Trump falsely claims court memos clear him as prosecutors reveal how his associates repeatedly lied over Russia

Andrew Buncombe, Chris Stevenson

Donald Trump has wrongly claimed that prosecutors have cleared him of wrongdoing in legal documents that accuse two of his former associates of repeatedly lying about Russia.

In fact New York prosecutors alleged that Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, had acted at his direction in organising hush money payments to two women who claimed they had had affairs with the billionaire. Despite the specific claims Mr Trump quickly tweeted that the document ”totally clears the President!”

A day that began with the president launching an angry Twitter rant about special prosecutor Robert Mueller – a suggestion he knew bad news was coming – ended with prosecutors asking for “substantial” jail time for Cohen, and saying Mr Trump’s one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort had lied not just about interactions with Russians, but over his continued contact with the White House six months after turning himself into the FBI.

The documents also revealed Cohen had told prosecutors the Trump campaign was offered “political synergy” by Russian individuals said to be linked to the Kremlin as early as 2015.

Cohen had once described himself as someone who would take a bullet for Mr Trump. But two filings from separate investigations revealed the extent to which the 52-year-old had cooperated with Mr Mueller’s probe into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election, and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Mr Mueller said Cohen had voluntarily provided information about his own and others’ conduct on “core topics under investigation” and described the information as “credible and consistent with other evidence” they had obtained.

“The defendant’s crime was serious. He withheld information material to the investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election being conducted by [congressional committees],” the document said. “In recent months, however, the defendant has taken significant steps to mitigate his criminal conduct. He chose to accept responsibility for his false statements and admit to his conduct in open court. He also has gone to significant lengths to assist the special counsel’s investigation.”

Cohen pleaded guilty to a series of eight crimes that included campaign finance violations in August in New York, in connection with hush money payments he made to a number of women, among them adult actress Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election. Last week, Cohen pleaded guilty to separate charge of lying to congress in a case disclosed by Mr Mueller. He is due to be sentenced by judge William Pauley in Manhattan on 12 December.

While Mr Mueller said Cohen was cooperative, prosecutors looking into the financial and tax offences, said was not.

“Cohen did provide information to law enforcement, including information that assisted the special counsel’s office (SCO) in ongoing matters, as described in the SCO’s memorandum to the court, and the office agrees that this is a factor to be considered by the court,” they wrote.

“But Cohen’s description of those efforts is overstated in some respects and incomplete in others. To be clear: Cohen does not have a cooperation agreement… and therefore is not properly described as a “cooperating witness,” as that term is commonly used in this district.”

They added: “While the office agrees that Cohen should receive credit for his assistance in the SCO investigation, that credit should not approximate the credit a traditional cooperating witness would receive, given, among other reasons, Cohen’s affirmative decision not to become one. For these reasons, the office respectfully requests that this court impose a substantial term of imprisonment.”

The information contained within the documents will be of no small concern to the White House, which Mr Trump said had already prepared 87 pages of rebuttal even though Mr Mueller’s investigation is not yet finished.

Of particular worry will be the revelation Cohen has been talking so openly to Mr Mueller about his contacts with Russians, that were initiated as part of the effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, but which appear to have also taken on a political flavour.

“In or around November 2015, Cohen received the contact information for, and spoke with, a Russian national who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level”,” said the filing.

On Friday night, Mr Trump tweeted the court documents had “totally” cleared him. However, analysts pointed out they had done no such thing.

Indeed, the filing by prosecutors in relation to Cohen’s financial crimes claimed he had broken the law at the direction of Mr Trump.

“With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments,” said the filing.

“In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1 [Mr Trump].”

In another filing, Mr Mueller claimed former campaign manager Paul Manafort had repeatedly lied to investigators, even after agreeing to a plea deal. It was these lies, Mr Mueller said, that had led prosecutors to drop the plea deal.

Mr Mueller said Manafort lied over five key issues – including his ongoing contacts with Trump administration officials, after entering a deal to cooperate with the Russia investigation.

“In his interviews with the Special Counsel’s Office and the FBI, Manafort told multiple discernible lies — these were not instances of mere memory lapses,” Mr Mueller said.

He said Manafort tried to hide the fact that he had contact with “an administration official” inside the White House as late as May 2018, according to Mueller’s filing, which was partially redacted and did not specify what Manafort had discussed with the White House official.

Manafort had also lied about his interactions with a political consultant who had ties to Russian intelligence.

Also on Friday, former FBI director James Comey spoke to House investigators behind closed doors for almost seven hours, begrudgingly answering questions about the Justice Department’s decisions during the 2016 election.

Mr Comey, who appeared under subpoena, announced after the meeting that he would return for more questioning on December 17. Appearing annoyed, he said: “We’re talking about Hillary Clinton’s emails, for heaven’s sake, so I’m not sure we needed to do this at all.”

He later tweeted: “Today wasn’t a search for truth, but a desperate attempt to find anything that can be used to attack the institutions of justice investigating this president. They came up empty today but will try again. In the long run, it’ll make no difference because facts are stubborn things.”