Trump Asserts That Michael Cohen Asked Him Directly for a Pardon and Was Told No

Trump Asserts That Michael Cohen Asked Him Directly for a Pardon and Was Told No


President Trump claimed on Friday that his former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, “directly” asked him for a pardon, a sharp escalation of a fight over the veracity of Mr. Cohen’s testimony last week to the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Mr. Trump made the claim on Twitter, referring to Mr. Cohen’s testimony to Congress in which Mr. Cohen said the president lied to the public about business interests in Russia, lied to reporters about stolen Democratic emails and told Mr. Cohen to lie about hush payments to cover up sexual misconduct.

Mr. Cohen quickly responded in a tweet of his own, calling Mr. Trump’s assertions “lies.”

Mr. Cohen was referring to two women who had claimed to have had affairs with the president, and who were paid to keep quiet about them during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The exchange was the latest example of how the potential for pardons — whether hinted at by Mr. Trump and his team or sought after by people caught up in the investigations swirling around him — has become a more public flash point.

The question of whether Mr. Cohen sought a pardon has been a subject of contention since his testimony last week, when he said under oath that he had never sought one.

His current lawyer, Lanny J. Davis, acknowledged this week that Mr. Cohen’s previous lawyer had inquired about a pardon soon after the F.B.I. searched Mr. Cohen’s home and office in April 2018. But Mr. Davis said that inquiry came about because the president’s team had “dangled” the possibility of one in implicit statements.

Mr. Cohen has told associates that the signals from Mr. Trump about a pardon date back more than a year, soon after Mr. Cohen had publicly disclosed making what he said at the time were unreimbursed payments out of his own pocket in 2016 to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film star who had claimed to have had an affair with the president a decade earlier.

Mr. Cohen has told the associates that last March, before his office and homes were raided, he had dinner with Mr. Trump, and that he and the president talked on the phone after the raids in April. After those conversations, Mr. Cohen told the associates that he anticipated he would be given a pardon or some form of protection if he would remain silent about having been reimbursed by Mr. Trump for making the payments, according to people told of the discussions.

Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump were part of a formal agreement in which their lawyers worked together to review documents that the F.B.I. had seized to determine what could be declared off limits to law enforcement officials because of attorney-client privilege. But that joint effort ended in July 2018, as Mr. Trump’s aides balked at paying parts of Mr. Cohen’s legal bills.

The exchange between the two men on Friday highlighted the stakes for both in establishing whether Mr. Cohen was credible in the accusations he has made against the president in his congressional testimony and in providing information to federal prosecutors. Republicans and Mr. Trump’s allies have noted that in the testimony he said he had never sought a pardon. At the same time, Mr. Trump has often said things that are not true, including statements related to his knowledge of the payments to Ms. Daniels.

The questions about the credibility of Mr. Cohen’s public testimony stands in contrast with how some prosecutors working with him have described him. A memo to the federal court judge overseeing Mr. Cohen’s case in Manhattan from the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said that Mr. Cohen had been truthful and provided useful information in connection with their work. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan were more questioning about the timing and motivation for Mr. Cohen’s help, but they also have used information he provided that they were able to corroborate.

The volleys between the two men on Friday also highlighted the continued questions about Mr. Trump’s pardon power and how he might use it as Mr. Mueller wraps up his investigation, as other federal prosecutors and Democrats in Congress intensify theirs and expand their scope into the president’s business career.

The New York Times reported in March 2018 that Mr. Trump’s previous lead lawyer, John Dowd, had raised the possibility of pardons with lawyers for Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, and Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, after they had been charged in cases brought by Mr. Mueller’s team.

Mr. Trump was asked Friday about the possibility of a pardon for Mr. Manafort. Mr. Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in prison on Thursday in one of two cases brought against him by Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors.

“I haven’t discussed it,” Mr. Trump said, referring to a pardon for Mr. Manafort.

Speaking to reporters outside the White House before leaving on a trip to Alabama and Florida, Mr. Trump elaborated in his comments about what he said were Mr. Cohen’s discussions about a pardon.

“It was a stone-cold lie,” Mr. Trump said about Mr. Cohen’s claims that he had never sought a pardon. “And he’s lied about a lot of things, but when he lied about the pardon, that was really a lie.”

Mr. Trump continued: “His lawyers said that they went to my lawyers and asked for pardons. And I can go a step above that, but I won’t do it now.”

Mr. Trump’s current lead lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has said the president is not focusing on pardons right now because it would not be appropriate — but he has also left open the possibility that the president might invoke that power down the road.



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