U.S. media report that President Donald Trump’s former lawyer has said the president knew in advance about a June 2016 meeting between his aides and a Russian delegation that offered to help Trump’s election campaign by sharing damaging information about rival candidate Hillary Clinton.
According to CNN and NBC, Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen claims he was present when Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., told his father about the Russians’ offer to meet and that Trump approved of the meeting.
Cohen, who is under investigation himself and has fallen out with the president, reportedly said he was willing to testify about the issue to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian inference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Evidence of Cohen’s reported assertion would be a crucial step toward proving if there had been collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia aimed at helping Trump win the presidency – a key focus of Mueller’s investigation.
But CNN quoted sources who said Cohen lacks evidence such as an audio recording to corroborate his account.
Trump, his son, his lawyers, and other administration officials have repeatedly said the president did not know about the now infamous meeting until news of it broke in July 2017.
Trump Jr., Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Trump’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met at New York's Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, with influential Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The meeting was set up after a Russian intermediary told Trump’s son that a Russian official had offered to provide documents and information that would “incriminate” Clinton.
Veselnitskaya has denied acting on behalf of the Kremlin when she met with the Trump team, telling Congress that she operates "independently of any government bodies."
But the Associated Press on July 27 reported that it has reviewed documents showing Veselnitskaya has worked more closely with senior Russian government officials than she previously has let on.
The AP says the documents include scores of e-mails, transcripts, and legal documents that depict Veselnitskaya as a well-connected attorney who served as a ghostwriter for top Russian government lawyers and received assistance from senior officials in the Russian Interior Ministry in a case involving a client.
The documents were obtained through the Dossier Center, Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s London-based investigative unit, which is compiling profiles of Russians it accuses of benefiting from corruption.
The AP says it was not immediately able to reach Veselnitskaya for comment. It said messages from a reporter sent to her phone were marked as "read" but were not returned.