Democratic politicians in the US say they will investigate allegations that President Donald Trump directed his ex-personal lawyer to lie to Congress
A Buzzfeed News report claims Mr Trump instructed Michael Cohen to lie about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Cohen has already admitted to lying about when the business project ended.
Mr Trump has not yet responded to the report’s allegations – but he has previously denied ever directing his former lawyer to break the law.
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The president’s current personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, dismissed the story late on Thursday, telling the Washington Post: “If you believe Cohen, I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
The intelligence committee of the House of Representatives will investigate the claims, says its new chairman, Adam Schiff.
“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,” Mr Schiff wrote on Twitter.
“We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true,” he added.
What does the report say?
Buzzfeed says its report is based on testimony from two unnamed law enforcement officials involved in investigating the matter.
The story alleges Mr Trump, his daughter Ivanka and his son Donald Jnr received regular updates about a plan to build a Trump development in Moscow at a time when they denied having business ties to Russia.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election – and whether Trump campaign figures were complicit – has already revealed that Cohen lied about the date the Moscow Trump Tower project ended.
Cohen told Congress talks over the plan had taken place between September 2015 and January 2016 but criminal complaint documents have said they lasted until June.
Cohen said the plan had been halted earlier in an attempt to “minimise links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” during the election campaign. Individual 1 has previously been identified by Cohen as Mr Trump.
Buzzfeed says Cohen has told investigators that Mr Trump “personally instructed him to lie” about the date negotiations ended “in order to obscure Trump’s involvement”.
The report said Mr Mueller had other evidence, including from interviews with other Trump organisation staff and internal company emails, to corroborate Cohen’s version of events.
The report also says Mr Trump allegedly encouraged Cohen to plan a trip to meet President Vladimir Putin during the election campaign.
Cohen was sentenced to jail last month after he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress over the Trump Tower plan. He has also admitted campaign finance violations and tax evasion.
In court he said his “weakness was a blind loyalty to Donald Trump” – whose “dirty deeds” he had felt compelled to cover up.
A big fuse is lit
Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC News
With the longest government shutdown in history poised to stretch into a fifth week, Washington has become a political powder keg. The report on Thursday night that there is documentary evidence Donald Trump directed his former attorney to lie to Congress just lit a big fuse.
If the Buzzfeed story is substantiated – and it asserts this evidence is already in the hands of Mr Mueller – this would appear to present a strong case for presidential obstruction of justice. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, in a hearing on Tuesday, prompted attorney general nominee William Barr to acknowledge as much.
Already the quiet whispers of impeachment among House Democrats are getting louder. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been able to tamp down this sentiment so far, but she may be unable – or unwilling – to keep it under wraps much longer.
For almost two years, Mr Mueller’s Russia investigation has been a cipher, with details of its activities coming only in opaque legal filings and anonymous accounts of unascertainable veracity.
It seems the time for him to put his cards on the table and end the speculation and parlour-game guessing is rapidly approaching. In fact it’s past time, if you ask some Democrats.
What has the reaction been?
Some Democrats have reacted with anger to the report which they say, if proven, would amount to obstruction of justice by the president.
- Democratic representative Ted Lieu tweeted that the Trump Tower Moscow story “establishes a clear case of Obstruction of Justice, a felony’
- Democratic representative for Texas Joaquin Castro, who has announced he will run for president in 2020, said that if the story were true “President Trump must resign or be impeached”
- Eric Holder, who served as attorney general under President Barack Obama, also said “Congress must begin impeachment proceedings” if the story were true
What is the latest with the Russia investigation?
Mr Mueller’s investigation is still ongoing and it is unclear when he will submit his findings to the attorney general, the top legal official in the US.
It is up to the attorney general to notify Congress and decide whether the report will be released publicly.
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President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, is currently undergoing confirmation in Congress. He has said he will make as much of the Mueller report public as possible but has not promised to publish it all.
So far Mr Mueller’s investigation has led to charges against more than two dozen Russians, as well as several people connected to Mr Trump himself, including his former national security adviser and the former chairman of his election campaign.
A number of them, including Cohen, are known to be co-operating with Mr Mueller’s probe.
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Cohen, who was Mr Trump’s personal lawyer for more than a decade, was sentenced to 36 months in prison last month.
Among the crimes he admitted was the payment of “hush money” to two women who claimed they had affairs with Mr Trump.
Those payments, financed in the run-up to the 2016 election, constituted campaign finance violations.
Cohen must report to prison by 6 March, but before that, he has agreed to testify before the House Oversight Committee in February.