Trump lawyer denies any ties to Russian election meddling, pre-empting interview by Senate committee

Mr Michael Cohen after a meeting with Senate Intelligence Committee staff on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, on Sept 19, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen said Tuesday he had no ties to Russian interference in the 2016 election and saw "not a hint" that Trump himself was involved, labelling such allegations political.

But Cohen's decision to go public with his statement ahead of a planned closed-door hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee added to the rising tensions between investigators and the White House over the probe into possible collusion with Russian election meddling.

Angered lawmakers cancelled the meeting - one of a series of closed interviews with people close to the president - and announced Cohen could expect to be questioned at a future open hearing now set for next month.

"We were disappointed that Mr Cohen decided to pre-empt today's interview by releasing a public statement prior to his engagement with committee staff, in spite of the committee's requests that he refrain from public comment," said Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner, committee chair and vice chair, respectively.

But Cohen's lawyer Stephen Ryan suggested the legislators had already broken their agreement when someone last week leaked out the date of Cohen's appearance at the committee.

In his written statement, Cohen said a British intelligence agent's dossier that tied him to Russian election interference was "riddled with falsehoods and intentionally salacious accusations." "I have never engaged with, been paid by, paid for or conversed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else to hack or interfere with the election," Cohen said.

"Given my own proximity to the president of the United States as a candidate, let me also say that I never saw anything - not a hint of anything - that demonstrated his involvement in Russian interference in our election or any form of Russian collusion." Cohen said that the Russian meddling issue has been politicised "to discredit our lawfully elected president" and shame his supporters.

He also denied any link between an effort by Trump, a billionaire developer, to launch a luxury Trump Tower in Moscow and the election. Cohen said the project proposal was terminated in January 2016, before the first caucuses and primaries for choosing the candidates for the White House.

"You can oppose the president's points of view and his policies, but not raise false issues about the validity of his victory," Cohen said.

Cohen confirmed he had accepted an invitation from Burr and Warner to testify openly on Oct 25. He is likely to be pressured by aggressive questioning under oath on live television.

The Senate panel is among three congressional committees interviewing Trump advisers and family members in the sprawling probe into how Russia intervened in last year's election to damage frontrunner Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, and boost Trump.

US intelligence agencies say Russian President Vladimir Putin himself directed the effort, and Senate and Justice Department investigators have been chasing links between the Trump campaign and Moscow for evidence of collusion.

On Monday, CNN reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had run wiretaps on Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election.

Investigators may have picked up communications between Manafort and other Trump officials, including conceivably the president himself.

And The New York Times reported that the special prosecutor handling the case at the Justice Department, Robert Mueller, has been aggressively subpoenaing all possible witnesses to speak to a grand jury.

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