Partner of Trump's lawyer to help in probe

His cooperation with US govt could pressure Cohen into working with special counsel

NEW YORK • A significant business partner of US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Mr Michael Cohen, has agreed to cooperate with the US government as a potential witness, a development that could be used as leverage to pressure Mr Cohen to work with the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Under the deal with the New York attorney-general's office, Evgeny Freidman, a Russian immigrant known as the Taxi King, specifically agreed to assist government prosecutors in state or federal investigations, a source said.

The plea by Freidman, a taxi operator who was charged with failing to pay US$5 million (S$6.7 million) in taxes, could provide the government with a new source of information about Mr Cohen.

Freidman has been Mr Cohen's partner in the taxi business for years, managing cabs for him.

Mr Cohen is facing a probe by the US attorney's office in Manhattan, which is examining his business practices. Anything that bolsters that inquiry could raise pressure on Mr Cohen to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller.

The FBI raided Mr Cohen's home, office and hotel room in New York on April 9. There has been intense interest in whether he may ultimately decide to cooperate with the government in his own bid for leniency.

His lawyers are due in federal court in Manhattan next week for a conference with the judge overseeing review of the evidence seized by the US in the raid.

The broadened scope of Freidman's cooperation may prove worrisome to Mr Trump as well.

Mr Trump's lawyers sought to distance their client from the case.

"He's just not involved in the taxis," said one of his lawyers, Mr Rudy Giuliani. "He has as much involvement in it as I do."

The President's lawyers are already resigned to the strong possibility that the inquiry into Mr Cohen's businesses could lead him to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

That likelihood may now be greater, with Freidman potentially sharing what he knows with federal prosecutors in New York and the special counsel.

The development came as Conservative House Republicans unveiled a resolution on Tuesday insisting on the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate their growing list of grievances with the Justice Department and the FBI.

Tuesday's announcement, and a demand that the matter be brought to the House floor for a vote, comes as House Republicans accuse the FBI of planting "at least one person into the Trump campaign" to spy on its activities, said Representative Lee Zeldin who is a member of the Freedom Caucus and the resolution's author.

The Justice Department on Monday said its inspector-general would expand an internal probe to include the new spying allegations.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, and Representative Trey Gowdy also have been invited to a meeting to review classified documents conservative lawmakers believe will substantiate their claims.

But the gesture has not satisfied Mr Trump's allies in Congress, who doubt that the law enforcement agencies will be forthcoming.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2018, with the headline 'Partner of Trump's lawyer to help in probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe