Democrats are vowing to investigate whether U.S. President Donald Trump directed his personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a Moscow real estate project, calling that possibility a “concern of the greatest magnitude.”
Trump’s current lawyer said the allegations sparking the inquiry are “categorically false.”
Any evidence that Trump directed a witness to lie to investigators would place him in the greatest political and legal jeopardy yet and confront him with allegations of the sort that led to the departure of one president and the impeachment of another.
At issue is a report by BuzzFeed News that Trump told Cohen to lie about negotiations over the Moscow project that extended into the 2016 campaign. The Associated Press has not independently confirmed the report.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a statement Friday that “any suggestion — from any source — that the President counselled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false.” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the allegation “absolutely ridiculous.”
The report comes as House Democrats have promised a thorough look into Trump’s ties to Russia, and as special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign.
Though his supporters have said Trump cannot be investigated for actions the Constitution permits him to take, even the president’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, said at his confirmation hearing this week that a president or anyone else who instructs a witness to lie or change his testimony commits illegal obstruction of justice.
BuzzFeed, citing two unidentified law enforcement officials, said Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress and that Cohen regularly briefed Trump and his family on the Trump Tower project in Moscow — even as Trump said he had no business dealings with Russia. BuzzFeed said Cohen told Mueller that Trump personally instructed him to lie about the timing of the project in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.
BuzzFeed said Mueller’s investigators learned about Trump’s directive “through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.” The report says Cohen then acknowledged Trump’s instructions when he was interviewed by the Mueller team.
On Twitter, Trump charged that Cohen was “Lying to reduce his jail time!”
Giuliani noted that Cohen had pleaded guilty to lying and quoted federal prosecutors in New York who chastised him for a “pattern of lies and dishonesty over an extended period of time.” Mueller’s team, however, has called him a credible witness.
“Today’s claims are just more made-up lies born of Michael Cohen’s malice and desperation,” Giuliani said.
Lanny Davis, a Cohen adviser, declined to comment. On Friday, as photos surfaced of Cohen wearing a hospital ID bracelet and cradling a pillow with his right arm in a sling, Davis said Cohen had undergone minor shoulder surgery.
Though Republicans stayed mostly silent, two Democratic committee chairmen in the House said they will open inquiries.
The Associated Press