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Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty Again, Now for Lying to Congress About Russia Deal
Thursday, 29 November 2018 13:32

Excerpt: "President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday in New York to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that Trump and his company pursued at the same time he was running for president."

Michael Cohen. (photo: Getty)
Michael Cohen. (photo: Getty)

Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty Again, Now for Lying to Congress About Russia Deal

By Rosalind S. Helderman, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett, The Washington Post

29 November 18


resident Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday in New York to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that Trump and his company pursued at the same time he was running for president.

In a nine-page filing, prosecutors laid out a litany of lies that Cohen admitted he told to congressional lawmakers about the Moscow project — an attempt, Cohen said, to minimize links between the proposed development and Trump as his presidential bid was well underway.

Cohen’s guilty plea — his second in four months — is the latest development in a wide-ranging investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Activity in that probe has intensified this week, as one planned guilty plea was derailed and, separately, prosecutors accused Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort of lying to them since he pleaded guilty.

The plea is likely to further chill relations between the White House and the Justice Department, where acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker has been serving for several weeks since the president forced out attorney general Jeff Sessions.

Justice Department policies and special counsel regulations call for the attorney general to be notified of significant events in such investigations, and a person familiar with the case said Whitaker was notified ahead of time about Cohen’s plea.

As part of Cohen’s plea, he admitted to falsely claiming that efforts to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow ended in January 2016, when in fact discussions continued through June of that year, the filing said. Among those Cohen briefed on the project’s status was Trump, on more than three occasions, according to the document.

Trump has repeatedly said he had no business dealings in Russia, tweeting in July 2016, “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” and telling reporters in January 2017 that he had no deals there because he had “stayed away.”

On Thursday, Trump denounced Cohen when reporters asked about the case as he left the White House.

“Michael Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me,” the president said. “This was a project that we didn’t do, I didn’t do . . . There would be nothing wrong if I did do it.”

Trump added, “He’s a weak person.”

Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, suggested the timing of Mueller’s move with Cohen was politically motivated.

“It is hardly coincidental that the special counsel once again files a charge just as the president is leaving for a meeting with world leaders at the G20 Summit in Argentina,” Giuliani said in a statement, noting that Mueller also unsealed charges before the president left the country for a summit in Helsinki in July.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee’s senior Democrat, said the guilty plea shows the president was not truthful about his business interests in Russia during the campaign.

“We believe other witnesses were untruthful before our committee,” Schiff said. “We want to share those transcripts with Mr. Mueller.” In particular, Schiff cited Trump adviser Roger Stone as someone whose answers were “far from truthful before our committee.”

During the campaign, Cohen acted as Trump’s point person in an attempt to build the Trump development in Moscow. He has said the project was in its early stages in fall 2015, as Trump’s presidential campaign heated up.

Cohen previously said the project stalled in January 2016, prompting him to email a top aide to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin seeking help. Cohen previously said that he never received a response and that the project was halted that month.

In fact, according to Thursday’s court filing, the Russians did respond and Cohen discussed the project for 20 minutes on the phone with an assistant to Dmitry Peskov, a senior aide to Putin. At the time, Cohen was seeking help with both securing land and financing.

Peskov did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment.

Prosecutors seemed to make a point in the document of emphasizing how Cohen had talked with Trump — whom they didn’t name — about the project. The document said Cohen lied because he hoped his testimony would limit the ongoing Russia investigations.

Prosecutors also said that Cohen continued to have contact into summer 2016 with Felix Sater, a Russian-born developer assisting with the project. Some of those contacts were first reported by The Washington Post.

In June 2016, Sater invited Cohen to attend an economic conference in St. Petersburg, assuring Cohen that he could be introduced to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, top financial leaders and perhaps Putin, The Post reported. Sater has been cooperating with the investigation for more than a year, providing emails and other documents, people familiar with probe have said.

An attorney for Sater did not immediately comment.

According to the criminal information filed by prosecutors, Cohen sent a two-page letter to the committee in which he “knowingly and deliberately” made false statements, including that the Moscow project “ended in January 2016 and was not discussed extensively with others in the company”; that Cohen “never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow project and ‘never considered’ asking Individual 1 to travel for the project”; and that Cohen “did not recall any Russian government response or contact about the Moscow Project.”

The document does not identify “Individual 1,” but according to people familiar with the case, that person is Trump.

“Cohen discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1 on more than the three occasions Cohen claimed to the committee, and he briefed family members of Individual 1 within the Company about the project,” according to the filing.

The document also says Cohen discussed in May 2016 the possibility he might travel to Russia before the Republican National Convention and that Individual 1 might travel there after the convention, but a month later, he told “Individual 2” that he would not be making such a trip. The document does not identify Individual 2, but people familiar with the investigation said that it is Sater, the Russian-born developer.

Federal sentencing guidelines would call for Cohen to face a prison sentence of only six months at the high end and no time in prison at the low end, according to his plea agreement for making false statements. Both sides agreed that they would not ask for a sentence outside of that range, provided Cohen continues to cooperate.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, Guy Petrillo, an attorney for Cohen, said: “Mr. Cohen has cooperated. Mr. Cohen will continue to cooperate.” He said sentencing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Cohen said nothing as a gaggle of reporters shouted questions at him.

In August, Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations related to payments before the election to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump years prior. He told the court that he had arranged those payments, designed to keep the women quiet before the presidential vote, at Trump’s direction.

He had also pleaded guilty to multiple counts of tax evasion, as well as bank fraud, related to his personal finances and management of taxi medallions.

Cohen worked as a top attorney to Trump and his real estate company for a decade. After Trump took office, Cohen left the company and became a personal attorney to the president, while taking on consulting clients, including AT&T, Novartis and a New York firm that manages assets for a Russian billionaire.

Once one of Trump’s most loyal aides, he has taken a swift and thorough turn against the president in recent months. Cohen used to describe himself as Trump’s pit bull and delighted in jousting with the celebrity business executive’s enemies, once asserting that he would “take a bullet” for his longtime boss.

But after pleading guilty, he said his conscience required him to tell the truth about Trump. Before the midterm elections, he urged the public to vote for Democrats, writing on Twitter that the election “might be the most important vote in our lifetime.”

In recent months, he has been spending hours meeting with prosecutors, including Mueller’s team, and was spotted recently arriving in Washington for additional meetings with his legal team.

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