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Michael Cohen's lawyer was first to bring up pardon with Trump attorneys

Congress is examining the question of whether the White House used the promise of a pardon to induce Cohen to continue his false story, sources say.
Image: Michael Cohen,Stephen Ryan
Michael Cohen with his attorney, Stephen M. Ryan, on Oct. 24, 2017, after an interview with the House Intelligence Committee.Susan Walsh / AP

A lawyer for Michael Cohen first broached the idea of a pardon with President Donald Trump's legal team, two people familiar with the matter tell NBC News, and the ensuing pardon discussions are now under examination by House and Senate intelligence committees.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, first mentioned the idea of a pardon with the Trump legal team in the weeks after the April raid on Cohen’s home and office, and that the president’s lawyers, including Jay Sekulow, Rudy Giuliani and Joanna Hendon, dismissed the idea. But at least one of them, Giuliani, left open the possibility that the president could grant Cohen one in the future, the Journal reported.

NBC News spoke to three people, one of whom is familiar with what Cohen told the House and Senate intelligence committees, one of whom is familiar with Cohen’s account, and one of whom is familiar with the account of Trump’s legal team.

None of them disputed the Journal reporting. The sources familiar with Cohen's closed-door congressional testimony say there was more than one discussion about pardons, and that regardless of who initiated it, Congress is examining the question of whether the White House used the promise of a pardon to induce Cohen to continue his false story. The person close to Cohen said he was part of a joint defense agreement at the time and that he certainly would have accepted a pardon.

It’s not clear how serious the discussions were. No pardon was forthcoming, and Cohen eventually broke with Trump and said publicly he would not accept a pardon if offered.

Ryan, Cohen’s lawyer at the time, did not respond to a request for comment. Cohen spokesman Lanny Davis declined to comment, as did Trump lawyer Sekulow.

But Giuliani said: "I cannot discuss conversations with other counsel other than to say anyone who asked me about pardons I repeated what President has said that pardons would not be considered at this time."

Cohen is due to report to prison in early May for a three-year sentence. Last August, he pleaded guilty to eight charges, including lying to Congress about the timing of Trump Tower Moscow negotiations and paying hush money to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

Kristen Welker contributed.