Invoking Watergate, Cummings Wants Cohen to Testify Before Congress

• December 16, 2018 3:06 pm


Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) said Sunday he hopes President Donald Trump’s longtime attorney will testify before Congress and share his story with the American people.

Speaking with Jake Tapper on CNN’s "State of the Union," Cummings expressed hope that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, would provide the public more information about potential wrongdoing in Trump’s campaign in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

"I am hoping that Mr. Cohen will come before the Congress," Cummings said. He hopes Cohen "can tell the American public exactly what he has been saying to [special counsel Robert] Mueller and others without interfering with the Mueller investigation."

Cohen previously served as executive vice president and special counsel to Trump’s organization. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty in November to lying to Congress concerning communications with the Russian government and planned travel to Russia concerning a proposed Trump tower in Moscow.

Cummings is set to chair the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform when Democrats retake control of the House in 2019. He assumed ranking member status on the committee after Rep. Edolphus Towns (D., N.Y.) declined the position in December 2010.

Though he acknowledged he had asked for dozens of subpoenas while serving as ranking member on the committee, Cummings told Tapper that Congress needed to direct its efforts to the most urgent issues. "Of those 64, there's so many, Jake, so many issues we brought up that would normally come up whether the president was Republican or Democrat, but there's so many," he said. Of those, "we have to have to pull some aside and deal with the ones that are most urgent," he added.

Cummings hopes Cohen will freely choose to testify before Congress in January, in a fashion akin to John Dean’s 1973 testimony that took down President Richard Nixon. "Remember John Dean with regard to the Nixon tapes and the testimony that he provided? He changed the course of America," Cummings said. "I think surely Mr. Cohen should come forward and let us know what he has on his mind."

Dean served as Nixon’s White House counsel during the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up. He correctly suspected that Nixon had recorded their conversations, hoping to escape culpability for the scandal.  After Dean admitted to shredding files and facilitating payments to those charged with the break-in, he shared his knowledge with prosecutors, prompting the Supreme Court to order the White House to turn over Nixon’s incriminating tapes.

Cohen has shared a number of private recordings between him and Trump concerning payments for women alleging improper sexual relations with Trump. Trump denied involvement in payments to Stormy Daniels and others. Experts disagree on whether the payments constituted an improper campaign expenditure.

Tapper asked Cummings about his earlier comments about Trump’s payments constituting an impeachable offense, and whether that means the House should proceed with articles of impeachment against Trump.

Cummings demurred. He agreed that the evidence against the president was "certainly powerful enough," but thought acting now would be "premature." He suggested instead that the special counsel have the time to finish his report. "Our major thing right now is to let Mr. Mueller, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for, do his job," he said. "Then we take a look at what he says and go from there."

Cummings told Tapper he "definitely" agreed with Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) that the president ought to be indicted when appropriate. Currently, Department of Justice guidelines are of the view that a sitting president cannot be indicted. "We should always reconsider laws and regulations," he said. "This is one we definitely should reconsider."

Some Democrats, like Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.) have strongly opposed rushing towards impeachment. Others, like Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) and billionaire mega-donor and 2020 presidential hopeful Tom Steyer have thrown their support behind immediate impeachment.