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Trump probe probably undermines relationship with Russia: White House

US President Donald Trump and Russia President Vladimir Putin. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Washington, DC, USA Nov 30, 2018, 09.39 PM (IST)

The White House on Friday said that ties between Russia and the United States are likely being damaged by an investigation into whether President Donald Trump colluded with Moscow during his 2016 election.

"Unfortunately, it probably does undermine our relationship with Russia," spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement, referring to the probe as "the Russian Witch Hunt Hoax."

However, Sanders insisted that Trump had cancelled a planned meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Friday in Buenos Aires because of tensions over Ukraine - not his increasingly complex legal challenges related to Russia.

President Donald Trump on Friday reiterated his innocence in connection with a Moscow real estate deal that has reportedly been a focus of a probe into whether his 2016 presidential campaign conspired with Russian operatives.

Trump's tweets came one day after his ex-lawyer pleaded guilty to lying to Congress over the ultimately shelved Tump tower deal in a bid to limit the Russia investigation.

"Oh, I get it! I am a very good developer, happily living my life, when I see our Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly)," Trump tweeted from the G20 summit in Argentina.

"Against all odds, I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail," he said.

"Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia," the Republican leader continued. "Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn't do the project. Witch Hunt!"

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Michael Cohen, who once famously said he would take a bullet for the Republican billionaire, said that he lied in written testimony to Congress in which he suggested the project was shelved in January 2016 -- before the first caucus and primary voting began.

Contrary to his original testimony, the project was discussed multiple times within the company -- beyond January 2016 -- and with efforts to obtain Russian governmental approval being discussed as late as June of that year.

Cohen also mulled travelling to Russia in connection with the project and in May 2016 was offered a possible introduction to either the Russian president or prime minister on the sidelines of a Russian forum in June 2016.

Trump ultimately secured the Republican nomination for president just weeks later in July 2016. On Thursday, the president branded Cohen a "weak person" and emphasized that the property deal was ultimately dropped.

"He is lying about a project that everybody knew about,"  Trump told reporters at the White House before heading to Argentina for what is sure to be a tense two-day summit of world leaders.

He then scrapped an on again-off again meeting in Buenos Aires with Russian President Vladimir Putin, citing Moscow's detention of a group of Ukrainian sailors.