Tuesday 23 July 2019

Congress to probe claims Trump told Cohen to lie

Evidence: Michael Cohen arrives at his home in New York following surgery on his shoulder. Photo: AP
Evidence: Michael Cohen arrives at his home in New York following surgery on his shoulder. Photo: AP

Rachael Alexander

Senior Democrats have pledged to investigate a report that US President Donald Trump directed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations over a real-estate project in Moscow during the 2016 election.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said "we will do what's necessary to find out if it's true".

He said the allegation that the president directed Cohen to lie in his 2017 testimony to Congress "in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date".

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, of New York, said directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime.

"The @HouseJudiciary Committee's job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work," Mr Nadler tweeted.

The report by BuzzFeed News, citing two unnamed law enforcement officials, said that Mr Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress and that Cohen regularly briefed Mr Trump and his family on the Moscow project - even as Mr Trump said he had no business dealings with Russia.

An adviser to Cohen, Lanny Davis, declined to comment on the substance of the article, saying that he and Cohen would not answer questions out of respect for special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. Mr Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the election and contacts with the Trump campaign.

The BuzzFeed story says that Cohen told Mr Mueller that Mr Trump personally instructed him to lie about the timing of the project in order to obscure Mr Trump's involvement.

Mr Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, scoffed at the report, saying in a statement: "If you believe Cohen I can get you a good all cash deal on the Brooklyn Bridge."

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress in 2017 to cover up that he was negotiating the real-estate deal in Moscow on Mr Trump's behalf during the heat of his presidential campaign. The charge was brought by Mr Mueller and was the result of his co-operation with that probe.

Cohen was recently sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to tax crimes, bank fraud and campaign violations. He is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on February 7.

The report comes as House Democrats have promised a thorough look into Mr Trump's ties to Russia. Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has discouraged any talk of impeachment in the early days of her new majority, some senior Democrats said that if the BuzzFeed report is true, Mr Trump's actions could rise to that level.

"If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached," tweeted Texas representative Joaquin Castro, a member of the House intelligence panel.

William Barr, Mr Trump's nominee for attorney general, said at his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday that a president or anyone else who directs a witness to lie is illegally obstructing an investigation.

That statement attracted attention given Mr Barr's expansive views of presidential powers and his belief that presidents cannot be scrutinised by prosecutors for acts the constitution allows them to take.

Mr Cohen was seen returning home from a pre-scheduled hospital visit yesterday afternoon after receiving surgery on his shoulder.

Photos showed the president's former fixer clutching a pillow that was held in front of his left arm, which was in a sling.

Meanwhile, Ms Pelosi has cancelled her plans to travel by commercial plane to visit US troops in Afghanistan, saying Mr Trump had caused a security risk by talking about the trip.

It was the latest twist in what has become a Washington game of brinkmanship between Ms Pelosi and Mr Trump, playing out against the stalled negotiations over how to end the partial government shutdown.

Earlier in the week, Ms Pelosi had asked Mr Trump to reschedule his January 29 State of the Union address, citing security issues at a time when the Homeland Security Department and other agencies remain unfunded.

Mr Trump responded by cancelling the military plane that was to have carried Ms Pelosi and a congressional delegation to Afghanistan on the previously undisclosed troop visit.

Mr Trump suggested she travel by commercial plane instead.

Mr Trump had belittled the trip as a "public relations event" - even though he had just made a similar warzone stop - and said it would be best if Ms Pelosi remained in Washington to negotiate to reopen the government.

Irish Independent

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