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign,” Cohen said in a written statement to Congress made public last month. “Both I and the Trump Organization were evaluating this proposal and many others from solely a business standpoint, and rejected going forward on that basis.”

Sen. Warner, the committee’s top Democrat, told ABC News he is concerned about the apparent discrepancy between Trump’s public statements about having never engaged in Russian business activity and the negotiations Cohen oversaw with a Russian developer.

“Clearly if you believe the reports about Mr. Cohen and the effort to try to create Trump Tower Moscow, to me, that’s a relevant piece of information,” Warner said. “It would contradict some of the statements that were made earlier, that there [was] no connection.”

Cohen used a Russian-born middleman with a criminal record, Felix Sater, to broker the deal. Email correspondence shared with congressional investigators suggests that, even if Cohen saw no link between the business dealings and Trump’s political ambitions, Sater had other ideas.

In one e-mail to Cohen, Sater wrote, “Buddy, our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”

Cohen has said he briefed then-candidate Trump at least three times about the Moscow Tower deal but ultimately abandoned the project because of difficulties obtaining financing, a location, and the much-needed government approvals.

“Obviously he has been involved in so many areas of the president’s business. It’s not even clear to me … where the lines are drawn between one area or another,” Ron Wyden, D-Ore., another member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told ABC News. “It’s crucial that we get a chance to look at some of the issues.”

Of the Trump Tower Moscow deal that he was involved in, Cohen said in his statement that it was “solely a real estate deal and nothing more.”

“I was doing my job,” he said.

ABC News’ Ben Siegel, Trish Turner and Cho Park contributed to this report.