President Donald Trump directed his personal attorney at the time, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to a bombshell report by Buzzfeed News on Thursday night — a claim that Democratic lawmakers said if true could prove Trump obstructed justice.
“If the President directed Cohen to lie to Congress, that is obstruction of justice. Period. Full stop,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., tweeted Thursday night.
After the 2016 election, Trump told Cohen to claim that negotiations for the project ended months earlier than they did, in order to conceal Trump’s involvement, Buzzfeed reported.
Cohen had claimed talks ended in January 2016, well before Trump was the Republican presidential nominee, and during the campaign Trump denied having any business ties with Russia.
Citing federal law enforcement sources, Buzzfeed also said Trump backed Cohen’s plan to travel to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin to smooth over negotiations for the development.
Cohen met Trump face-to-face at least 10 times to provide updates on the Russia negotiations during the campaign, Buzzfeed reported, and Cohen reportedly detailed the dealings to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Mueller’s team had reportedly already discovered Trump’s order for Cohen to lie to Congress through witness interviews, texts, emails and other documents.
The revelations could provide evidence of obstruction of justice by Trump, for explicitly telling Cohen to lie in order to conceal his dealings with Russia.
Cohen has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and was sentenced in December to three years in prison. Among other things, Cohen admitted lying about the Trump Tower Moscow project, saying that while he said negotiations ended in January 2016, they continued until June 2016, deep into Trump’s presidential campaign. Cohen is scheduled to testify before Congress in February.
The Buzzfeed report sparked a firestorm of comments from Democratic lawmakers. “I view this as powerful evidence of collusion,” Rep. Eric Swalwell told MSNBC. Others chimed in as well:
The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort 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. https://t.co/GljBAFqOjh
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) January 18, 2019
If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached.
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) January 18, 2019
Listen, if Mueller does have multiple sources confirming Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress, then we need to know this ASAP. Mueller shouldn’t end his inquiry, but it’s about time for him to show Congress his cards before it’s too late for us to act. https://t.co/ekG5VSBS8G
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 18, 2019
This stunning Trump Tower Moscow story establishes a clear case of Obstruction of Justice, a felony. I’ve lost count now how many times @realDonaldTrump has engaged in Obstruction of Justice.
Oh, fyi the first Article of Impeachment for Richard Nixon was Obstruction of Justice. https://t.co/WjsdSAv7lR
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 18, 2019
In his confirmation hearing earlier this week, attorney general nominee William Barr indicated that such acts would constitute obstruction:
Klobuchar: “A president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?”
Klobuchar: “You also said that a president — or any person — convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?”
Barr: “Yes.” pic.twitter.com/cn8WDKLUjI
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 18, 2019
Cohen’s legal adviser declined comment to USA Today:
Just in: From @MichaelCohen212’s legal adviser, Lanny Davis, on this BuzzFeed story:
“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 so I.”
— Christal Hayes (@Journo_Christal) January 18, 2019
Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, cast Cohen as untrustworthy Thursday night:
Just in, Rudy Giuliani’s response to Buzzfeed story: “If you believe Cohen I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) January 18, 2019