Giving the public and federal investigators further reason to doubt President Donald Trump's repeated insistence that he knew nothing about a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, Don Jr., and several Kremlin-connected Russian nationals promising "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, the president's former personal attorney Michael Cohen is reportedly willing to testify that Trump knew all about and green-lighted the meeting.
"An allegation that Trump was aware of the meeting might strengthen the allegations of obstruction of justice against the president."
—David Graham, The Atlantic
In a story late Thursday that was corroborated by at least two other outlets, CNN reported that Cohen has said he is willing to tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller that "he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians' offer [of dirt on Clinton] by Trump Jr."
"By Cohen's account, Trump approved going ahead with the meeting with the Russians," CNN notes, citing sources familiar with Cohen's claim. "After news of the meeting broke in July 2017, the Trump team offered misleading explanations and changed their story several times. But one claim stayed consistent: that Trump had no knowledge of the meeting beforehand, wasn't told about it afterward and first learned about it one year later."
The Trump Tower meeting was set up by Trump Jr. to get dirt on Hillary from a foreign power. Now it appears @realDonaldTrump knew about this meeting in advance, and then lied about it. As evidence accumulates, it becomes harder to believe Trump had no idea what was happening. https://t.co/3ZL17lcdxj
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) July 27, 2018
If true, Cohen's reported claim that Trump knew about the meeting—which was also attended by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign manager Paul Manafort—could spell trouble for both the president and Don Jr., who may have lied to Congress about his father's knowledge of the 2016 meeting.
"He wasn't aware of it," Don Jr. said of his father during an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee late last year.
In a tweet early Friday, Trump once again denied any knowledge of the meeting and cryptically suggested Cohen is "trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam."
.....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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 27, 2018
As David Graham of The Atlantic notes, while the Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr. and a Russian lawyer, lobbyist, and businessman with ties to the government does not demonstrate collusion in itself, it shows a "willingness by top campaign officials to collude."
"If Trump Sr. was also aware of the meeting, it would appear to extend the willingness to collude to the candidate himself," Graham notes.
"Finally, an allegation that Trump was aware of the meeting might strengthen the allegations of obstruction of justice against the president," Graham adds. "A particular focus will be Trump Jr.'s initial statement about the meeting, which turned out to be false, and which the president dictated from Air Force One while returning from Europe. Mueller has long been said to be interested in the circumstances of that statement, which denied that the meeting had dealt with campaign issues at all."
Rudy Giuliani, Trump's attorney, furiously denied the new reports in an appearance on CNN late Thursday, arguing that Cohen is a "pathological liar" who cannot be trusted.
"Fair enough," Wisconsin congressional candidate Randy Bryce wrote in response to Giuliani. "The Washington Post has documented 3,251 false or misleading claims by Trump (so far). So tell me Rudy, why should we trust Trump's denials?"
Rudy Giuliani just went on CNN to claim we can’t trust the words of Michael Cohen, a “known liar.”
The Washington Post has documented 3,251 false or misleading claims by Trump (so far).
So tell me Rudy, why should we trust Trump’s denials?https://t.co/NBNb6wkHtW
— Randy Bryce (@IronStache) July 27, 2018
As many were quick to note following the new reporting on Thursday, Cohen's reported claim is hardly the only evidence that Trump may have had knowledge of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Just two days before the meeting was set to take place, then-candidate Trump promised to make a "major speech" about "all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons."
"I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting," Trump said.
Trump was also reportedly present at Trump Tower when the June 9 meeting took place, and "had no public events" that day.