Lawmakers say they will investigate whether Trump told lawyer to lie

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Investigators in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives said on Friday they plan to examine whether U.S. President Donald Trump broke the law by directing his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about building a skyscraper in Moscow while he was running for president.

Leading Democrats in the House of Representatives said they would seek to verify a Buzzfeed News report that Trump told Cohen to lie to lawmakers who are examining whether his campaign worked with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.

Buzzfeed, citing two unnamed law enforcement sources, said Cohen told investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Trump had directed him to lie about the Moscow project. The report said Mueller's office learned of Trump's instructions to Cohen through internal Trump Organization emails, witness interviews, text messages and other documents, and that Cohen told prosecutors about the directive in an interview.

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Rudy Giuliani and President Donald Trump through the years
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Rudy Giuliani and President Donald Trump through the years
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump embraces former New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani at a campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, U.S., September 6, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump listens to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani during a meeting with cyber security experts in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump listens to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani during a meeting with cyber security experts in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump stands with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump greets former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrive to speak to police gathered at Fraternal Order of Police lodge during a campaign event in Statesville, North Carolina, U.S., August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (2nd L) arrive for ceremonies to mark the 15th anniversary of the September 11 attacks at the National 9/11 Memorial in New York, New York, United States September 11, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump walks with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (L) and his son Eric Trumo (R) through the new Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., U.S., September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani visit the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump talks with Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. (L) and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) at the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump greets former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani during a campaign rally at Crown Arena in Fayetteville, North Carolina August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani visit Allegra Print and Imaging in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani visit Allegra Print and Imaging in Fayetteville, North Carolina August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani visit Allegra Print and Imaging in Fayetteville, North Carolina, U.S., August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani greets Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump at the Trask Coliseum at University of North Carolina in Wilmington, North Carolina, U.S., August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani sits with his wife Judith (R) and Donald Trump Jr. at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (L), Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (C) and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) stand together during a memorial service at the National 9/11 Memorial September 11, 2016 in New York. The United States on Sunday commemorated the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. / AFP / Bryan R. Smith (Photo credit should read BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: Republican presidental nominee Donald Trump (R) and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani (L) arrive at September 11 Commemoration Ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on September 11, 2016 in New York City. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump attended the September 11 Commemoration Ceremony. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 11: Republican presidental nominee Donald Trump (C) and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani arrive at September 11 Commemoration Ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on September 11, 2016 in New York City. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump attended the September 11 Commemoration Ceremony. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani introduces Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump before a rally at the Travis County Exposition Center on August 23, 2016 in Austin, Texas. / AFP / SUZANNE CORDEIRO (Photo credit should read SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP/Getty Images)
Former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani greets Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump just after introducing him at a rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Florida, on Wednesday, August 24, 2016. (Photo by Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times/Getty Images)
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, left, welcomes Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on stage during a campaign rally on August 18, 2016, at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
BRIARCLIFF MANOR, NY - JULY 14: (L-R) Donald Trump, Joe Torre, Ali Torre, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Billy Crystal attend the 2008 Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation Golf Classic at Trump National Golf Club on July 14, 2008 in Briarcliff Manor, New York. (Photo by Rick Odell/Getty Images)
BRIARCLIFF MANOR, NY - JULY 14: (L-R) Rudolph W. Giuliani, Donald Trump, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Bill Clinton, Joe Torre, and Billy Crystal attend the 2008 Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation Golf Classic at Trump National Golf Club on July 14, 2008 in Briarcliff Manor, New York. (Photo by Rick Odell/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 04: Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump at news conference at the GM Building, where CBS announced that Bryant Gumbel will be the host of its new morning news program, 'This Morning.' Show, to be launched Nov. 1, will broadcast from Trump's International Plaza Building., (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 04: Mayor Rudy Giuliani is flanked by CBS President Leslie Moonves (left) and Donald Trump at news conference at the GM Building, where CBS announced that Bryant Gumbel will be the host of its new morning news program, 'This Morning.' Show, to be launched Nov. 1, will broadcast from Trump's International Plaza Building., (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 04: Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump at news conference at the GM Building, where CBS announced that Bryant Gumbel will be the host of its new morning news program, 'This Morning.' Show, to be launched Nov. 1, will broadcast from Trump's International Plaza Building., (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 04: Mayor Rudy Giuliani considers a question as Donald Trump looks on at news conference at the GM Building, where CBS announced that Bryant Gumbel will be the host of its new morning news program, 'This Morning.' Show, to be launched Nov. 1, will broadcast from Trump's International Plaza Building., (Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: This 13 September 1999 file photo shows New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (L) with Donald Trump (R) during the NYC2000 fashion show in New York City. Trump announced 07 October that he plans to form an exploratory committee to help him decide whether to seek the Reform Party nomination for president. (Photo credit should read MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (L) jokes with Donald Trump (R) as they take a walk down the runway during the NYC2000 fashion show in Times Square 13 September, 1999, in New York City. The show which featured more than 90 clothing designs as well as a performance by singer Trisha Yearwood was held in conjunction with the Seventh on Sixth Fashion Week Spring 2000 Collections. AFP PHOTO Matt CAMPBELL (Photo credit should read MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/Getty Images)
BRONX, NY - OCTOBER 15: Real estate magnate Donald Trump talks with former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani while current mayor Michael Bloomberg (far R) eats popcorn before the start of game 6 of the American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox on October 15, 2003 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Trump said on Twitter that Cohen was lying in order to get less prison time while Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said in an email statement, "Any suggestion ... that the president counseled his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false."

Mueller's office declined to comment.

Cohen, who once said he was so loyal to Trump that he would "take a bullet" for him, is scheduled to begin a three-year prison sentence in March after pleading guilty to charges that included lying to Congress.

If Trump did tell Cohen to lie, that would constitute criminal activity, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, who said he would look into the matter.

"Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime," Nadler said on Twitter.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said the allegation that Trump may have directed Cohen to lie under oath "is among the most serious to date."

"We will do what's necessary to find out if it's true," he said on Twitter.

Some Senate Intelligence Committee investigators hope to ask Cohen about the BuzzFeed report when he testifies behind closed doors in February, a committee source told Reuters.

He also will face questions about it in testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7.

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Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen pleads guilty
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Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen pleads guilty
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, exits federal court, August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
U.S. Deputy Attorney Robert Khuzami speaks to the media outside the the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House after U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen plead guilty to eight criminal counts in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, center, exits from federal court in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer�Michael Cohen�appeared in federal court Tuesday pleading guilty to federal charges stemming from hush payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with the president. Photograph: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: A crowd gathers before Michael Cohen, former lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen admitted to violating federal campaign finance laws at the direction fo then-Presidential candidate Trump. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: A woman seen inside the Federal Courthouse before Michael Cohen, former lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen admitted to violating federal campaign finance laws at the direction fo then-Presidential candidate Trump. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, leaves the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. Deputy Attorney Robert Khuzami walks to speak to the media outside the the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House after U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen plead guilty to eight criminal counts in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, leaves the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. Deputy Attorney Robert Khuzami speaks to the media outside the the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House after U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen plead guilty to eight criminal counts in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, leaves the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, leaves the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Court House in lower Manhattan, New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, arrives to his apartment building after attending the federal court in New York City, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Robert Khuzami (R), Deputy US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks to the press outside federal court on August 21, 2018 in New York, after Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty to eight counts, including fraud and campaign finance violations. (Photo by Don Emmert / AFP) (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: Michael Cohen, former lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations.(Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: Michael Cohen, former lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations.(Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: Police gather before Michael Cohen, former lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 21: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, exits federal court, August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits from federal court in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. Trump's longtime lawyer and fixer�Michael Cohen�appeared in federal court Tuesday pleading guilty to federal charges stemming from hush payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with the president. Photograph: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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NEW EXPOSURE

Legal experts say the allegation exposed Trump to a new level of risk in an investigation that has already resulted in convictions of or guilty pleas from four former campaign aides, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

"It's a seismic event," Andy Wright, an associate White House counsel under former Democratic President Barack Obama, told Reuters.

Cohen adviser Lanny Davis declined to comment on the BuzzFeed report and said Cohen also would not comment. Cohen's lawyer, Guy Petrillo, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump denounced Cohen as a "rat" after he began cooperating with investigators while Cohen, whose duties included making payoffs to two women who had affairs with Trump, said on Thursday he regretted giving "my blind loyalty to a man who doesn't deserve it."

Directing or encouraging someone to lie under oath is a crime known as subornation of perjury but the report also raises questions about obstruction of justice and conspiracy.

William Barr, Trump's nominee to be attorney general, said at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that a president would be committing obstruction if he directed a subordinate to lie under oath. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

While the Justice Department has previously concluded that a sitting president cannot be charged while in office, such an allegation, if found true, could fuel impeachment proceedings in Congress.

"Suborning perjury has been a key part of earlier instances where the House has decided to move against a president in the extreme grounds of impeachment," Democratic Senator Tim Kaine told reporters.

Trump repeatedly has denied collusion with Russia and slammed Mueller's investigation as a "witch hunt." Russia also has rejected U.S. intelligence findings that Moscow interfered in U.S. politics in the 2016 election in an effort to boost Trump.

Trump said repeatedly during the presidential campaign that he had no ties or business dealings with Russia. Representatives for the Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment on the BuzzFeed report.

Democrats, who took over the U.S. House of Representatives this month, have generally been cautious regarding any talk of impeachment to remove Trump from office although some rank-and-file members have pushed for such a resolution.

It would face an uphill battle in the Senate, where Trump's fellow Republicans have a majority.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office had no comment on the BuzzFeed report but other Republicans said it raised troubling questions.

"Lying to Congress is a whole different issue, obviously, if there was direction to do that. But we’ve got to hear both sides of the story on this," Senator James Lankford told Reuters.

BuzzFeed on Thursday also reported that Cohen regularly updated Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. and his daughter Ivanka Trump, who is now a top White House adviser, about the Moscow project.

A spokesman for Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Ivanka Trump, said she was minimally involved in the development. Representatives for Trump Jr., who has also testified previously before Congress, did not respond to a request for comment.

(Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Mark Hosenball, Andy Sullivan and David Alexander; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Trott)

 

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