President Donald Trump attacked his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen earlier today and claimed he did not know about his son Donald Jr.'s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower during the 2016 election campaign.
"I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam (Taxi cabs maybe?)," Trump tweeted earlier this morning after news outlets reported that Cohen revealed that Trump did, in fact, know about the meeting––and that he's willing to discuss the matter with special counsel Robert Mueller.
.....I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in o… https://t.co/NyveRg8BqR— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1532692575.0
Lanny Davis, the attorney for Cohen mentioned in the president's tweet, declined to comment. Davis previously worked as former President Bill Clinton's special counsel.
The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had already denied the reports, saying that Cohen "can't be believed unless it's corroborated five times" and that Cohen has "been lying all week, he's been lying for years."
"I talked to the president about this at length before as well as other witnesses and it's not true. Why would you expect it would be true from someone like Cohen? A lawyer who would tape their own client is a lawyer without any character," Giuliani added.
Last year, Donald Trump Jr. came under fire for revealing that he met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign. An intermediary for the lawyer promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic opponent. Trump Jr.’s emails––”If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” he wrote––contradict months of denials by the Trump administration of any collusion with Russian operatives.
Trump Jr. and the others who attended the meeting (including the president’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort) claimed nothing came of it, insisting they met with attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya to discuss issues related to U.S. sanctions against Russia and the adoption of Russian children by Americans.
Earlier yesterday, news reports revealed that Veselnitskaya worked more closely with senior Russian government officials than she'd previously let on, including as a ghostwriter for top Russian government lawyers. At one point, she even received assistance from senior Interior Ministry personnel in a case involving a key client. The Associated Press obtained the data through the Dossier Center, a London-based investigative unit run by Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Although Veselnitskaya has not yet met with Mueller, she did meet with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who interviewed her in March and have sought to determine whether her appointment with members of the Trump campaign was part of a Russian government effort to help Donald Trump win the White House. Veselnitskaya declined to meet with Senate investigators in the United States, saying she feared for her safety. Instead, she and the committee’s investigators met in a Berlin hotel on March 26 and talked for three hours.
Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Trump Jr., attempted to quell the scandal with a statement of his own:
We are very confident of the accuracy and reliability of the information that has been provided by Mr. Trump, Jr., and on his behalf.
Sources who've discussed the matter with Cohen say that he hopes his claim about the Trump Tower meeting and his willingness to talk with Robert Mueller could lessen his own legal troubles.
Earlier this month, in his first in-depth interview since the FBI’s April raid of his home and office, Cohen, who once said he would do anything for President Donald Trump, said that he now puts “family and country first.”
“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in the off-camera interview that was reported on “Good Morning America.” “I put family and country first.”
ABC NEWS EXCLUSIVE: Pres. Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, facing FBI scrutiny, mum on commitment to… https://t.co/5vm21i6ueZ— ABC News (@ABC News) 1530528227.0
“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty, and always will,” Michael Cohen told me… https://t.co/rO9InHeKmf— GeorgeStephanopoulos (@GeorgeStephanopoulos) 1530534199.0
When asked if he was considering cooperating with prosecutors in their probe, Cohen responded that he would defer to Guy Petrillo, his attorney, for advice. Cohen’s responses, notably how he didn’t repeat past vows to “do anything” for the president, coupled with the fact a joint defense agreement Cohen shared with the president, which allowed their lawyers to share information and documents with each other, would come to an end once Petrillo assumes his role, prompted Stephanopoulos to observe “that the legal interests of the president of the United States and his longtime personal attorney could quickly become adversarial.”
Cohen defended himself, too, when asked how he might respond should the president and his legal team attempt to discredit the work he did for Trump over the last decade.
“I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy,” Cohen said. “I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.”
Of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference, Cohen was similarly direct, repeating previous denials that he had any involvement with Russian operatives or their attempts to thwart the 2016 presidential election. He did not, however, criticize Mueller.
“I don’t like the term witch hunt,” Cohen said. “As an American, I repudiate Russia’s or any other foreign government’s attempt to interfere or meddle in our democratic process, and I would call on all Americans to do the same.”
When Stephanopoulos asked Cohen if he had any regrets about how he has handled any matters presently under investigation, Cohen appeared apologetic.
“As an attorney and as an employee, I tried to make good faith judgments in the past. I also acknowledge that I am not perfect. I would prefer not to be in this situation at all, obviously,” he said. “I want to regain my name and my reputation and my life back.”
Cohen’s comments and the knowledge that he is cooperating with Robert Mueller prompted speculation that he might “flip” on the president. (The president, for his part, has been adamant that Cohen would never do this.)
Cohen has found himself at the center of the questions regarding a payment Stephanie Clifford, an adult film actress better known as Stormy Daniels, received from him as part of the non-disclosure agreement to keep her from discussing a sexual encounter with Trump back in 2006, while he was married to his current wife, Melania, and just a few months after Melania gave birth to their son, Barron. A separate lawsuit filed by Clifford contends that Cohen initiated a “bogus arbitration” hearing against her without notifying her beforehand, and a copy of the restraining order against Clifford confirms that the judge made a “one-party” ruling that did not require her to be notified.
Cohen has claimed that he paid Clifford out of his own pocket and that the president never reimbursed him for the settlement. But during a highly publicized 60 Minutes broadcast, Clifford’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, presented documents showing that the payment was sent to Cohen at his Trump Tower location, and communicated through his official Trump Organization email, indicating that he made the payment on Trump’s behalf. Analysts have posited that the exchange of funds could well be an illegal campaign expenditure on Trump’s behalf.
Earlier this week, CNN obtained a recording from Cohen of then-candidate Trump discussing with Cohen how they would buy the rights to Playboy model Karen McDougal's story about an alleged affair Trump had with her years earlier.
Trump lashed out after Cohen released the tape.
"What kind of lawyer would tape a client?" he asked.
What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad! Is this a first, never heard of it before? Why was the tape so a… https://t.co/ypyRQGeh2N— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1532522098.0
Rudy Giuliani claimed that Trump ultimately never made the payment discussed with Cohen on the tape.