August 23, 2018 / 11:54 AM / a year ago

Cohen told Congress he did not know if Trump aware of Russia meeting beforehand - Axios

(Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen told lawmakers under oath last year that he did not know whether the then-candidate was aware of a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians before it happened, Axios reported on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen exits a hotel in New York City, U.S., April 15, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

When Cohen testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last fall, Cohen said he himself did not know of the Trump Tower meeting beforehand and that he had no idea whether Trump did either, Axios reported, citing three unidentified sources.

The story runs contrary to other news outlets’ reporting this summer that Cohen was willing to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Trump knew about the meeting in advance.

At the June 9, 2016, meeting, a group of Russians offered to provide damaging information about Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., along with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and senior campaign aide Paul Manafort took part in the meeting with Nataliya Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties.

Cohen pleaded guilty on Tuesday to eight criminal charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. He told a federal court in New York that Trump had directed him to arrange payments before the 2016 presidential election to silence two women who said they had sex with Trump. Trump has denied having sex with the women.

Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said this week that Cohen told the panel he was not aware of the Trump Tower meeting before reading news reports about it.

“We recently re-engaged with Mr. Cohen and his team following press reports that suggested he had advance knowledge of the June 2016 meeting between campaign officials and Russian lawyers at Trump Tower,” committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, and the panel’s Democratic vice chairman, Mark Warner, said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

They asked Cohen’s legal team if he stood by his testimony, and the team responded that he did.

Cohen attorney Lanny Davis, in an interview with Reuters, confirmed that Cohen stood by his earlier statement to lawmakers that he did not know whether Trump was aware of the June 9 meeting beforehand.

“He has said he wouldn’t change his answer,” Davis said.

Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Russia has denied interfering in the election, but U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded it did interfere. Trump has denied there was collusion and has called the Mueller probe a “witch hunt.”

Reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Warren Strobel and Karen Freifeld; Editing by Patrick Graham, Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis

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