Executive Branch

Trump denies advance knowledge of '16 meeting between campaign officials, Russian lawyer

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President Donald Trump/Frederic Legrand-COMEO (Shutterstock.com).

President Donald Trump is denying he had advance knowledge of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Trump tweeted his denial on Friday after CNN, NBC and Politico reported that Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was prepared to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump knew about the meeting in advance. The reports were based on anonymous sources. Politico has another story on Trump’s tweet.

According to CNN, Cohen claims he and several others were present when Trump was told about the meeting offer. Cohen reportedly plans to say Trump approved the meeting. Cohen does not have an audiotape to back up his claim, however.

The meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya reportedly included Donald Trump Jr.; Trump’s then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort; and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to Senate Judiciary Committee testimony. Trump Jr. has said Veselnitskaya mostly discussed the adoption of Russian children and his father didn’t know about the meeting in advance.

Trump’s tweet included an apparent reference to an investigation of Cohen, who once invested in taxi medallions, and the lawyer he retained, Lanny Davis, a former lawyer for President Bill Clinton.

Trump tweeted: “I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam (Taxi cabs maybe?). He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary’s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice!”

Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney, told Politico that Trump could face several legal problems if he had advance knowledge of the meeting.

“He could be in violation of campaign finance laws for accepting a thing of value from a foreign national in relation to an election,” she said. “If he knew that the source of the information was from illegal hacking, he could be charged with accessory after the fact to a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. He could also be charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States by impeding the fair administration of elections.”

If Trump dictated a misleading press release about the meeting after it was held, he could be charged with obstruction of justice, she said. Past reports relying on anonymous sources have said Trump reportedly dictated a statement for his son that said the Trump Tower meeting discussion primarily involved Russian adoption.

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said on CNN that Cohen has no credibility and he is a “pathological liar.” Giuliani also told NBC that “Michael Cohen can’t be believed unless it’s corroborated five times.”

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