Trump’s ex-fixer Cohen to offer new Russia details to Congress: source

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U.S. President Donald Trump declares a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border while speaking about border security in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen will tell lawmakers this week that Trump asked him several times about a proposed skyscraper project in Moscow long after he secured the Republican presidential nomination, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be near the end of his probe into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in collusion with Trump’s campaign, Cohen’s assertion that Trump was inquiring about the skyscraper project as late as June 2016, if true, would show Trump remained personally engaged in the venture well into his candidacy.

Cohen was also set to offer lawmakers new information about Trump’s private affairs over three consecutive days starting on Tuesday.

Cohen did not talk to reporters as he arrived on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning for his first meeting, with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

That session will focus mainly on what Cohen knows about Trump and associates’ dealings with Russia, as well as about Cohen’s previous lying to Congress, two congressional sources said.

Cohen was one of Trump’s closest aides and once said he would “take a bullet” for him but he turned against his former boss last year and is cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations.

Cohen has said Trump directed him to make hush-money payments to two women who said they had sexual relationships with Trump, in violation of campaign finance laws before the 2016 election.

Trump called Cohen a “rat” after he turned on him, and the White House again attacked Cohen’s credibility on Tuesday.

“It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

Trump has denied any collusion took place between his campaign and Moscow. Russia denies U.S. intelligence agencies’ assertions that it interfered in the election.

On Wednesday, in a public session before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, Cohen intends to give lawmakers “granular details” about a hush-money payment to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, and information about a “money trail” after Trump became president, said the source familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified.

Cohen will also offer new information on Trump’s financial statements that “have never been produced before” relating to how Trump represented the values of his assets in financial transactions and other matters, the source said.

His testimony on Tuesday and Thursday with the intelligence committees of the Senate and the House will be behind closed doors.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee plan to publicly question Cohen about Trump’s personal finances, including the payments to women, as well as alleged efforts by Trump and his lawyers to intimidate Cohen to try to keep him from testifying.

Last November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress by telling lawmakers in 2017 that all efforts relating to the Moscow project had ceased by January 2016. In fact, Cohen said, those efforts continued until June 2016.

The House Oversight Committee, led by Democratic Representative Elijah Cummings, will steer clear of the intelligence committee’s inquiry into Russia’s role in the election and alleged links between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

That will put off-limits questions about “any financial or other compromise or leverage foreign actors may possess over Donald Trump, his family, his business interests, or his associates,” the committee said.

Instead, Cummings’ panel will focus on Trump’s debts and payments “relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election,” as well as his compliance with financial disclosure, campaign finance and tax laws, it said.

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