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As it happenedended1547857160

Trump-Cohen allegations: White House denies president ordered lawyer to lie about Russia links as Congress launches investigations

White House press secretary was also questioned about alleged poll rigging

Joe Sommerlad,Tom Embury-Dennis
Friday 18 January 2019 22:18 GMT
Donald Trump denies involvement in Moscow project claiming Michael Cohen 'lying'

The White House has denied allegations that Donald Trump ordered former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Law enforcement officials claimed Mr Trump had instructed Cohen to claim negotiations over the Russian project ended months earlier than they actually did, according to explosive new claims.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders vehemently denied the allegations, reported by Buzzfeed News, during a brief exchange with reporters on the White House driveway.

“Look, that’s absolutely ridiculous,” Ms Sanders said when questioned about the claims. She said the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani had addressed the subject and called the report “categorically false”.

In response to the allegations Mr Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said: “Any suggestion – from any source – that the President counselled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false” and “today’s claims are just more made-up lies born of Michael Cohen’s malice and desperation, in an effort to reduce his sentence.”

Ms Sanders was also asked whether Donald Trump directed Michael Cohen to rig any polls, referring to the former lawyer’s admission that he paid a small technology firm thousands of dollars in 2015 to rig online polls “at the direction and of the sole benefit” of the president.

“I think again that one statement – those two words – sum it up better than anything anybody else can say, and that is ‘categorically false’,” Ms Sanders responded.

Michael Cohen, who last year pleaded guilty to federal crimes while implicating Mr Trump, admitted to paying between $12,000 and $13,000 to the owner of RedFinch Solutions LLC.

The officials said Cohen confirmed to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team - which is investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia - that Mr Trump instructed the attorney to lie to the Senate and House intelligence committees.

It prompted immediate calls for the president to resign or face impeachment if the allegations were confirmed by Mr Mueller’s office.

With the US president still mired in deadlock over the government shutdown, the new allegations relating to Mr Cohen – sentenced to three years in prison in December – have prompted calls from top Democrats for his resignation or impeachment.

House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff and House Judiciary Committee chair Jerrold Nadler have both pledged to investigate. Mr Schiff said: “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true”.

Mr Cohen is set to testify before a congressional panel of the House of Representatives on 7 February about his role as Mr Trump’s right-hand man, following FBI special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the president’s alleged ties to Russia.

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Good morning and welcome to The Independent's coverage of a brand new day of damaging allegations against the Donald Trump administration.

Joe Sommerlad18 January 2019 08:29

Reports this morning suggest the president personally directed his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about his plans to construct a Trump Tower in Moscow, Russia, saying negotiations over the proposals ended months before they actually did.

Here's Tom Embury-Dennis with the full story: 

Joe Sommerlad18 January 2019 08:47

The bombshell revelation has already placed renewed pressure on the president, with Connecticut senator Chris Murphy tweeting:

Joe Sommerlad18 January 2019 08:49

Meanwhile, Michael Cohen has admitted paying between $12,000 and $15,000 to John Gauger, owner of tech company RedFinch Solutions, to manipulate the outcome of opinion polls on behalf of Mr Trump during campaigning in 2014 and 2015.

Even more absurdly, Mr Gauger was paid to create a Twitter account devoted to disseminating the "fake news" that women found Mr Cohen especially attractive, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Here's Clark Mindock with more:

Joe Sommerlad18 January 2019 09:00

Cohen has personally responded to the story on Twitter:

Joe Sommerlad18 January 2019 09:03

Mr Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has meanwhile said that the president "had no knowledge" of any effort to manipulate polling data on his behalf. 

He called Cohen a "liar" and a "thief" and accused him of seeking reimbursement for more money than he'd paid RedFinch.

Mr Gauger, who is also the chief information officer at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, has so far declined to comment.

Joe Sommerlad18 January 2019 09:11

Michael Cohen - who was sentenced to three years in jail by a US District Court in New York on 12 December after pleading guilty to a string of financial crimes, including paying "hush money" to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy bunny Karen McDougal over alleged affairs with his ex-boss - is due to appear before Congress on 7 February.

He is expected to reveal further damaging details from his career as Mr Trump's enforcer but is reportedly now reconsidering his role as star witness.

Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis, advising his client on media strategy, has said Cohen is reconsidering his visit to Washington after Mr Trump indicated on Fox News he might have damaging information up his sleeve relating to Cohen's father-in-law.

"There is genuine fear and it has caused Michael Cohen to consider whether he should go forward or not, and he has not made a final decision," Davis said on MSNBC.

"There is no question that his threatening and calling out his father-in-law, who - quote - has all the money, is not only improper and unseemly for a bully using the bully pulpit of the presidency, but the very definition of intimidation and witness tampering."

He said Trump's remarks "could be obstruction of justice".

Joe Sommerlad18 January 2019 09:19
Joe Sommerlad18 January 2019 09:30

Speaking of impeachment, here's Sarah Harvard on what would happen to the president and the United States if proceedings were to be initiated:

Joe Sommerlad18 January 2019 09:40
Joe Sommerlad18 January 2019 09:55

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