The House Intelligence Committee will investigate a bombshell report published Thursday that claims Donald Trump instructed his lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress the deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Citing law enforcement officials, the report is the strongest indication yet that Trump criminally obstructed the investigation into his ties to Russia.
According to BuzzFeed, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is aware that Trump instructed Cohen to lie and has evidence beyond Cohen’s testimony, including “interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”
The report also claims that Trump agreed to Cohen’s plan to set up a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2016 to kickstart the tower project. “Make it happen,” Trump reportedly told his lawyer.
Trump has yet to respond to the allegation, but his current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the Washington Post: “If you believe Cohen, I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Democrats, however, pounced on the revelations.
“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date,” committee chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”
Cohen, who declined to comment on the story “out of respect for Mr. Mueller’s and the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation,” is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7.
What is Trump accused of?
Sources told BuzzFeed that Cohen admitted to Mueller that Trump “directed” and “personally instructed” him to lie to Congress about the work he was doing on the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Details are scant, but the sources said the aim was “to obscure Trump’s involvement” in the deal.
The report also says that Trump, together with his children Don. Jr. and Ivanka, received detailed updates on the Moscow project throughout 2016. It also claims that Trump and Cohen had at least 10 face-to-face meetings specifically about the proposed building.
What was the Trump Tower Moscow deal?
Cohen was in charge of a secret project to build a 100-story tower in Moscow throughout 2015 and 2016 — the time Trump was on the campaign trail denying he had any business dealings in Russia.
The deal, which would have required authorization from the Kremlin, could have made the Trump Organization as much as $300 million.
The public only became aware of the project in August 2017, after it was made public that the Trump Organization had signed a letter of intent to build the Moscow tower in late 2015.
When called to appear before Congress, Cohen told lawmakers Trump knew little about the project and that he had only spoken to the president about it infrequently.
Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in November, saying the project continued for months longer than he initially told Congress and that Trump and his family had been kept up to date with detailed progress reports.
What’s the fallout?
If the allegation is true, there is a very strong case that Trump obstructed justice by suborning Cohen to mislead Congress and the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
At his confirmation hearing last week, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, was asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) whether it could be obstruction of justice if “the president tried to coach somebody” to “testify falsely.” Barr told the lawmakers that it could.
What’s the reaction been?
While the White House and Republicans have remained mostly silent, Democrats have called for further investigations.
House Intelligence Committee member Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) even called on the president to “resign or be impeached.”
Castro told BuzzFeed that if the claims are true, “such an instruction would amount to obstruction of justice.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told MSNBC that he views Trump’s actions “as powerful evidence of collusion.”
“I say that because it is a consciousness of guilt. He is asking Michael Cohen to lie because the truth would expose what was going on with the Russians early on in the candidacy,” Swalwell added.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called on Mueller to work with lawmakers to allow them to properly investigate the president “before it’s too late.”
Cover image: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, arrives at federal court for his sentencing hearing, December 12, 2018, in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)