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Trump may face jail time: Top Democrats

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Court filings suggest hush money payments may have violated campaign rules

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump could face impeachment and jail time if hush money payments reported by his former lawyer are proven to be campaign finance violations, Democratic lawmakers said on Sunday.

Court filings last Friday in cases that stemmed from a federal probe into Russian activities during the 2016 presidential election pointed to potential problem areas for Mr Trump, including six-figure payments made to two women during his campaign to keep quiet about affairs.

Federal prosecutors sought prison time for long-time Trump "fixer" Michael Cohen for paying off an adult film star and a former Playboy model at Mr Trump's behest, evading taxes and lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Organisation building in Moscow.

If the payments are proven to be felony campaign finance violations, Democratic US Representative Jerrold Nadler told CNN those would be grounds for impeachment.

"Well, they would be impeachable offences. Whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question," said Mr Nadler, who will lead the Judiciary Committee when Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in January.

Under US law, campaign contributions, defined as things of value given to a campaign to influence an election, must be disclosed. Such payments are also limited to US$2,700 (S$3,700) a person.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said last Friday Cohen has lied repeatedly and that the filing was insignificant.

The court filings also revealed new information about contacts between people working for Mr Trump and Russians in the cases of Cohen and Paul Manafort, Mr Trump's campaign chairman who was convicted in August on tax and bank fraud charges.


Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Manafort lied to investigators about his interactions with a Russian tied to Russian intelligence services.

Mr Mueller's office said the lying prompted prosecutors last week to retract a plea agreement with Manafort on two separate conspiracy charges.

"I think what these indictments and filings show is the President was at the centre of a massive fraud - several massive frauds - against the American people," Mr Nadler told CNN.

Mr Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Mr Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow. Russia denies interfering and Mr Trump has denied any collusion occurred.

Mr Trump said the filings did not prove any collusion with Russia and called for an end to the investigation.

In early morning tweets yesterday he said Democrats were wrongly targeting "a simple private transaction". "There was NO COLLUSION. So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution, which it was not," Mr Trump tweeted. "But even if it was, it is only a CIVIL CASE, like Obama's - but it was done correctly by a lawyer and there would not even be a fine. Lawyer's liability if he made a mistake, not me."

However, the end of the probe could be the beginning of bigger problems for Mr Trump. Democrat Adam Schiff, who will lead the House Intelligence Committee next year, told CBS: "There is a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office the Justice Department may indict him, that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time."

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said he was waiting for the results of the investigation but added: "No one should be above the law." - REUTERS