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House Intelligence Committee Prepares To Hear Michael Cohen Testimony


We're going to spend a good part of the program today looking ahead to some important events coming up this week, and we'll start with that long-awaited testimony on Capitol Hill by President Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Tuesday, Cohen is scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The following day, he is to testify in a public session before the House Oversight and Reform Committee and Thursday in closed session before the House Intelligence Committee. One of the Democrats on that panel, Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, is with us now.

Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.

JIM HIMES: Happy to be here.

MARTIN: What does the House Intelligence Committee want to learn from Michael Cohen? We know that he'll be testifying before some other committees, but what does your committee want to learn?

HIMES: Well, remember Michael Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison for lying to our committee. And so (laughter), of course, the first thing we'll want to do is go back and look at the questions that he felt the need to be dishonest about and ask them again - and then, of course, explore why he felt he needed to be dishonest about that. Now, a lot of it, of course, had to do with Trump Tower Moscow. My guess is that the special counsel has probably looked into that in a lot of detail. But, you know, we're going to, I think, learn a lot more about that.

MARTIN: Well, as you noted, he's pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in previous testimony. Do you have confidence that what you're going to hear is truthful now?

HIMES: Well, of course, that will be what Republicans say constantly when he gives his testimony. Because you can bet when he gives his open testimony, here's a guy who has nothing to lose. You know, he's already going to prison. He did cooperate, we believe, obviously, truthfully with the special counsel. Otherwise, he might have wound up like Paul Manafort, who did not testify and work constructively with the special counsel. So he doesn't have a lot to lose.

And, of course, he's got every incentive, having been attacked by the president over and over again, having been called a rat, having really been humiliated by the president - my guess is that he's going to come clean about what he knows about the president's business practices, you know, what he saw.

MARTIN: I'm still trying to understand what it is that you hope to learn in the committee. Like, what do you hope is the sort of the goal of having Michael Cohen testify? What do you think's going to happen on Thursday that will advance what it is that everyone's trying to find out?

HIMES: I think what's useful to remember is how the congressional investigations are different from Bob Mueller's investigation. Bob Mueller's investigation is under the auspices of the Department of Justice. He has all of the tools available to him that any investigation would have - grand jury, subpoenas, that sort of thing. So Bob Mueller is really about identifying whether anybody anywhere committed a crime.

That's not where the two congressional committees are focused. We as intelligence committees, of course, are focused on, what is the Russian nexus? You know, how did Russia not just hack into servers at the DNC and, you know, reach out to George Papadopoulos, but what else did Russia do? It's up to the Congress to really paint a picture to the American people of what the Russians did to compromise the election of 2016.

So to your question about Michael Cohen, I think we need to understand from him any other possible contact he might have had with Russia, what he knows, who he talked to and what was said with respect to this Moscow tower. Because you know that the Kremlin - when Donald Trump is running for president, and the Kremlin knows that he wants to build a big tower in Moscow, you know that they probably thought hard about that and probably sent people to have contact with Trump's people. So it's really that - you know, Russia-centered questions that the Congress needs to focus on.

MARTIN: So finally, your committee chairman, Adam Schiff, said today that House Democrats will subpoena special counsel Mueller's report if necessary. Now, the new attorney general, William Barr, has said he wants to be as transparent as possible. But also, under the special counsel regulations, a report that goes public would be a report by the attorney general. So he gets the report, and then he decides, I assume, what becomes public. So, at the end of the day, how much of the special counsel's findings do you expect to see and do you think we in the public will actually see?

HIMES: Well, we really are going to hold the attorney general to his pledge to make as much of it public as possible. Now, there's two concerns that are real concerns. We don't want, you know, any sources or methods or investigative sources or methods compromised. Fair enough. And it is the tradition of the Department of Justice, of course, to protect people who might have been investigated but who aren't being charged. Fair enough. Those are problems, I think, that are solvable.

What is essential is that because the Mueller investigation has consumed American politics because we have been treated to something unimaginable three years ago, which is the president the United States throwing mud on a man of the stature and the integrity of Bob Mueller and the Department of Justice and the FBI and the CIA, the only way we get out of this awful political moment where the DOJ and the FBI and Bob Mueller have been dragged through the mud is for us to see the work product and for the American people to have the catharsis, if you will, of knowing the truth.

So you can bet, just as Adam Schiff said today, that we will lean as representatives of the American public very heavily into making sure that the truth, whatever it may be - whether it exonerates Donald Trump or not that that truth gets out there for the American people to examine.

MARTIN: That's Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He represents Connecticut's 4th District, and he sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Congressman Himes, thank you so much for talking to us.

HIMES: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.