On Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, former personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that Trump and his company pursued while he was running for president.
In a nine-page filing, prosecutors referenced multiple lies that Cohen admitted he told congressional lawmakers about the Moscow project. He said lying was an attempt to minimize links between the proposed development and Trump as his campaign was taking off.
Cohen lied when he said the efforts to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow ended in January 2016. The truth: Discussions of a Moscow-based Trump tower continued through 2016. According to the court document Cohen briefed Trump on the status of the project on more than three occasions.
The president has repeatedly stated that he has not any business dealing in Russia. He tweeted in July 2016, “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.” He told reporters in January 2017 that he did not have any deals in Russia because he “stayed away.”
Cohen’s guilty plea is only the latest development in a wide-ranging investigation conducted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the presidential election in 2016.
When reporters asked Trump about the case on Thursday, he denounced Cohen 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. This was a project that we didn’t do, I didn’t do… There would be nothing wrong it I did do it. He is a weak person.”
During Trump’s campaign, Cohen was the point person in the attempt to build a Trump tower in Moscow. The project was in the early stages in the fall of 2015, the same time his campaign for presidency was heating up.
Previously, Cohen had stated that the project stalled in January 2016. This prompted him to email a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin for help. Cohen lied and said he did not receive a response and the project was halted the same month.
According to the filing, Cohen did receive a response and discussed the project on the phone for 20 minutes with an assistant to a Russian official. They discussed help with securing land and financing.
Additionally, prosecutors stated that Cohen continued to be in communication with his Russian contact into the summer of 2016. He talked with Russian-born developer Felix Sater, who was assisting with the project.
In June 2016, Sater invited Cohen to an economic conference in St. Petersburg. Additionally, the invite assured Cohen could be introduced to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, financial leader, and even Putin, as The Washington Post reported.
According to prosecutors, Cohen mailed a two-page letter to the committee in which he “knowingly and deliberately” made false statements. This included his claim that the Moscow project “ended in January 2016 and was not discussed extensively with other in the company.” And 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 he “did not recall any Russian government response of contact about the Moscow Project.”
The document provided by the prosecutors does not identify Individual 1, however, according to people familiar with the case, it is President 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 document.
It goes on to say that Cohen made those statements attempting to minimize a number of facts, including the Moscow project, which “was discussed multiple times within the company and did not end in January 2016, rather Cohen and Individual 2 discussed the efforts as late as June 2016.”
The document does not identify Individual 2 either, but there are people involved in the investigation who have said it is Sater.
Additionally, the prosecutor’s filing states that Cohen discussed in May 2016, the possibility of traveling to Russia before the Republican National Convention and Individual 1 may travel to Russia after the convention. A month later, Cohen Individual 2 that he would not be making the trip.
According to federal sentencing guidelines, the most Cohen could face zero to six months in prison for lying to Congress. This is per his plea agreement for false statements. As long as Cohen continues to cooperate, neither side will seek sentencing outside of these parameters.
Mueller is investigating whether any of the associates for Trump conspired with Moscow to influence the outcome of the presidential election.
On Thursday, outside the courthouse, a lawyer for Cohen, Guy Petrillo said, “Mr. Cohen has cooperated. Mr. Cohen will continue to cooperate.” Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 12, 2018.
Cohen did not comment.
In August, Cohen pleaded guilty “to campaign finance violations related to payments before the election to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump years prior.”
Cohen also pleaded guilty to multiple counts of tax evasion and bank fraud related to his personal finances and management of taxi medallions.
He was a top lawyer to Trump and his real estate company for a decade. Once Trump took over the Oval Office, Cohen came onboard as Trump’s personal attorney, while he consulted for clients, such as AT&T, Novartis, and a New York firm that manages assets for a Russian billionaire.
Cohen was one of Trump’s most loyal aides. However, in the past few months he has taken a turn. He was the self-described pit bull to the president and he delighted in jousting with the president’s enemies, once asserting that would “take a bullet” for his boss.
After he plead guilty, Cohen said his conscience required him to tell the truth about his longtime boss. Before the midterm elections, Cohen urged voters to vote for Democrats. He wrote on Twitter that the election “might be the most important vote in our lifetime.”
In the past few months, Cohen has been spending a significant amount of time meeting with prosecutors, including Mueller’s investigative team. Additionally, he was seen arriving in Washington for additional meetings with his legal team.
By Jeanette Smith
The Washington Post: Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, pleads guilty to lying to Congress
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