White House Brushes Off Trump Role in Mueller's Latest Filings
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s press secretary brushed off a court filing by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, saying that it contained “absolutely nothing about the president.”
The press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, also scoffed at a separate filing by Mueller and prosecutors in Manhattan that recommended a substantial prison term for Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer.
The assertions were made even though prosecutors connected Trump to Cohen’s contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign, and what prosecutors said were Trump-directed payments to women who said they had sexual encounters with him.
Sanders, in remarks released after the filings on Friday, said Cohen had “repeatedly lied” and “is no hero.”
Mueller said that Manafort had lied to prosecutors about his efforts to reach someone in the Trump administration this year while he awaited trial, and about his contacts with a business associate who had ties to Russian intelligence.
Manafort had agreed to help Mueller’s investigation after he was convicted in August of bank and tax fraud and faced a second trial.
In the Cohen case, two separate filings by Mueller and the U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan lay out a series of disclosures from Cohen ahead of his sentencing next week.
Prosecutors mention a plan to pay off the two women, as well as the pursuit of a lucrative business deal in Moscow even as Russia intervened in the U.S. election.
The filings describe how Russian nationals reached out to Trump’s campaign with offers of “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level,” portraying the kind of close ties long denied by the White House.
The contacts between the Russian government and the campaign are at the center of Mueller’s probe into whether Trump colluded with Russia at the time its government was meddling in the 2016 election. The filings offer new details on the depth of contacts between Russians and one of Trump’s closest confidants.
Cohen told the special counsel that in September 2015, shortly after Trump declared his candidacy, Cohen talked to Trump about arranging a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin during a United Nations General Assembly meeting. No such meeting took place.
Cohen has pleaded guilty in two cases and admitted nine crimes, including tax evasion, arranging the payments to silence the women for the purpose of influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, and arranging illegal campaign payments to silence the two women.
"As Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1," prosecutors wrote, referring to Trump.
Mueller’s office also laid out a series of continuing contact between Manafort and Trump’s administration.
For example, prosecutors wrote that Manafort lied to them when he told them that he never tried to communicate a message to anyone in the Trump administration this year. In fact, Manafort authorized someone to speak to an administration official on his behalf on May 26, the prosecutors said.
Last month, Trump said that he hadn’t ruled out pardoning Manafort, who had pleaded guilty to a series of crimes and is facing a lengthy prison sentence.
Sanders, in her comments on Friday night, said “The government’s filing in Mr. Manafort’s case says absolutely nothing about the president. It says even less about collusion and is devoted almost entirely to lobbying-related issues. Once again the media is trying to create a story where there isn’t one.”
The Cohen case, she said, tells "us nothing of value that wasn’t already known. Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero.”
Trump apparently regarded the developments as an exoneration. “Totally clears the President. Thank you!,” he tweeted without elaborating.
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