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Trump in Turmoil: Pressure Mounts on President as Michael Cohen Looks to Make him Suffer over Mueller Probe



Donald Trump faces mounting pressure as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation moves closer to the White House.

Still reeling from the double blow of his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleading guilty to campaign finance violations during the president’s 2016 campaign, and his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, being convicted of eight financial crimes, Mr Trump struggled to contain the fallout on Wednesday.

Mr Cohen had implicated Mr Trump in his crimes of paying “hush money” to women who claim the president had extramarital affairs with them as part of a guilty plea deal agreed with Mr Mueller’s team, and his legal team looked to dig a deeper hole for Mr Trump in a number of television interviews.

Mr Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis suggested that Mr Trump’s former confidant had information “of interest” to Mr Mueller and his probe into Russian election meddling in 2016 and any possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and Moscow. He said that Mr Cohen would be happy to speak to investigators even though his plea deal did not explicitly call for co-operation.

“Michael Cohen knows information that would be of interest to the special counsel, in my opinion, regarding both knowledge about a conspiracy to corrupt American democracy by the Russians, and the failure to report that knowledge to the FBI,” Mr Davis said told the MSNBC cable channel. Mr Davis has also set up a GoFundMe page which has raised thousands of dollars for Mr Cohen’s legal fees and to help him “tell the truth about Donald Trump”.

Mr Davis repeated his accusation that Mr Trump had committed a crime in allegedly directing the payments to payments to the two  women – adult film star Stormy Daniels and former playboy model Karen McDougal. Mr Trump has denied any allegations of affairs.

“[Mr Cohen] said under oath the most damaging, definitive information yesterday – that the president of the United States directed him to commit a crime,” Mr Davis said in a separate interview on NBC’s Today show.

Critics were quick to raise the spectre of impeachment over the payments, which Mr Cohen said were made to try and influence the presidential election that lead Mr Trump to the Oval Office. “We have to act,” said Representative Al Green, who has previously brought impeachments papers to the House floor. However the Democrat leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi suggested that impeachment was “not a priority” for the party even if they win back control of Congress from the Republicans in crucial midterm in November.

However, Democrats were against making some political capital, members of the Senate demanded that upcoming confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh be delayed over the crisis, with some calling Mr Trump an “co-conspirator.”

The charges against Mr Cohen, the two campaign finance violations and six other bank and tax crimes, and the separate guilty verdict for Mr Manafort stunned Washington. They have also dented Mr Trump’s repeated claims that the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt”.

Republicans and Democrats alike have called on Mr Trump not to open himself up to abuse of power allegations by pardoning either Mr Manafort or Mr Cohen. Mr Trump has called the verdict against Mr Manafort “unfair”. Although a pardon for Mr Cohen seems unlikely after Mr Trump lashed out at his former long-time confidant via Twitter, accusing his former fixer of making up “stories in order to get a ‘deal’” from federal prosecutors.

Mr Cohen’s lawyer, Mr Davis, said a pardon would not be accepted, even if Mr Trump were to offer one. “Not only is he not hoping for, he would not accept a pardon,” Mr Davis said.“He considers a pardon from somebody who has acted so corruptly as president to be something he would never accept.”

Aware of the outcry about the verdicts and any possible pardons, Mr Trump and the White House were on the defensive for most of the day.

Mr Trump sought to dismiss two of the counts of campaign finance violations that Cohen had pleaded guilty to, saying in a tweet that they “are not a crime.”

He elaborated during an interview with the conservative network Fox News due to be broadcast on Thursday. Asked if he knew about the payments, Mr Trump said: “They didn’t come out of the campaign, they came from me. And I tweeted about it. You know, I put — I don’t know if you know but I tweeted about the payments. But they didn’t come out of campaign.

“In fact, my first question when I heard about it was did they come out of the campaign because that could be a little dicey. And they didn’t come out of the campaign and that’s big. But they weren’t – that’s not a – it’s not even a campaign violation. If you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation but he had a different attorney general and they viewed it a lot differently.”

Mr Trump said he knew of the payments made by Mr Cohen “later on” but did not elaborate. After first denying that he knew anything about Mr Cohen’s actions, Mr Trump acknowledged earlier this year that he reimbursed Mr Cohen for the payments. In July, CNN released an audio recording reportedly made by Cohen that features the lawyer and Trump in September 2016 discussing whether to buy the rights to the story of Ms McDougal.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders labelled accusations that Mr Trump had lied about the Cohen payments “a ridiculous accusation”

Mr Trump has insisted that he only found out about the payments after they were made, despite the release of a taped conversation by Mr Davis from September 2016 in which Trump and Cohen can be heard discussing a deal to pay former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story of an alleged 2006 affair.

“The president has done nothing wrong. There are no charges against him,” Ms Sanders repeated.

Asked if Mr Trump was concerned about what Mr Cohen might tell Mr Mueller, Ms Sanders replied: “€œI don’t think the president is concerned at all. He knows that he did nothing wrong and that there was no collusion.”

But there seems little sign of the dark cloud over the White House disappearing. While Ms Sanders would not entertain questions about a potential pardon for Mr Manafort, he is due to be sentenced next week. Mr Mueller’s team will also have to decide whether to re-charge him over the 10 counts the jury could not decide a verdict on, while he also faces a second, larger trial, in September.

As for Mr Cohen, also on Wednesday, New York investigators issued a subpoena to the president’s former personal lawyer in connection with the state’s unrelated criminal investigation of the Trump Foundation, a state official said.