US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in relation to the Russia inquiry.
Mr Cohen admitted misleading lawmakers about talks over a Trump property deal in Moscow during the presidential race.
Mr Trump said his former right-hand man was “lying” to seek a reduced sentence.
In August, Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to violating finance laws during the 2016 presidential election by handling hush money for Mr Trump’s alleged lovers.
Thursday’s development is the latest twist in the US Department of Justice special counsel’s investigation into whether Mr Trump or his inner circle colluded with a Russian attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election.
As he left the White House for a G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Mr Trump told reporters that Mr Cohen, 52, was a “weak person and not a very smart person”.
Mr Trump told reporters of the Moscow real estate project, which never came to fruition: “When I’m running for president that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to do business.”
He added: “He’s lying about a project that everybody knew about. I mean, we were very open with it.”
Up until now, Michael Cohen had been a tangential figure in Donald Trump’s Russia-related headaches. After his plea agreement with the special counsel’s office, however, he’s now smack dab in the middle of Robert Mueller’s probe.
In particular, Cohen is sharing information with the special counsel about Mr Trump’s Russian business interests – including efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow – which, according to the president’s former personal lawyer, continued well into Mr Trump’s presidential campaign.
That runs counter to the president’s continued insistence that he had no financial ties to Russia – an assertion he frequently made when questioned about his past praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and efforts to improve US-Russian relations.
If Mr Cohen can provide evidence supporting his claims it would be a political nightmare for the president and, if Mr Trump made false claims in his recent written testimony to Mr Meuller, a legal one, as well.
The president has been tweeting furiously about the special counsel team in recent days, and given the steady drumbeat of news on Mr Mueller’s investigation, it feels as though a crescendo is approaching. –BBC