Donald Trump has denied he knew in advance about the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, contradicting Thursday night’s bombshell reports that his former lawyer Michael Cohen claims Trump not only knew about the Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton but also gave his campaign aides the go-ahead to meet.
In a Friday tweet, Trump said: “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?).”
Cohen runs a taxi business, which is reportedly being investigated by the FBI.
CNN and NBC reported Thursday that Cohen — Trump’s longtime “fixer” who has emerged as one of the biggest potential threats to his presidency — is prepared to testify to the explosive claim for the special counsel probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, CNN and NBC reported.
Cohen says he was in the room — along with several others — when Don Jr. told his father about the offer of a meeting with the Russians, and that Trump gave the go-ahead for it to proceed, the networks reported.
Cohen has no physical evidence, such as recordings, to corroborate his account, but he is prepared to provide a statement to Robert Mueller, who's running the investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Despite the revelation, Trump tweeted Friday that the special counsel "cannot find collusion" and (for the umptreenth time) called the probe into election meddling a "rigged witch hunt."
Trump has repeatedly denied having known about the June 2016 meeting, held at Trump Tower in New York, in advance. His account, which has also been advanced by Trump Jr., his lawyers and administration officials, is that Trump only learned of the meeting when he was approached about it by the New York Times more than a year later. In July 2017, when details of the meeting surfaced, Trump told reporters onboard Air Force One: “I only heard about it two or three days ago.”
Trump Jr. and Kushner have also both testified that Trump didn’t know about the meeting ahead of time.
The meeting was organized after an intermediary contacted Trump Jr. with an offer to provide material that would hurt Clinton in the presidential race, and was attended Trump Jr, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, his then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Emails show Trump Jr. replied “I love it” when offered dirt on his father’s political opponent, but he has claimed that nothing incriminating was passed on during the meeting, which focused mostly on the issue of adoptions of Russian children.
Trump’s current attorney, Rudy Giuliani, rubbished the reports and attacked Cohen, a top Trump Organization attorney for a decade, as lacking credibility.
“Michael Cohen is not credible,” he told NBC. “I talked to the president about this at length before, as well as other witnesses, and it's not true.”
And Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, stood by the version of events his client had provided to the Mueller and Congressional investigations.
“We are very confident of the accuracy and reliability of the information that has been provided by Mr. Trump, Jr., and on his behalf,” he said.
Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said Thursday that the revelation did not come from Cohen or his team. He told MSNBC, “I have to wonder why the Trump people put that out. It wasn’t us.”
If the leak wasn’t from Cohen’s team, it raises the possibility it was given to the media from someone within Trump’s orbit — possibly a move to weaken Cohen’s negotiating hand should Trump’s former lawyer plan to meet with Mueller.
Despite Trump’s denials of foreknowledge of the meeting, suspicions have persisted over details such as a series of calls Trump Jr. made to a blocked number before and after the meeting.
Since the split with Trump, his longtime boss, Cohen has emerged as one of the president’s most serious adversaries. The lawyer, who is is under federal investigation for his business dealings, told ABC News earlier this month that loyalty to his family and country came before his former employer.
Earlier this week, a tape leaked of a secretly recorded 2016 conversation between Cohen and Trump discussing how to hush up allegations that Trump had an affair with a Playboy model. The leak has fueled speculation that Cohen could be considering a cooperation deal in the investigations into Trump’s dealings.
Cover image: Michael Cohen, personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives at federal court in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images)