WASHINGTON — President Trump woke up in balmy Buenos Aires early Friday, but his mind was back in Washington as he defended his decision to continue pursuing business deals as he ran for president in 2016, including looking “lightly” at constructing a building in Russia.
The president’s Twitter defense came a day after his former lawyer Michael D. Cohen admitted in court that he had lied to Congress about the extent of the Trump Organization’s pursuit of an agreement to build a tower in Moscow. Mr. Cohen said that, to help Mr. Trump politically, he had falsely testified that the Russia efforts had been dropped by January 2016, when they had in fact continued until June. By that point, Mr. Trump had clinched the Republican presidential nomination.
The tweets echoed what one of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said a day earlier about the prospective Russia deal. Mr. Giuliani said that Mr. Trump’s written answers to questions posed by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, were consistent with what Mr. Cohen said in court on Thursday.
“The president said there was a proposal, it was discussed with Cohen, there was a nonbinding letter of intent and it didn’t go beyond that,” Mr. Giuliani said on Thursday.
The president’s answers, submitted to the special counsel this month, have not been made public. But Mr. Cohen’s latest version of events raised questions about whether Mr. Trump had been truthful with Mr. Mueller’s team. The president’s veracity with the special counsel has taken on greater import as his team has pursued charges against a string of witnesses for lying to investigators.
At issue is how long into the presidential campaign the Moscow opportunity was under consideration — at the time, questions were swirling about Mr. Trump’s desire for friendlier ties to Russia. In 2016, Moscow was conducting a clandestine effort aimed at getting Mr. Trump elected, and Mr. Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign conspired in those efforts.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday as he left Washington for an economic summit meeting in Buenos Aires, Mr. Trump said Mr. Cohen was weak and had lied to prosecutors so that he could get a reduced sentence for other crimes he has pleaded guilty to.
The president told reporters he did not know exactly when the Russia discussions had ceased, but he said his recollection was early in 2016.
“We decided — I decided ultimately — not to do it,” Mr. Trump said, adding, “There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it.”
Mr. Giuliani called Mr. Cohen a liar. “He has so many different versions of the same stories, so by definition he is a liar and we can’t trust him,” Mr. Giuliani said. “Given the fact that he’s a liar, I can’t tell you what he’s lying about.”