Ex-lawyer says Trump knew of 2016 meeting with Russians: report

Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney says the US president knew in advance of a June 2016 meeting in which Russians promised to share dirt on then-election rival Hillary Clinton, US media reported Thursday.

Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, son Donald Jr., and top campaign official Paul Manafort met at New York's Trump Tower on June 9, 2016 with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who had said she was offering information from the Russian government aimed at helping Trump win the presidency.

Trump, his son, his lawyers and other administration officials have repeatedly said Trump did not know about the now infamous meeting until news of it broke in July 2017.

"No, I didn't know anything about the meeting," Trump told The New York Times that month.

But according to CNN and NBC, Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who is under investigation and has fallen out with the president, claims he was present when Donald Jr. told his father about the Russians' offer to meet, and that Trump approved of it.

I love it

Cohen's assertion is very important: if he can back it up, it would be a key step toward proving there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia aimed at helping Trump win the presidency -- an essential focus of the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The Trump Tower meeting was arranged by a music promoter, Rob Goldstone, who reached out to Trump Jr saying he had "official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."

Trump Jr responded "I love it" when first offered the political "dirt" on Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee. But he has said since that no "meaningful information" was offered and the meeting focused mostly on the issue of adoptions of Russian children.

CNN quoted sources as saying Cohen lacks evidence such as an audio recording to corroborate his account.

But both CNN and NBC reported -- citing anonymous sources -- that Cohen is willing to make his claim to Mueller.

Mueller has already indicted 31 people -- including 12 Russian intelligence agents -- for hacking computer networks of the Democratic Party.

Cohen's reported claim comes days after the bombshell release of a taped conversation between him and Trump by CNN Tuesday -- with reports suggesting there may be more tapes.

On that recording, released by Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis, Trump can be heard discussing with Cohen arrangements for payment of hush money to Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she had an affair with Trump in 2006.

McDougal had sold the rights to her story to the parent company of the National Enquirer for $150,000. The Trump-Cohen discussion was essentially about reimbursing that company, run by David Pecker, a friend of Trump, to acquire the rights.

During Trump's presidential campaign, his team denied any knowledge of the deal between McDougal and American Media, the parent company.

First loyalty

But in the taped conversation, which came two months before the election, Trump did not express any surprise about the deal.

Cohen, who once declared fierce loyalty to the president, is under federal investigation in New York for his business dealings and reportedly whether hush payments violated campaign finance laws.

The leak fanned speculation about how much damage Cohen can inflict on the president and whether he is now mulling a cooperation deal with federal prosecutors.

In an ABC News interview released on July 2, Cohen said his family and the country commanded his "first loyalty," the first fuel to that speculation.

On Wednesday, Davis compared the Cohen tape to the Watergate tapes that ultimately forced Republican president Richard Nixon to resign in 1974 as impeachment loomed.

"Listen to the tape in the way that (former White House counsel) John Dean had a tape that did in Richard Nixon," he told ABC television. "Ultimately Donald Trump is going to be done in by the truth."

Davis, who worked for the Bill Clinton White House, told ABC that Cohen had more tapes. He told CNN that his client had "turned a corner in his life" and was "now dedicated to telling the truth."

(Source: AFP)