Michael Cohen has information ‘of interest’ to Mueller: lawyer

Michael Cohen, the former lawyer for US President Donald Trump who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to campaign finance violations, may have “information that would be of interest” to the special counsel’s office investigating Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, according to his lawyer. 

In a series of interviews with US television outlets on Wednesday , Lanny Davis said he believes his client has information that would be of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, suggesting in an interview with MSNBC that it was directly tied to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. 

Cohen has “information … regarding both knowledge of a conspiracy to corrupt American democracy by the Russians and the failure to report that knowledge to the FBI”, Davis told MSNBC. 

On CNN, he added that his client “has knowledge that would be of interest to the special counsel about whether Donald Trump knew ahead of time about the hacking of emails”. 

Mueller is investigating Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election and whether there was any cooperation or links with the Trump campaign. 

Trump lashes out

On Wednesday, Trump lashed out at Cohen, as well as the Mueller investigation, tweeting it was a “witch hunt”, a phrase he has repeatedly used in the past.  

One tweet specifically referenced the trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who was convicted of eight financial crimes on Wednesday in a case stemming from the Russia probe. The judge declared a mistrial on 10 other counts the jury could not agree on. 

“A large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case. Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted. 

Trump also tweeted that he feels “badly” for Manafort, saying “tremendous pressure” was put on him and “unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal’.” 

There has been no indication that Cohen will talk to or cooperated with Mueller’s team. 

Later on Wednesday, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said Trump was not worried that Cohen might implicate the president if he cooperates with Mueller.

“I don’t think the president is concerned at all,” Sanders said.

“The president, in this matter, has done nothing wrong and there are no charges against him,” she added.

“Just because Michael Cohen made a plea deal doesn’t mean that implicates the president on anything.”

Implicates Trump

In addition to pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, Cohen also admitted to tax and bank fraud. 

In court on Tuesday, Cohen said he made payments to influence the 2016 election at the direction of a candidate for federal office. 

Questioned by the federal judge, Cohen said he had paid sums of $130,000 and $150,000 each to two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump, acting at his boss’s request, in a bid to buy their silence “with the purpose of influencing the election”. 

Cohen did not specify the women’s names, but the sums correspond to a payment known to have been made to adult film star Stormy Daniels just before the election to silence her claims of a one-night stand with Trump – and another destined for former Playboy model Karen McDougal. 

He also did not name Trump, but said it was “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office”, and the other was made “under direction of the same candidate”.

The payments to the women could be regarded as an illegal campaign expenditure if the money was clearly meant to influence the 2016 election. Trump, on Twitter, maintained otherwise, saying, “Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime.”

Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said in a statement on Tuesday that “there is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government’s charges against Mr Cohen.”

“The president, as well as his legal team, [are trying] to discredit these investigations because it all leads back to Mueller,” Eric Ham, author and political analyst, told Al Jazeera. 

“What they are trying to combat now is the real possibility of possible impeachment proceedings,” he added.

In Wednesday’s interviews, Cohen’s lawyer, Davis, also said his client would not accept a presidential pardon from Trump. “He will not, and does not want anything from Donald Trump,” Davis told MSNBC.

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