Is Michael Cohen the First Person to Testify Before Congress After Being Convicted of Lying to Congress?

It depends on how you define "lying to Congress."
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on
Michael Cohen, former attorney for President Donald Trump, testifies before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Capitol Hill on February 27th, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

Michael Cohen, former attorney for President Donald Trump, testifies before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Capitol Hill on February 27th, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

In a memorable moment during the testimony of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, on Wednesday, Representative Jody Hice (R-Georgia) congratulated Cohen for being the first person in the history of Congress to testify who has already been convicted of lying to Congress.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to deliberately making a false statement to Congress regarding the timing of a proposed project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen was officially disbarred on Tuesday for his felony conviction, which included lying to Congress, tax fraud, breaking campaign finance laws, and making false statements to a financial institution. Cohen's critics contend that, because of this conviction, his Wednesday testimony shouldn't be trusted.

Twitter users immediately began to call Hice's statement into question, pointing to Elliott Abrams, who is now the Trump administration's special envoy for Venezuela, as an example of someone else who has knowingly lied to Congress and proceeded to give further testimony.

The validity of Hice's accusation depends on his definition of "lying to Congress," since Abrams and Cohen were found to be in violation of different laws pertaining to misleading Congress.

Section 1001 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, with some exceptions, applies to:

[W]hoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—

(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;

(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or

(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry....

Violators would face significant fines and up to eight years in prison. Cohen was found to be in violation on this code section and charged with a felony.

In 1991, Abrams pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress about secret efforts to aid Nicaraguan contras during the Iran-Contra affair in his time as assistant secretary of state. Abrams faced a misdemeanor charge, less severe than a felony, because he was found to be in violation of Section 192 of Title 2 of the U.S. Code, which says:

Every person who having been summoned as a witness by the authority of either House of Congress to give testimony or to produce papers upon any matter under inquiry before either House, or any joint committee established by a joint or concurrent resolution of the two Houses of Congress, or any committee of either House of Congress, willfully makes default, or who, having appeared, refuses to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 nor less than $100 and imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month nor more than twelve months.

Abrams was later pardoned by then-President George H. W. Bush in 1992. Trump appointed Abrams in January to lead U.S. efforts to address the situation in Venezuela.

During a February 13th hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Relations, Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) challenged the legitimacy of Abrams' testimony in a similar vein as Hice. "I fail to understand," Omar said, "why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful."

Abrams and Cohen are two members of a short list of people who have been successfully convicted of lying to or withholding information from Congress, including Major League Baseball player Roger Clemens and former President Richard Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman.

Related