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Trump's former lawyer Cohen pleads guilty to misleading Congress

Andrew Kelly, AFP | US President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen exits the Federal Court after entering a guilty plea in Manhattan, New York City, USA, November 29, 2018.

President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in a New York court Thursday to misleading Congress over the ongoing Russia investigation.

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The 52-year-old exited a Manhattan federal court on Thursday, ignoring questions from a mob of reporters and got wordlessly into the back of a vehicle before being driven away.

He pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements relating to a real-estate deal at the roughly hour-long hearing, an official confirmed.

The Trump Tower deal – which never got off the ground – has been a focus of an investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign, The New York Times reported.

Cohen admitted to making "false, fictitious and fraudulent" written testimony to Congress in August 2017 in connection with the project.

He lied to suggest that the project was shelved in January 2016 – before the first caucus and primary voting began in the presidential election – to downplay links between the deal and unnamed associates, and in the hope of limiting the Russia investigation, according to court documents.

Contrary to his original testimony, the project was discussed multiple times within the company – beyond January 2016 – and with efforts to obtain Russian governmental approval being discussed as late as June of that year.

Trump: Cohen a 'weak person'

Cohen, once one of Trump's top aides, began talking with the Mueller investigation after he pleaded guilty on August 21 to bank fraud and campaign finance violations in a separate deal with New York prosecutors.

In September, his lawyer said Cohen had been providing "critical information" to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators.

Trump said on Thursday that his former lawyer was lying, branding Cohen a "weak person" and emphasising that the property deal was ultimately dropped.

"He is lying about a project that everybody knew about," Trump told reporters at the White House before jetting off to the G20 summit in Argentina.

He scrapped a planned meeting in Buenos Aires with Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing Moscow's detention of a group of Ukrainian sailors.

Cohen's chief lawyer Lanny Davis leapt to his client's defense, saying he had "told the truth and nothing but the truth".

"Michael will continue to work with the SC (Special Counsel) and others until the full truth is told," he tweeted.

"Mr Cohen has cooperated, Mr Cohen will continue to cooperate. Sentencing is set for December 12," said Guy Petrillo, another of Cohen's lawyers.

Investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 campaign

Mueller is investigating whether the Trump election campaign in 2016 colluded with Russian efforts to damage his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and whether Trump has sought to illegally obstruct the investigation.

But the span of the investigation also reportedly encompasses Trump's business dealings, to which Cohen had a front row seat for years as a senior executive in the president's real estate business in New York, the Trump Organization.

Once known as Trump's "pit bull" and right-hand man, Cohen was privy to multi-million-dollar deals and payments to two alleged lovers – whose claims could have potentially sabotaged his boss's 2016 election.

In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to charges involving his arrangement of payouts of hush money to those women – widely thought to be porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal – before the 2016 election.

Hanging Trump out to dry, Cohen testified under oath in court that the president directed him to break campaign finance law, while pleading guilty to bank and tax fraud.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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