Thursday 13 December 2018

'Walls closing in' on Trump as ex-lawyer helps Mueller

Standing together: Supporters of US President Donald Trump attend a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters
Standing together: Supporters of US President Donald Trump attend a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters

Michael Balsamo

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, has said he is providing "critical information" as part of the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible co-ordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

Having admitted guilt to a string of charges last month, Cohen said he was handing the information to special counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors without a co-operation agreement.

Mr Trump's former fixer could be a vital witness for investigators as they examine whether the president's campaign co-ordinated with Russians.

Cohen was the billionaire's personal lawyer for more than a decade, a key power player in the Trump Organisation and a fixture in Mr Trump's political life.

Pressure is mounting on the president as big names, particularly his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, have co-operated with Mr Mueller.

"The walls [are] clearly closing in" on him, said two Democratic members of congress last week.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August to eight federal charges and said Mr Trump directed him to arrange payments before the 2016 election to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and a former 'Playboy' model who had both alleged they had affairs with Mr Trump.

It was the first time any Trump associate implicated Mr Trump himself in a crime, though whether - or when - a president can be prosecuted remains a matter of legal dispute.

On Thursday night, Cohen tweeted: "Good for @MichaelCohen212 for providing critical information to the #MuellerInvestigation without a co-operation agreement. No one should question his integrity, veracity or loyalty to his family and country over @POTUS @realDonaldTrump."

The tweet was deleted almost immediately and was later reposted by his attorney, Lanny Davis, who said he wrote the tweet for Cohen and asked him to tweet it because he has a "much larger following".

Mr Davis said he was delayed posting the tweet on his own account, so Cohen tweeted it first.

ABC News reported earlier that Cohen has met several times - for several hours - with investigators from the special counsel's office.

The television network, citing sources familiar with the matter, said he was questioned about Mr Trump's dealings with Russia, including whether members of the Trump campaign worked with Russians to try to influence the outcome of the election.

Mr Davis had asserted last month that his client could tell the special counsel that Mr Trump had prior knowledge of a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer, Mr Trump's son-in-law and Mr Trump's eldest son, who had been told in emails that it was part of a Russian government effort to help his father's campaign.

But Mr Davis later walked back the assertions, saying that he could not independently confirm the claims that Cohen witnessed Mr Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, telling his father about the Trump Tower meeting beforehand.

In the last two weeks, the special counsel secured the co-operation of Mr Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; signalled that he has obtained all the information he needs from former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was also a government co-operator; and dispensed with the case of the campaign aide who triggered the Russia probe.

The president has continued a very public battle against the Mueller investigation, repeatedly calling it a politically motivated and "rigged witch hunt".

He has said he is going to declassify secret documents in the Russia investigation, an extraordinary move that he says will show that the investigation was tainted from the start by bias in the Justice Department and FBI.

Meanwhile, President Trump yesterday sought to cast doubt on the woman who has accused his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, saying if the attack was "as bad as she says" it would have been immediately reported to police.

After days of restrained comments on the allegations by California professor Christine Blasey Ford, Trump took to Twitter to question her account of what happened between her and Kavanaugh at a party in 1982 when they were in high school.

The tweets came as a Republican-controlled U.S. Senate committee struggled on how to proceed with Kavanaugh's nomination. Democrats have demanded more time for scrutiny and Republicans want to move ahead quickly with a confirmation vote in an increasingly volatile political climate ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had delayed a vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation after Ford's allegations emerged last week, and her lawyers and committee staff are negotiating how and when she will testify.

Irish Independent

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