The United States is in uproar over the bombshell allegations that Donald Trump ordered his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie about plans to build a hotel in Russia.
Democrats tore into the US President following the publication of the explosive Buzzfeed report, with House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff calling the allegations the “most serious to date”.
They vowed to investigate the claims the President attempted to obstruct justice and even look into whether this was grounds for impeachment — with his opponents calling louder than before for this to happen.
Eric Holder, former attorney general under Barack Obama, was among those demanding Congress begin impeachment proceedings if the report was corroborated.
CNN’s Don Lemon called the allegations “stunning”, while MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell said they were “possibly historic”.
New York Democrat Jerry Nadler tweeted: “We know that the President has engaged in a long pattern of obstruction. Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime.”
Mr Nadler is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would decide whether to bring impeachment proceedings.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Buzzfeed report could require a court review of the administration’s position that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
“If this is true, this is plain, slam-dunk, criminal obstruction of justice … subornation of perjury … conspiracy … and likely aiding and abetting perjury,” he tweeted.
The website alleged Mr Trump personally directed Cohen to cover up plans to build a Trump Tower Moscow and his dealings with Russian associates regarding the proposed business deal. It claimed he had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign, and supported a plan by his then-lawyer to visit Russia, meet Vladimir Putin and “jump-start” the negotiations for the hotel.
“Make it happen,” Buzzfeed’ssources alleged Mr Trump told Cohen.
Democratic leaders “reacted with fury” after the story was published on Thursday night, the Washington Post reported. The Post said that — if true — the story was “the most damning to date” for the President and could finally be the Russia probe’s “smoking gun”.
If Mr Trump did direct his “fixer” to lie to Congress about the lucrative condo project in the lead up to presidential election, it would be a federal crime.
It is widely believed to the gravest allegation in more than two years of investigating into Mr Trump and his 2016 campaign team’s ties to Russia. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is due to soon wrap up his probe into alleged Russia collusion by the campaign team.
The President hit back on Friday local time, quoting a Fox News story: “‘Don’t forget, Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars …’” he tweeted. “Lying to reduce his jail time! Watch father-in-law!”
Lawyer Rudy Giuliani yesterday executed a remarkable U-turn on Trump supporters’ insistence of “no collusion” by suggesting the President’s team may have done so — but Mr Trump did not.
On Friday, he said of the Buzzfeed story: “If you believe Cohen I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
In November, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in the course of their investigations into Russian meddling in the US election and agreed to co-operate with Mr Mueller’s probe.
It is true the former Trump employee is a problematic witness, but Buzzfeed claims the story comes from internal witnesses including two federal law enforcement officials, and documents belonging to the President’s business.
“The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents,” read the article.
“Trump vehemently denied having any business interests in Russia. But behind the scenes, he was pushing the Moscow project, which he hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million.”
Cohen is scheduled to testify publicly before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on February 7, before he reports to prison the following month.
THE ‘ENEMIES LIST’
Meanwhile, an excerpt from former White House aide Cliff Sims’ upcoming book exposed just how suspicious and angry Mr Trump has been over past internal leaks.
Sims recounts in Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House how the President brought the young communications aide to his private study in 2017 to question him about who was trustworthy.
Mr Trump told Sims to come in through the back entrance to help him compile an unofficial “Enemies List” of his own staff members, which he wrote down in black marker pen on a stiff card, later seen in his breast pocket.
“‘Give me their names,’ he said, his eyes narrowing,” reads the excerpt published by Axios. “‘I want these people out of here. I’m going to take care of this. We’re going to get rid of all the snakes, even the bottom-feeders.’
“Only in retrospect did I see how remarkable this was. I was sitting there with the President of the United States basically compiling an enemies list — but these enemies were within his own administration. If it had been a horror movie, this would have been the moment when everyone suddenly realises the call is coming from inside the house.”
Sims said the President listed senior White House staff members and asked the young aide to help judge their loyalty, finishing with around 10 names on his blacklist. Most of the targets survived for at least a while, according to Sims, but Mr Trump was armed and ready.
On Friday, the record US government shutdown entered day 28 as Senate Republicans blocked legislation to reopen the Homeland Security department.
There is still no end in sight to the impasse over border wall funding, with Mr Trump insisting he needs $US5.7 billion ($A8 billion) to build the structure, and Democrats refusing to approve more than $US1.3 billion ($A1.8 billion) for security including fencing.
The Associated Press reported that thousands of unpaid federal employees and their families were now applying for unemployment benefit and food stamps, while others were hesitant, knowing they will have to pay back the benefits when they return to work.
The Labor Department said the number of federal workers seeking unemployement benefits had jumped from fewer than 1000 per week before the shutdown to more than 10,000 in the week that ended January 5.