By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump pursued a business deal to erect a tower bearing his name in Moscow throughout 2016, his attorney said on Sunday, raising new questions for congressional investigators looking into possible ties between the president and Russia.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said he may have continued to pursue the project and had discussions about it with his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, until as late as October or November 2016, when Trump was closing in on his election victory against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“It’s our understanding that they (the discussions) went on throughout 2016,” Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Probably up to, could be up to as far as October, November,” he said. “But the president’s recollection of them is that the thing had petered out quite a bit.”
The Moscow deal ultimately did not materialise but Giuliani’s remarks suggest that Trump’s discussions about the project with Cohen may have dragged on months longer than had been publicly known.
“That is news to me. And that is big news,” Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also said on “Meet the Press.” “It’s remarkable that we’re two years after the fact and just discovering it today.”
An investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s campaign has loomed large over the Trump presidency amid media reports of his team’s connections with Russia.
On Friday, the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller who leads the investigation took the rare step of disputing elements of a BuzzFeed News report that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow real estate deal.
Trump has denied the BuzzFeed article’s claim and Giuliani backed him: “I can tell you his counsel to Michael Cohen throughout that entire period was: ‘Tell the truth’.”
Trump has repeatedly condemned the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt” while denying any collusion with Moscow. Russia also denies any interference in the U.S. elections.
Warner, whose panel is conducting its own Russia probe, said the possibility that Trump pursued a business deal with Russia until as late as the 2016 election increases the need to know about his dealings as president with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
“That raises a whole host of questions that the American public needs an answer to and the Congress needs an answer to,” Warner said.
Cohen pleaded guilty in November to charges he lied to Congress when he testified that the discussions ended in January 2016. Instead, Cohen said they actually continued until that June, after Trump had clinched the Republican nomination.
Cohen, who has been sentenced to three years in prison for lying to lawmakers, is expected to testify before the Democratic-led House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7. The House and Senate intelligence committees also want to hear from Cohen.
The president has provided written answers to questions from Mueller on the Moscow project, according to Giuliani.
“Our answers cover until the election. So any time during that period, they could have talked about it,” he said.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Jeffrey Benkoe)