WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday denied pursuing a Trump Organization real estate project in Moscow, which his former lawyer Michael Cohen said they had continued until June 2016, during the presidential campaign.
Cohen pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying to Congress about the project, putting fresh pressure on the president.
At issue is a proposal to build a skyscraper bearing Trump’s name in Moscow. Cohen told both the Senate and House intelligence panels the real estate project had ended before the political primary season began, according to a court document.
Trump told reporters outside the White House he had decided not to build the building in Moscow, although he did not specify when he decided against pursuing the project.
“That was a project that we didn’t do, I didn’t do. That was a project that wasn’t done for a lot of reasons ... I was focused on running for president. I wanted that to be my primary focus. Not running or building a building,” Trump said.
“Michael Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me,” he added.
Cohen’s guilty plea on Thursday may signal his hope for a lighter sentence in exchange for continuing his cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump colluded with Moscow.
Both Trump and Moscow have denied any wrongdoing.
Despite the long relationship between the president and Cohen, Trump has sought to distance himself from his former lawyer, who pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance violations, tax evasion and bank fraud.
Cohen testified in August that Trump had directed him to commit a crime by arranging payments to silence two women before the 2016 election who said they had affairs with Trump. The president has denied having affairs with the women.
Reporting by Jeff Mason; writing by Makini Brice; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Susan Thomas