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Ex-lawyer says Trump knew of 2016 meeting with Russians: report
[WASHINGTON] Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney says the US president knew in advance of a June 2016 meeting in which Russians were expected to share dirt on then-election rival Hillary Clinton, US media reported on Wednesday.
Mr 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 was offering information from the Russian government.
Mr Trump, his son, his lawyers and other administration officials have repeatedly said Mr Trump did not know about the meeting until news of it broke in July 2017.
But according to CNN and NBC, Mr Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, who has fallen out with the president, claims he was present when Donald Jr. told his father about the Russians' offer to meet, and Mr Trump approved it.
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."
Mr Trump Jr responded "I love it" when first offered the political "dirt" on Mrs 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 Mr Cohen lacks evidence such as an audio recording to corroborate his account.
But both CNN and NBC reported - citing anonymous sources - that Mr Cohen is willing to assert his claim to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with Mr Trump's campaign.
Mr Mueller has already indicted 31 people - including 12 Russian intelligence agents - for hacking computer networks of the Democratic Party.
Mr Cohen's reported claim comes days after the bombshell release of a taped conversation between him and Mr Trump by CNN Tuesday - with reports suggesting there may be more tapes.
On the recording, released by Mr Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis, Mr Trump can be heard discussing with Mr Cohen how to hush up allegations that he had an affair with Playboy model Karen McDougal in 2006, and buying the rights to her story, which she had sold to the National Enquirer for US$150,000.
During Mr Trump's presidential campaign, his team denied any knowledge of the deal between McDougal and American Media, the magazine's parent company.
Mr 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 Mr Cohen can inflict on the president and whether he is now mulling a cooperation deal with federal prosecutors.