Outcry over Trump obstruction allegation


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Media captionHow the jailing of Cohen affects Trump

US Democratic politicians say they will investigate allegations that President Trump directed his long-time personal lawyer to lie to Congress.

A Buzzfeed News report alleges Mr Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Cohen has already admitted to lying about when the business project ended.

Mr Trump has not yet responded directly to the report’s allegations – but he has previously denied ever directing his former lawyer to break the law.

The intelligence committee of the House of Representatives will investigate the claims, says its new chairman, Adam Schiff.

“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,” Mr Schiff wrote on Twitter.

“We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true,” he added.

Another member of the committee, Texas representative Joaquin Castro, suggested Mr Trump should leave office if the allegations are true.

Cohen was sentenced to jail time last month after he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress over the plan.

He has also admitted campaign finance violations and tax evasion.

In court he said his “weakness was a blind loyalty to Donald Trump” – whose “dirty deeds” he felt compelled to cover up.

What does the report say?

Buzzfeed says its report is based on testimony from two unnamed law enforcement officials involved in investigating the matter.

The story alleges Mr Trump, his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner received regular updates about a plan to build a Trump development in Moscow at a time when they denied having business ties to Russia.

Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election, and if Trump campaign figures were complicit, has already revealed that Cohen lied about the date the Moscow Trump Tower project ended.

Cohen told Congress talks over the plan took place between September 2015 until January 2016 but criminal complaint documents have said they lasted until June.

Cohen claimed the plan was halted earlier in an attempt to “minimise links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” during the election campaign.

Individual 1 has previously been identified by Cohen as Mr Trump.

Buzzfeed says Cohen has told investigators that Mr Trump “personally instructed him to lie” about the date negotiations ended “in order to obscure Trump’s involvement”.

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Media captionWhat does it take to impeach a president?

The report said Mr Mueller had other evidence, including from interviews with other Trump organisation staff and internal company emails, to corroborate Cohen’s version of events.

The report also says Mr Trump allegedly encouraged Cohen to plan a trip to meet President Vladimir Putin during the election campaign.

What has the reaction been?

Some Democrats have reacted with anger to the report which they say, if proven, would amount to obstruction of justice by the president.

Democratic representative Ted Lieu is among those calling for Congress to investigate the claims and other allegations surrounding Mr Trump.

The president’s current personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, dismissed the story late on Thursday, telling the Washington Post: “If you believe Cohen, I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”

What is the latest with the Russia investigation?

Mr Mueller’s investigation is still ongoing and it is unclear when he will submit his findings to the attorney general, the top legal official in the US.

It is up to the attorney general to notify Congress and decide if the report will be released publicly.

William Barr, Mr Trump’s nominee for the attorney general position, is currently going through a confirmation process.

Under congressional questioning earlier this week, Mr Barr said he would consider a president, or any person, instructing a witness to change their testimony as obstruction of justice.

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Mr Barr previously served as attorney general under President George HW Bush

So far Mr Mueller’s investigation has led to charges against over two dozen Russians, as well as several people connected to Mr Trump himself, including his former national security advisor and the former chairman of his election campaign.

A number of them, including Cohen, are known to be co-operating with Mr Mueller’s probe.

Cohen, who was Mr Trump’s personal lawyer for more than a decade, was sentenced to 36 months in prison last month.

Among the crimes he admitted was the payment of “hush money” to two women who claimed they had affairs with Mr Trump.

Those payments, financed in the run-up to the 2016 election, constituted campaign finance violations.

Cohen must report to prison by 6 March, but before that, he has agreed to testify before the House Oversight Committee in February.

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