Trump Had Michael Cohen Lie To Congress About Moscow Trump Tower Project: Report
Trump has repeatedly and forcefully denied having any business dealings in Moscow.
President Trump instructed his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow Trump Tower talks, BuzzFeed reported late Thursday, citing two federal law enforcement officials involved in investigating the case. The story drew immediate harsh reactions from Democratic lawmakers and a denial from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
CBS News has not independently confirmed the BuzzFeed account.
According to the online news site, Mr. Trump also backed a plan Cohen set up to visit Russia during the presidential campaign to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the tower negotiations.
And the BuzzFeed sources said Mr. Trump and his children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., got "regular, detailed updates" on the development from Cohen, who led the project for them.
During the campaign, Mr. Trump repeatedly and forcefully denied having any business dealings with Moscow.
But in November, Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to Congress regarding work he did on the Moscow Trump Tower push. The plea indicated that discussions extended much longer into the 2016 presidential campaign than Cohen had said -- into June 2016.
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley would not explicitly deny the report that Mr. Trump told Cohen to lie to Congress, when pressed repeatedly by Fox News Friday morning. "I'm not going to give any credence or credibility to Michael Cohen," Gidley said. After the interview on the White House North Lawn, Gidley walked past a swarm of reporters asking why he wouldn't simply deny the report.
BuzzFeed's sources said Cohen "told (Special Counsel Robert Mueller) that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump's involvement." Cohen had claimed the talks ended in January 2016.
According to BuzzFeed, Mueller's office "learned about Trump's directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organisation and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office."
BuzzFeed says, "Cohen's testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia."
Cohen legal adviser Lanny Davis said, "Out of respect for Mr. Mueller's and the Office of Special Counsel's investigation, Mr. Cohen declined to respond to the questions asked by the reporters and so (do) I."
Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Abbe Lowell, ethics counsel for Ivanka Trump, said the Trump Organisation considered projects around the world "and nothing was different or wrong about one that might be in Russia," but distanced the president's eldest daughter from the matter.
"Putting aside questions about the accuracy, credibility or motive of the source, over the years, The Trump Organisation considered and evaluated projects in countries all around the world, and nothing was different or wrong about one that might be in Russia," Mirijanian said.
"However, Ms. Trump did not know about this proposal until after a non-binding letter of intent had been signed, never talked to anyone outside the organisation about the proposal, never visited the prospective project site and, even internally, was only minimally involved. Her role was limited to reminding Mr. Cohen that, should an actual deal come to fruition (which it did not) the project, like any other with the Trump name, must conform with the highest design and architectural standards and to recommending prospective architects to consider."
Bill Barr, the president's nominee for attorney general, testified on Capitol Hill earlier this week — in hypothetical terms — that if a president orders someone to commit perjury, that would constitute obstruction.
"In your memo ... you wrote on page one that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right?" Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked, referring to an unsolicited memo Barr wrote the Justice Department about the Mueller investigation.
"Yes," Barr responded.
Democrats were quick with scathing words about the allegations in BuzzFeed's account.
Among them: Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, who tweeted, "If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached."
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, of California, released a statement saying, "These allegations may prove unfounded, but if true, they would constitute both the subornation of perjury as well as obstruction of justice. Our committee is already working to secure additional witness testimony and documents related to the Trump Tower Moscow deal and other investigative matters." He said that the committee would "get to the bottom of this and follow the evidence wherever it may lead."
Fellow California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu didn't mince words:
But Giuliani was having none of it, releasing a statement saying, "If you believe Cohen, I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge."
CBS News has not received responses to requests for comment from the White House, the Trump Organisation or an attorney for Donald Trump Jr.