Says seeking a business project in Russia while pursuing campaign in 2016 was ‘very legal & very cool’
U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday defended his decision to seek a business deal in Russia in 2016 even as he pursued the Republican presidential nomination, calling it “very legal” and “very cool” to keep running his business while campaigning.
In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20 summit, Mr. Trump also said he had only “lightly looked” at a real estate project “somewhere in Russia”, but that nothing had come of the effort.
A second guilty plea on Thursday by Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, has raised new questions about his dealings with Russia while he was also establishing Republican foreign policy during his run for the presidency.
Mr. Trump repeatedly has said he had no ties to Russia. The U.S. Special Counsel’s Office is investigating Moscow for alleged interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Mr. Trump’s campaign.
Russia has denied U.S. intelligence conclusions that it meddled and Mr. Trump has frequently decried the investigation as a “witch hunt”. Both have denied any collusion.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has brought charges or secured convictions against more than two dozen Russian nationals and entities, as well as a number of Mr. Trump’s associates, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who faced a hearing on Friday morning to schedule his sentencing. Mr. Mueller this week said Mr. Manafort had been lying to federal prosecutors despite his plea deal.
Mr. Cohen, who had already pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other financial crimes in a separate case brought by federal prosecutors in New York, on Thursday said he had lied to Congress about a proposed Trump Organization skyscraper project in Moscow.
His plea agreement with Mr. Mueller’s team showed the Trump Organization pursued the scheme further into the 2016 campaign than previously disclosed. Mr. Cohen also told Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors he briefed Mr. Trump on the project more than three times. He also briefed members of Mr. Trump’s family and had direct contact with Kremlin representatives.
Mr. Trump lashed out at Mr. Cohen after the plea deal was announced, calling him “a weak person” and a liar. As he departed for Buenos Aires, Mr. Trump acknowledged his business dealings with Russia, telling reporters on Thursday: “It doesn’t matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign.”
On Twitter on Friday, he said that during his campaign, he continued to run “my business-very legal & very cool”. Mr. Trump still owns his private company but had said he would hand over day-to-day dealings to his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump when he took office in January 2017.
His meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki earlier this year drew criticism after Mr. Trump appeared to cast doubt on U.S. intelligence findings of Russian meddling in the campaign and said Mr. Putin had been extremely strong in his denials.
After Mr. Cohen’s plea, Mr. Trump cancelled his planned meeting with Mr. Putin at the G20, citing the Ukraine crisis. Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday said it believed the meeting was cancelled over “the U.S. domestic political situation”.