WASHINGTON:Former FBI Director James Comey (center) talks to reporters following a closed House Judiciary Committee meeting to hear his testimony on Capitol Hill on Friday. – AFP

NEW YORK: US prosecutors have revealed that a Russian offered cooperation to Donald Trump’scampaign as early as 2015, declaring that the president’s ex-lawyer MichaelCohen had provided “relevant” and “substantial” help to theRussia investigation. In a separate case, federal prosecutors Friday demanded”substantial” jail time of between 51 to 63 months – four to fiveyears – for Cohen for bank fraud and campaign finance violations to which heplead guilty in August.

US Attorney Robert Khuzami accused the 52-year-old, who once vowed to take a bullet for the president, of being motivated by “personal greed” and of “repeatedly” using his power and influence for “deceptive ends”. “Totally clears the President. Thank you!” Trump tweeted cryptically as television networks were consumed by the Cohen documents – which the White House dismissed as revealing “nothing of value”.

The campaign finance violations to which Cohen plead guilty – unrelated to the Russia investigation – concerned hush payments he made on Trump’s behalf to alleged former lovers of the president, including porn star Stormy Daniels. In the 40-page document Khuzami drew a direct link between Cohen’s illegal behavior and Trump. “In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” the document reads, referring to Trump.

Robert Mueller, the special counsel heading up the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 vote, followed up with a separate filing saying Cohen had made “substantial and significant efforts to remediate his misconduct, accept responsibility for his actions, and assist” the special investigation, a thorn in Trump’s side. Cohen continued to provide “relevant and truthful information” to assist the probe, holding seven sessions with investigators, “many of them lengthy, and continues to make himself available to investigators,” it said.

He had provided information about contacts with Russian interests during the campaign, attempts by Russians to reach the campaign and about contacts with “persons connected to the White House” in 2017-2018, the filing added. Around Nov 2015, some five months after Trump launched his bid for the presidency and well before previously reported contacts, Cohen spoke to a purported “trusted person” in the Russian Federation who offered the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.”

Cohen said the unidentified person “repeatedly proposed” a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming it could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well”. “Cohen, however, did not follow up on this invitation,” the filing added.

Trump claims ‘cleared’

The former fixer last week pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in connection with a Moscow real estate deal, which was being pursued as late as one month before Trump officially became the Republican nominee for president. Due to his help, Mueller declined to recommend additional jail time for Cohen for lying to Congress. Recent filings in the Mueller probe have suggested the White House knew that Cohen planned to lie to lawmakers about his contacts with Russians. They also suggest Trump and his family were in the loop on discussions with Russians on a Moscow project, even after the real estate tycoon secured the Republican nomination in mid-2016.

In Washington, Mueller also detailed multiple “lies” that former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort told investigators, leading to a termination of his cooperation deal, which could lead to a stiffer jail sentence for the 69-year-old. A heavily redacted court filing said that Manafort’s “lies” included untruths about his dealings with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who US officials suspect is a Russian intelligence operative, and about his contacts with Trump administration officials after striking a plea agreement. The White House similarly dismissed that filing, arguing it “says absolutely nothing about the President”. “Once again the media is trying to create a story where there isn’t one,” said Sanders.

Comey testifies

Meanwhile, former FBI director James Comey testified before US lawmakers for the first time in over a year Friday, with much of the discussions centering on Hillary Clinton’s email use. Comey had pleaded for a public hearing after he was subpoenaed by the outgoing Congress in November, but House Republicans including some of Trump’s allies insisted on a private session before the judiciary and oversight committees.

Comey was questioned as part of a Republican-led House inquiry into possible Russian interference, and Clinton, who lost to Trump in 2016, featured prominently. “Hillary Clinton’s emails, for heaven’s sake,” Comey said after testifying for six hours. “I’m not sure we need to do this at all.” Clinton had set up a private email server before becoming secretary of state in 2009.

Republicans seized on the revelation years later, saying she broke department protocol by using a private email account while a government official in order to hide sensitive correspondence. The issue became a flashpoint of the 2016 race. Republicans exited Friday’s session complaining that Comey lawyers shut down certain avenues of questioning. Comey disputed that but gave a rationale for why he would not publicly discuss some elements. “The FBI, for understandable reasons, doesn’t want me talking about the details of the investigation that is still ongoing, and began when I was FBI director,” he said. – Agencies