An attorney for Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, is backing away from confident assertions he made that Cohen has information to share with investigators that shows Trump knew in 2016 of Russian efforts to undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Lanny Davis, a spokesman and attorney for Cohen, said in an interview this weekend that he is no longer certain about claims he made to reporters on background and on the record in recent weeks about what Cohen knows about Trump’s awareness of the Russian efforts.
Davis did not rule out that his claims were correct but expressed regret that he did not explain that he could not independently corroborate them, saying that he now believes he “should have been more clear.”
Neither Cohen nor his lead defense attorney, Guy Petrillo, responded to requests for comment.
The prospect that Cohen could be a potential witness against the president in the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has dominated the news, particularly since Cohen pleaded guilty Tuesday to tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance crimes.
Davis’s latest comments cast doubt on what Cohen may know, including about a June 2016 meeting in New York’s Trump Tower attended by Trump’s eldest son and a Russian lawyer.
Trump and his allies seized on the erosion of those claims.
“Michaels Cohen’s attorney clarified the record, saying his client does not know if President Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting (out of which came nothing!),” Trump tweeted Saturday. “The answer is that I did NOT know about the meeting. Just another phony story by the Fake News Media!”
Davis told The Washington Post that he cannot confirm media reports that Cohen is prepared to tell special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that Trump had advance knowledge of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where Donald Trump Jr. expected to receive damaging information about Clinton from a Russian lawyer.
CNN reported last month that Cohen was claiming to have witnessed Trump being informed of the Russians’ offer by Trump Jr. and that the then-candidate approved the meeting.
The following day, The Post reported that Cohen had told associates that he witnessed an exchange in which Trump Jr. told his father about an upcoming gathering in which he expected to get information about Clinton. The Post did not report that Trump Jr. told his father that the information was coming from Russians.
The information in the Post story, which was attributed to one person familiar with discussions among Cohen’s friends, came from Davis, who is now acknowledging his role on the record.
Davis said he should not have expressed such confidence in his information.
“I should have been more clear — including with you — that I could not independently confirm what happened,” Davis said, adding: “I regret my error.”
In the past week, when asked directly by CNN’s Anderson Cooper whether there was information that Trump knew about his son’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya beforehand, Davis said, “No, there’s not.”
In a statement Saturday, a CNN spokeswoman said, “We stand by our story, and are confident in our reporting of it.”
People familiar with Cohen’s testimony to the House and Senate Intelligence committees said Cohen was interviewed extensively about the Russian interference campaign but did not provide any information to suggest Trump had advance knowledge.
Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), leaders of the Senate committee, said in recent days that Cohen had sent word to the committee that he had no desire to amend that testimony.
In his interview with The Post, Davis also hedged on an idea he widely promoted after Cohen’s guilty plea: that the longtime Trump loyalist had information that Trump knew of the Russian hacking of Democratic emails ahead of time.
Davis floated that idea in numerous broadcast interviews in recent days, repeatedly touting his client’s potential value to Mueller.
“I believe that Mr. Cohen has direct knowledge that would be of interest to Mr. Mueller that suggests — I’m not sure it proves — that Mr. Trump was aware of Russian government agents hacking illegally, committing computer crimes, to the detriment of the candidate who he was running against, Hillary Clinton,” Davis told PBS’s “NewsHour” on Wednesday.
But asked Saturday how confident he was that Trump knew about the hacking before it became public, Davis said: “I am not sure. There’s a possibility that is the case. But I am not sure.”
Davis said that in discussing the hacking allegations last week, he should have emphasized his lack of certainty. He said he raised the idea that Cohen might have information about Trump’s knowledge because he had a strong feeling that might be the case.
“I was giving an instinct that he might have something to say of interest to the special counsel” about hacking, Davis said. In retrospect, he said, “I am just not sure.”
Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.