Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer, says Trump knew in advance about a Russian lawyer’s offer to the Trump campaign of dirt on then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, multiple media reports said.
CNN, citing sources with knowledge of the matter, reported that Cohen claims he was one of several people who were present when Donald Trump Jr. informed Trump of the offer. Cohen reportedly says that Trump greenlit the meeting after hearing about it from his son.
Trump Jr. was later one of three top Trump campaign officials, including Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, who met with the Russian lawyer and several other Kremlin-linked individuals at Trump Tower in June 2016.
CNN and NBC News reported that Cohen does not have physical evidence — like a tape recording — to back up his claim but is willing to testify about it under oath to the special counsel Robert Mueller.
The offer of kompromat from the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was pitched in an email to Trump Jr. as being “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Cohen reportedly did not mention this new claim when he testified to two Congressional committees in 2017, according to CNN. Additionally, a person familiar with Cohen’s House Intelligence Committee testimony told CNN that Cohen said nothing at the time about whether or not Trump knew of the 2016 meeting.
Trump has previously said he did not know about the meeting in advance. When the story first emerged last summer, Trump Jr. sought to play down the Trump Tower gathering. He provided a statement about the meeting to the press last summer, which was reportedly dictated by his father .
The July 2017 statement reads:
“It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”
On Thursday night, the president’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, slapped away Cohen’s alleged claims , calling him “an incredible liar” who has “a tremendous motive to lie now.”
Cohen is currently at the center of an investigation in the Southern District of New York. The FBI raided his home, office, and hotel room in April, seizing a multitude of documents and recordings pertaining to his own business dealings and his work for Trump.
The claims about Trump’s alleged prior knowledge of the meeting are pertinent to the broader Russia investigation in which Mueller and his prosecutors are trying to make sense of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — and whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to help get Trump elected.
The president continues to deny such claims.