U.S. President Donald Trump has defended his decision to seek a business deal in Russia in 2016 even as he pursued the Republican presidential nomination.
In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20 summit, Trump called his business deal “very legal” and “very cool,” while adding that he had abandoned his project in Russia.
"Oh, I get it! I am a very good developer, happily living my life, when I see our Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly). Against all odds, I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail... Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project. Witch Hunt!” Trump said on Twitter.
Trump posted the tweets a day after his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted that he had lied to Congress about the timing and extent of his discussions with unnamed Russian officials about a proposed Trump-branded development in Moscow.
Cohen had previously said that talks about the deal stopped in January 2016, but, according to Mueller’s court filing, those discussions were ongoing as late as June 2016, as Trump was closing in on securing the Republican party's nomination to be U.S. president.
Cohen admitted that he had misled the Senate Intelligence Committee about that and other details in testimony he provided to the committee in August 2017.
Trump lashed out at Cohen after a plea deal was announced on November 29, calling him "a weak person" and a “not very smart person.”
The U.S. Special Counsel's Office is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump's campaign.
Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt.”
The White House said on November 30 that ties between Russia and the United States are likely being damaged by the investigation into whether Trump colluded with Moscow during his campaign.
"Unfortunately, it probably does undermine our relationship with Russia," spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. She referred to the probe as "the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax."
"However, the reason for our canceled meeting is Ukraine. Hopefully, that will be resolved soon so that productive conversations can begin,” Sanders added.
Trump had said on Twitter that he canceled the meeting with Putin over Russia's seizure of Ukrainian ships and sailors.
He announced the cancellation shortly after Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has brought charges or secured convictions against more than two dozen Russian nationals and entities, as well as a number of Trump's associates, including his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who will tentatively face sentencing on March 5, according to a November 30 ruling by a federal judge.