WASHINGTON — Senate investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election canceled an interview on Tuesday with longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen because they believe Cohen broke an agreement by speaking with the media.
The Senate Intelligence Committee will now subpoena Cohen, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News.
By mutual agreement, according to the source, neither lawmakers nor Cohen's camp were to speak to reporters about the testimony. Committee staffers were upset when Cohen circulated a statement prior to the meeting that included a blanket denial of collusion with Russia.
Cohen, who served as executive vice president and special counsel at the Trump Organization and continues to serve as the president's personal attorney, was scheduled to speak with professional staff of the committee in a private meeting. Cohen confirmed to NBC News this weekend that he would appear before the committee. This spring he had said he would only offer testimony if subpoenaed.
The committee intended to pursue several lines of questioning with Cohen, according to congressional sources, with the goal of putting him on the record on key topics that have drawn scrutiny during the investigation, including potential direct contacts between Trump associates and people with close ties to the Kremlin. Cohen would not have been testifying under oath, but federal statute makes any misleading or false testimony to Congress subject to criminal penalty.
According to a statement obtained by NBC News, Cohen planned to deny any personal role in Russia's involvement in the election, and say his reputation had been damaged by the "entirely and totally false" accusations in the "lie-filled dossier" about Trump that was prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele.
"I was doing my job."
"I have never engaged with, been paid by, paid for, or conversed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else to hack Democratic Party computers; and I have never engaged with, been paid by, paid for, or conversed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else to create fake news stories to assist the Trump campaign or to damage the Clinton campaign," Cohen said in the statement.
Cohen also said he "never saw anything — not a hint of anything" that would suggest Trump was involved in collusion with Russian officials.
Cohen was mentioned by name in Steele's dossier on Trump, which alleged Cohen attended a secret meeting in Prague in August 2016 to discuss Russia's hacking of Democratic targets. Cohen has adamantly denied attending such a meeting, and his attorney called the allegations "wholly unsubstantiated" and even "libelous" in a letter to leaders of the House Intelligence Committee in August.
Committee staff would also like to ask Cohen about emails he received in 2015 from Felix Sater, a former Trump associate with a criminal past, about a potential deal to open a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. Some of the emails were published by The New York Times in August.
Cohen downplayed conversations about building a Trump Tower in Moscow, calling it "a real estate deal and nothing more."
"I was doing my job," he said in his statement.
Cohen has acknowledged he met with Sater, a former FBI and CIA informant who served prison time for stabbing a man in the face with a broken glass during a Manhattan bar fight and who is also a member of the Ukrainian Parliament. The meeting reportedly involved discussion of a peace plan for Ukraine that would end the sanctions imposed on Russia because of its incursions there. Cohen denies discussing the topic.
Cohen could also offer investigators broad insight into the inner workings of Trump's real estate dealings that could guide the committee as it hears testimony from other witnesses.