US President Donald Trump directed his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations over a real estate project in Moscow, Buzzfeed news reported on Thursday, an allegation that Democrats have vowed to investigate.
Citing two unnamed law enforcement officials, BuzzFeed reported that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress by claiming negotiations over the project ended earlier than they actually did. The report also said that Cohen regularly briefed Trump and his family on the Moscow Trump Tower project – even as Trump said he had no business dealings with Russia. The Associated Press has not been able to independently verify the report.
The White House was not immediately available for comment. Trump has previously denied reports that he directed Cohen to break the law. He suggested in a tweet on Friday that Cohen was “lying to reduce his jail time”.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s current lawyer, told CNN that if “you believe Cohen, I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge”, suggesting that Cohen is lying.
In a statement later on Friday, Giuliani said that “any suggestion … that the president counseled his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false”.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted on Thursday that the allegation that Trump asked Cohen to lie “to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date”.
“We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true,” Schiff, a Democrat, added.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, 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,” Nadler tweeted.
An adviser to Cohen, Lanny Davis, declined to comment on the substance of the article, saying that he and Cohen wouldn’t answer questions out of respect for special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and contacts with the Trump campaign.
According to BuzzFeed, Mueller learned that Trump directed Cohen to lie through multiple witness interviews, internal emails and text messages and other documents.
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 Trump’s behalf during the heat of his presidential campaign. The charge was brought by Mueller and was the result of his cooperation 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.
If true ‘it’s obstruction of justice’
The report comes as House Democrats have promised a thorough look into 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, Trump’s actions could rise to that level.
“If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached,” tweeted Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro, a member of the House intelligence panel.
Congressman David Cicilline, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted that if Trump directed Cohen to lie, “that is obstruction of justice. Period. Full stop”.
William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, said at his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that a president or anyone else who directs a witness to lie is illegally obstructing an investigation. That statement attracted attention, given Barr’s expansive views of presidential powers and his belief that presidents can’t be scrutinized by prosecutors for acts the Constitution allows them to take.