Washington: US Democratic leaders have reacted with fury and demanded an investigation following a news report that claimed President Donald Trump directed his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a potential real-estate development in Moscow in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
The Thursday night report, published by BuzzFeed News, said Trump instructed Cohen to mislead Congress about when negotiations to launch a condo project in Russia’s capital ended, as well as the extent of Trump’s involvement in the deal. It later fell apart.
Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying under oath about those details.
Democrats said that if the report was accurate, then Trump must quickly be held to account for his role in the perjury, with some raising the spectre of impeachment, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
The President has not yet responded directly to the allegations, but had previously denied ever directing Cohen to break the law.
“The allegation that the President of the US 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,” wrote Representative Adam B. Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on Twitter.
“We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”
Representative Ted Deutch, while appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Friday morning, said: “If this is true, what it means is this is more evidence that the President has violated his oath of office,” Deutch said. “If he told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress if he suborned perjury, this is as serious as it gets.”
Former President Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted that Congress should start impeachment hearings if the story was accurate. “If true, and proof must be examined, Congress must begin impeachment proceedings,” he wrote.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on BuzzFeed’s report.
Cohen was in December sentenced to 36 months in jail after he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. He had also admitted campaign finance violations and tax evasion.
In court, he said his “weakness was blind loyalty to Donald Trump”, whose “dirty deeds” he felt compelled to cover up.
The BuzzFeed report said that the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading the investigation into alleged connections between Trump’s 2016 election campaign and the Kremlin, had more evidence than just Cohen’s testimony that Trump directed him to lie to Congress.
It said that Cohen’s testimony was backed up by “interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents”.
In November, Cohen admitted he falsely told Congress that Trump’s efforts to build a condo tower in Moscow ended in January 2016, when, in reality, those efforts continued through that June.