US special counsel disputes report Trump told lawyer to lie

Robert Mueller’s office disputed a report in BuzzFeed News. (AP)
Updated 19 January 2019
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US special counsel disputes report Trump told lawyer to lie

  • While Mueller’s spokesman stopped short of declaring the article false in its entirety, he disputed portions of the story that appear to go to the heart of the allegations made against Trump

WASHINGTON: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office on Friday disputed a report in BuzzFeed News that President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen said Trump directed him to lie to Congress.
BuzzFeed, citing two unnamed law enforcement sources, said Cohen, who is going to prison for lying to Congress, told investigators working for Mueller that Trump had directed him to lie about efforts to build a skyscraper in Moscow while he was running for president.
“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, said in a rare statement from the special counsel.
While Mueller’s spokesman stopped short of declaring the article false in its entirety, he disputed portions of the story that appear to go to the heart of the allegations made against Trump.
It was the first time Mueller has commented about a news article concerning his probe of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith said in a statement: “We stand by the reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing.”
After the BuzzFeed report was published on Thursday night, investigators in the US Senate and House of Representatives said they plan to examine the allegations in the report.
Leading Democrats in the House said they would seek to verify the story, saying that if true it would be evidence of criminal activity by the president.
Earlier on Friday, the White House said the story was false. “Look, that’s absolutely ridiculous,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.
David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor, said it was “exceedingly rare” for Mueller to comment on a news report, highlighting the significance of the allegations made in the BuzzFeed article and the attention it was getting in the media and among lawmakers.
“They are making a public comment to tell everyone to calm down,” Weinstein said. “He doesn’t want people to think his silence is confirming the truthfulness of the report.”
BuzzFeed said Mueller’s office learned of Trump’s instructions to Cohen through internal Trump Organization emails, witness interviews, text messages and other documents, and that Cohen told prosecutors about the directive in an interview.
Trump said on Twitter that Cohen was lying in order to get less prison time. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said in a statement that any suggestion that Trump told Cohen to lie is “categorically false.”
Representatives for the Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment on the BuzzFeed report.
Cohen, who once said he was so loyal to Trump that he would “take a bullet” for him, is scheduled to begin a three-year prison sentence in March after pleading guilty to charges including campaign finance violations, tax evasion and lying to Congress.
If Trump did tell Cohen to lie, that would constitute criminal activity, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, who said he would look into the matter.
“Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime,” Nadler said on Twitter.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said the allegation that Trump may have directed Cohen to lie under oath “is among the most serious to date.”
“We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true,” Schiff, also a Democrat, said on Twitter.
Some Senate Intelligence Committee investigators hope to ask Cohen about the BuzzFeed report when he testifies behind closed doors in February, a committee source told Reuters.
He also will face questions about it in testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7.

“SEISMIC EVENT“
Legal experts say the allegation exposed Trump to a new level of risk in an investigation that has already resulted in convictions of or guilty pleas from four former campaign aides, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
“It’s a seismic event,” Andy Wright, an associate White House counsel under former Democratic President Barack Obama, told Reuters.
Cohen, his left arm in a sling, did not comment as he entered his apartment building in New York on Friday. His adviser, Lanny Davis, also declined to comment to Reuters, and his lawyer, Guy Petrillo, did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump denounced Cohen as a “rat” after he began cooperating with investigators while Cohen, whose duties included making payoffs to two women who said they had affairs with Trump, said on Thursday he regretted giving “my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it.”
Directing or encouraging someone to lie under oath is a crime known as subornation of perjury. The report also raises questions about obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
William Barr, Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, said at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that a president would be committing obstruction if he directed a subordinate to lie under oath. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
While the Justice Department has previously concluded that a sitting president cannot be charged while in office, such an allegation, if found true, could fuel impeachment proceedings in Congress.
Trump repeatedly has denied collusion with Russia and slammed Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt.” Russia also has rejected US intelligence findings that Moscow interfered in US politics in the 2016 election in an effort to boost Trump.
Trump said during the presidential campaign that he had no ties or business dealings with Russia.
Democrats, who took over the US House of Representatives this month, have generally been cautious regarding any talk of impeachment to remove Trump from office although some rank-and-file members have pushed for such a resolution.
Impeachment proceedings would face an uphill battle in the Senate, where Trump’s fellow Republicans have a majority.
BuzzFeed also reported that Cohen regularly updated Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and his daughter Ivanka Trump, who is now a top White House adviser, about the Moscow project.
A spokesman for Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Ivanka Trump, said she was minimally involved in the development. Trump Jr., who has also testified previously before Congress, in a Twitter post called the BuzzFeed report “fake news.”


Manafort ‘brazenly violated the law’ for years, says US special counsel Mueller

Updated 32 min 32 sec ago
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Manafort ‘brazenly violated the law’ for years, says US special counsel Mueller

  • Prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism”
  • Manafort is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case
WASHINGTON: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort committed crimes that cut to “the heart of the criminal justice system” and over the years deceived everyone from bookkeepers and banks to federal prosecutors and his own lawyers, according to a sentencing memo filed Saturday by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
In the memo, submitted in one of two criminal cases Manafort faces, prosecutors do not yet take a position on how much prison time he should serve or whether to stack the punishment on top of a separate sentence he will soon receive in a Virginia prosecution. But they do depict Manafort as a longtime and unrepentant criminal who committed “bold” crimes, including under the spotlight of his role as campaign chairman and later while on bail, and who does not deserve any leniency.
“For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law,” prosecutors wrote. “His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment.”
Citing Manafort’s lies to the FBI, several government agencies and his own lawyer, prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism.”
The 25-page memo, filed in federal court in Washington, is likely the last major filing by prosecutors as Manafort heads into his sentencing hearings next month and as Mueller’s investigation approaches a conclusion. Manafort, who has been jailed for months and turns 70 in April, will have a chance to file his own sentencing recommendation next week. He and his longtime business partner, Rick Gates, were the first two people indicted in the special counsel’s investigation. Overall, Mueller has produced charges against 34 individuals, including six former Trump aides, and three companies.
Manafort’s case has played out in stark contrast to those of other defendants in the Russia investigation, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who prosecutors praised for his cooperation and left open the possibility of no jail time.
Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy arising from his Ukrainian political consulting work and his efforts to tamper with witnesses. As part of that plea, he agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team, a move that could have helped him avoid a longer prison sentence. But within weeks, prosecutors say he repeatedly lied to investigators, including about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who the US says has ties to Russian intelligence. That deception voided the plea deal.
The sentencing memo comes as Manafort, who led Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for several critical months, is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case in Virginia. Mueller’s team endorsed a sentence of between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison in that case.
Prosecutors note that the federal guidelines recommend a sentence of more than 17 years, but Manafort pleaded guilty last year to two felony counts that carry maximum sentences of five years each.
Prosecutors originally filed a sealed sentencing memo on Friday, but the document was made public on Saturday with certain information still redacted, or blacked out.
In recent weeks, court papers have revealed that Manafort shared polling data related to the Trump campaign with Kilimnik. A Mueller prosecutor also said earlier this month that an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the “heart” of the Russia probe. The meeting involved a discussion of a Ukrainian peace plan, but prosecutors haven’t said exactly what has captured their attention and whether it factors into the Kremlin’s attempts to help Trump in the 2016 election.
Like other Americans close to the president charged in the Mueller probe, Manafort hasn’t been accused of involvement in Russian election interference.