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US prosecutors revealed Friday that a Russian offered cooperation to Donald Trump’s campaign as early as 2015, declaring that the president’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen had provided “relevant” and “substantial” help to the Russia investigation.
In a separate case, federal prosecutors demanded “substantial” jail time of between 51 to 63 months — four to five years — for Mr Cohen for bank fraud and campaign finance violations to which he plead guilty last August.
“PERSONAL GREED”
US Attorney Robert Khuzami accused the 52-year-old, who once vowed to take a bullet for the president, of being motivated by “personal greed” and of “repeatedly” using his power and influence for “deceptive ends.”
“Totally clears the President. Thank you!” tweeted the US president cryptically as television networks were consumed by the Cohen documents — which the White House dismissed as revealing “nothing of value.” The campaign finance violations to which Mr Cohen pleaded guilty in August concerned hush payments he made on President Trump’s behalf to alleged former lovers of the president, including porn star Stormy Daniels.
Robert Mueller, the special counsel heading up the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 vote, followed up with a separate filing saying Mr Cohen had made “substantial and significant efforts to remediate his misconduct, accept responsibility for his actions, and assist” the special investigation, a thorn in Trump’s side.
INFORMATION
Mr Cohen continued to provide “relevant and truthful information” to assist the probe, holding seven sessions with investigators, “many of them lengthy, and continues to make himself available to investigators,” it said.
He had provided information about contacts with Russian interests during the campaign, attempts by Russians to reach the campaign and about contacts with “persons connected to the White House” in 2017-2018, the filing added.
Around November 2015, some five months after Mr Trump launched his bid for the presidency and well before previously reported contacts, Mr Cohen spoke to a purported “trusted person” in the Russian Federation who offered the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.”
Mr Cohen said the person “repeatedly proposed” a meeting between Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming it could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well”.
“Cohen, however, did not follow up on this invitation,” the filing added.
“NO HERO”
The former fixer last week pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in connection with a Moscow real-estate deal, which was being pursued as late as one month before Trump officially became the Republican nominee for president.
Due to his help, Mr Mueller declined to recommend additional jail time for Mr Cohen for lying to Congress.
Recent filings in the Mr Mueller probe have suggested the White House knew that Mr Cohen planned to lie to lawmakers about his contacts with Russians.
They also suggest President Trump and his family were in the loop on discussions with Russians on a Moscow project, even after the real estate tycoon secured the Republican nomination in mid-2016.
The president’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders dismissed the latest filings in Cohen’s case, saying they “tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known.”
“Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero,” she said.
FIRE
But Mr Mueller has been inching ever closer to the White House, and early on Friday Trump fired off a feverish volley of tweets against a probe he dubs a “witch hunt,” accusing Mr Mueller of “big time conflicts of interest” and alleging the prosecutor coerced false testimony from witnesses.
The commander-in-chief vowed his lawyers would produce a “major Counter Report” to rebut Mr Mueller’s findings, as and when he delivers them.
Shortly afterward, President Trump announced his intention to nominate William Barr as his new attorney general — succeeding Jeff Sessions, who he sacked last month.
Mr Sessions had angered the president by recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller probe because of his own contacts with Russian officials.
Mr Barr — a former attorney general under the late George H.W. Bush — is considered something of a consensus candidate for the highly sensitive post.
He does, however, have a record of endorsing strong executive powers, which could come into play if Mr Mueller sought to compel Trump to testify.
BARR COMMITMENT
Mr Barr has also voiced concerns about a number of Mr Mueller’s team donating to the Democratic Party.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned Mr Barr must commit, under oath, that the Russia investigation “will proceed unimpeded” and that the final report will be made available to Congress and the public “immediately.”
In Washington, Mr Mueller also detailed multiple “lies” that former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort told investigators, leading to a termination of his cooperation deal.
A heavily redacted court filing included among Manafort’s “lies,” untruths about his dealings with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who US officials suspect is a Russian intelligence operative, and about his contacts with Trump administration officials after striking a plea agreement.
The White House similarly dismissed that filing, arguing it “says absolutely nothing about the President.”
“Once again the media is trying to create a story where there isn’t one,” said Sanders.