Cummings is seeking testimony from two more Trump lawyers about Cohen payments

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By Heidi Przybyla

WASHINGTON – Two relatively unknown figures could soon appear as key players in the congressional investigations of President Donald Trump.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings is interested in speaking with Sheri Dillon and Stefan Passantino, attorneys responsible for Presidential Ethics and Financial Information. They could be central to determining if Trump committed crimes by making hush-money payments to the adult movie star Stormy Daniels.

Nor has a willingness to cooperate with Cummings & # 39; committees have been voiced by failing a 6 March deadline set by the Maryland Democrat to provide transcribed interviews to his committee later this week. According to democratic assistants.

In an early test of his ability to force Trump officials and allies to provide information to Congress, Cummings may be forced to play hardball – including the issuing of summonses – to get them to comply.

Passantino and Dillon are among the first goals Cummings pursues since Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen testified to the committee on February 27.

According to committee requests sent to each of the lawyers, as well as the White House, the two "seemed to give false information" to federal officials on payments to Cohen to keep the alleged Trump affair from becoming public.

These are financial information sheets which they filed with the Government of Ethical Authorities and the written notes of ethical officials, which documented "evolving stories" from the two on payments and Trump's lack of information on them. Passantino was a White House Deputy Adviser in charge of Ethics Policy, and is now working for the Trump Organization to seek inquiries from the Democratically-led House. His signature was on Trump's information sheet. Dillon is a personal Trump lawyer.

Republicans, in a letter to Cummings, suggested that the two may have lied, are "extremely unfair and unsupported accusations."

"This is a serious charge that you only rely on cherry picked passages of incomplete, one-sided handwritten notes made by OGE employees," Reps wrote. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranked Republican in the committee and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who also said the charges were announced before speaking directly to the lawyers.

But Democrats say the lawyers can have good reason to avoid the newly created democratic majority.

"It's often the two-part players who know a lot and reveal a lot," Rep said. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat on the committee. For example, Connolly pointed to Alexander Butterfield, a white house aide, who revealed President Richard Nixon's tapestry system as well as a bookkeeper who helped persuade mobster Al Capone to tax evasion.

"These people must not be household names, but they could prove critical witnesses in giving affirmative testimony and further details" on what might be "a federal election violation" and a "conspiracy" to influence the 2016 elections, Connolly said.

Cummings has said he is also likely to require testimony from Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Family Accountant and the Trump Organization Finance Manager, who has been granted immunity to share information from prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to federal campaign financing regulations linked to his $ 130,000 payment to Daniels to prevent her from publishing her claim for an affair with Trump just days before the election in November 2016. Trump has denied Daniel's claim.

In a doomsday on December 7, 2018, federal prosecutors Cohen stated that he intended to influence the election in 2016 and "in coordination with and towards individual 1" or Trump.

Cohen has said he has paid Daniels through a shell company he created in October 2016, called Essential Consultants LLC using his own money, which Trump had to repay in months over payments. Cohen has testified that he has made the payment "in coordination with and towards" Trump "for the main purpose of influencing the election."

According to the Code of Ethics in 1978, federal officials, including the president, must publish financial obligations that may affect their decision making. Nevertheless, Trump's disclosure form covering January 2016 to April 2017 has not included his debt to Cohen. The president personally signed the form.

In her discussions with ethical officials, Dillon, who initially denied any payments to Cohen in talks with ethical officials, they later compared them to "routine delivery payments" or "kitchen remuneration payments", according to Cumming's letter referring to internal notes of government officials.

Sheri Dillon arrives at Trump Tower in New York on January 17, 2017.Stephanie Keith / Reuters file

After it was originally reported in January 2018 that Cohen had paid Daniels through a shell company, Dillon first refused ethical officials that Trump ever owed money to Cohen in 2016 and 2017. Dillon even said she had "confirmed it with The files, "or Trump, that he doesn't owe Cohen any money. "Not what I'm aware of," Dillon said.

Day after ethical officials demanded that Dillon confirm Trump's claim in writing, Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, showed on television admitting that Trump had refunded Cohen for his payments to Stormy Daniels and characterized it as a "container".

Trump himself the next day confirmed the payments in a tweet, stating that Cohen had "received a monthly inventory, not from the campaign and nothing to do with the campaign." Ethical officials returned to Dillon for further explanation. At that time, she recognized that Trump had reimbursed Cohen and said "the reimbursement mechanisms changed over time."

"This raises significant questions as to why some of the president's closest advisors made these false claims and to what extent they also acted toward or in consultation with the president," Cummings wrote.

After the President's admission, Dillon insisted that all payments were related to legal services and resembled those for "kitchen remodeling". Passantino also described the payments as a "container", according to Cummings. When officials asked Dillon to see the detention, she and accused federal ethics officials refused to exceed their jurisdiction.

In May 2018, Trump changed its form and noted payments to Cohen in monthly installments that included other services, including "tech services", but insisted that this information was not necessary. Passantino's signature was on the filing that concluded that Trump was "in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations."

On May 8, 2018, as Dillon continued to defend the payments as "routine," she also said, "Let the facts come out as they should, and let the criticism fall upon the president."