Senate intelligence committee leaders, chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and ranking Democrat Mark Warner, had a larger goal in mind when they abruptly canceled a closed-door interview on Tuesday morning with President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen: “Stop Trump officials from talking about their testimony.”
The committee’s message was intended not just to Cohen but to the broader Trump team: Play ball on our terms or we’ll drag you in for a public grilling.
Cohen was not the first witness close to Trump to release his prepared opening statement. Jared Kushner also had a statement for his interview before the Senate intelligence committee staff and the House intelligence panel, and Donald Trump Jr. issued a statement when he appeared before the Senate judiciary committee.
As noted by CNN, “what has irked senators in particular: Releasing the witnesses’ public statements gives them an opportunity to shape the narrative about their interview — while leaving out some of the more controversial exchanges that the committee won’t disclose because they occurred in a classified setting.”
“This is how we’re going to proceed on a variety of witnesses going forward,” Warner said Tuesday.
After Kushner’s July statement, Burr told reporters Tuesday that the committee changed its policy for witnesses not to speak publicly about closed-door testimony.
“We don’t expect individuals who come behind closed doors to publicly go out and tell (their side only),” Burr said.
Burr said that he expects many of the key witnesses to eventually return for questioning before committee members, including in public session.
Citing sources familiar with the matter, CNN stated that “committee members were particularly unhappy with the public statements being issued when they didn’t yet have a chance to question the witnesses, a source close to the committee.”