Pres­sure on Trump lawyer in­ten­si­fies

Still on Mueller’s radar, Cohen is said to feel ne­glected by pres­i­dent

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROS­ALIND S. HEL­DER­MAN AND TOM HAM­BURGER

Michael Cohen, Pres­i­dent Trump’s per­sonal at­tor­ney, is fac­ing mount­ing pres­sure from two ac­tive fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions, con­tend­ing with sky­rock­et­ing le­gal bills and plan­ning to change lawyers in the near fu­ture, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion.

Amid his es­ca­lat­ing le­gal con­cerns, Cohen is feel­ing ne­glected by the pres­i­dent, his long­time patron for whom he has long pro­fessed his loy­alty, the peo­ple said.

Cohen is un­der in­ten­si­fy­ing scru­tiny from fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan who are examining his busi­ness prac­tices, as well as spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III, who is con­tin­u­ing to in­ves­ti­gate episodes in­volv­ing Cohen, ac­cord­ing to a wit­ness who tes­ti­fied in front of a grand jury in Wash­ing­ton last week.

An­drii V. Arte­menko, a for­mer mem­ber of the Ukrainian par­lia­ment, said in an in­ter­view that many of the ques­tions he faced dur­ing sev­eral hours of tes­ti­mony Fri­day were fo­cused on his in­ter­ac­tions with Cohen. Arte­menko met with Cohen in Jan­uary 2017 to dis­cuss a back-chan­nel peace ini­tia­tive for Ukraine.

“I re­al­ized that Michael Cohen is a tar­get” of spe­cial in­ter­est to Mueller, Arte­menko told The Wash­ing­ton Post this week, days af­ter he was ques­tioned.

A spokesman for Mueller de­clined to com­ment.

The spe­cial coun­sel’s on­go­ing ques­tions about Cohen’s ac­tiv­i­ties in­di­cate that Mueller re­mains in­tently fo­cused on Trump’s at­tor­ney, even af­ter re­fer­ring a sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Cohen’s busi­ness prac­tices to fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan months ago.

The dual in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Cohen are fu­el­ing anx­i­ety in­side the White House. Af­ter work­ing for a decade as Trump’s per­sonal at­tor­ney, Cohen has ex­ten­sive knowl­edge of the pres­i­dent’s per­sonal deal­ings and the Trump fam­ily busi­ness.

The pres­i­dent’s al­lies are wor­ried that pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan are at­tempt­ing to build a crim­i­nal case against Cohen to push him to co­op­er­ate with the spe­cial coun­sel’s probe — a prospect they see as po­ten­tially dire.

For his part, the Trump at­tor­ney has been frus­trated by the lack of outreach by the pres­i­dent, whom Cohen has vowed to de­fend, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple with knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion.

Cohen, who is now in a dis­pute with his at­tor­neys about some of his le­gal bills, plans to seek new rep­re­sen­ta­tion soon, the peo­ple said. He wants to find a New York lawyer more fa­mil­iar with the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Man­hat­tan, they said.

Cohen de­clined to com­ment and re­ferred ques­tions to Stephen Ryan, the at­tor­ney cur­rently lead­ing his de­fense. Ryan, a Wash­ing­ton-based crim­i­nal de­fense lawyer who has rep­re­sented Cohen in both fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions, did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Cohen has not been charged and has not in­di­cated to as­so­ciates whether he would take a plea deal and share in­for­ma­tion with pros­e­cu­tors, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with his views.

But he is fac­ing le­gal wor­ries on two fronts.

In New York, fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors are in­ves­ti­gat­ing Cohen for pos­si­ble bank fraud, wire fraud and cam­paign fi­nance vi­o­la­tions as they ex­am­ine his ef­forts to squelch dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about Trump in the run-up to the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. A spe­cial mas­ter who was named to re­view pos­si­bly priv­i­leged ma­te­ri­als seized from Cohen’s of­fice and res­i­dences in April is sched­uled to file a re­port Fri­day on the sta­tus of that process.

In Wash­ing­ton, Mueller has been examining Cohen’s role in at least two episodes in­volv­ing Rus­sian in­ter­ests, as The Post has pre­vi­ously re­ported.

One area of in­ter­est to the spe­cial coun­sel is ne­go­ti­a­tions Cohen un­der­took dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign to help the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion build a tower in Moscow, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the probe. Cohen brought Trump a let­ter of in­tent in Oc­to­ber 2015 from a Rus­sian devel­oper to build a Moscow project. Later, he sent an email to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s chief spokesman seek­ing help to ad­vance the stalled project. He has said he did not re­call re­ceiv­ing a re­sponse.

Another area that Mueller’s team has ex­plored is a pro­posal to end ten­sions in Ukraine, viewed by some as a plan that would ben­e­fit Rus­sia, the peo­ple said. The plan was de­liv­ered to Cohen by Arte­menko one week af­ter Trump took of­fice, in a meet­ing at a Man­hat­tan ho­tel.

Arte­menko told The Post that he first re­ceived a sub­poena from Mueller’s of­fice in late April. Since then, he said, he has pro­vided ex­ten­sive doc­u­men­ta­tion to pros­e­cu­tors, in­clud­ing emails and text mes­sages, and was in­ter­viewed in­for­mally in re­cent weeks be­fore ap­pear­ing be­fore the grand jury Fri­day.

“I pro­vided a lot of doc­u­ments, a lot of in­for­ma­tion,” Arte­menko said. “Ev­ery­thing they asked me about . . . I’m very open. I have noth­ing to hide.”

He de­clined to of­fer a full de­scrip­tion of the ques­tions he was asked when he ap­peared be­fore the grand jury. But he con­firmed that he was ques­tioned ex­ten­sively about a Jan. 27, 2017, meet­ing he held with Cohen to present a back-chan­nel peace pro­posal for Ukraine that he hoped Cohen would ferry to the White House.

The meet­ing was or­ga­nized by Felix Sater, a Trump busi­ness part­ner who had also worked to bro­ker the deal to build a Trump

“I re­al­ized that Michael Cohen is a tar­get.” An­drii V. Arte­menko, a for­mer mem­ber of the Ukrainian par­lia­ment who faced ques­tions last week be­fore a grand jury as part of the on­go­ing spe­cial-coun­sel in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence

Tower in Moscow dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

The back-chan­nel pro­posal of­fered a path­way for re­solv­ing the Ukrainian dis­pute that could have even­tu­ally led to the lifting of U.S. sanc­tions on Rus­sia, a top goal of Putin.

Sater and Arte­menko dis­puted the no­tion that the pro­pos- al was Rus­sia-friendly. Arte­menko told The Post that his in­ter­est was only to bring peace to Ukraine and that he was not work­ing to ad­vance the in­ter­ests of Rus­sia or Trump.

Arte­menko, Cohen and Sater have of­fered di­ver­gent public ac­counts of their brief meet­ing.

Sater said he gave the plan to Cohen in a sealed en­ve­lope. Sater told The Post last year that Cohen said at the time that he would pass the plan to then-na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn but that Flynn was ousted be­fore he could do so.

“I was with Arte­menko when Michael told us he would pass it along to Flynn, but I did not know that he did that for a fact,” Sater said in an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day.

The New York Times has re­ported that Cohen told the news out­let that he took it to Wash­ing­ton and left it in Flynn’s of­fice days be­fore Flynn was fired.

But in in­ter­views last year with The Post, Cohen called that ac­count “fake news” and de­nied that he gave the pro­posal to Flynn or that he had ever said he had done so. In­stead, Cohen told The Post he threw away the un­opened en­ve­lope in a trash can at his New York apart­ment.

“I never looked at it,” Cohen said. “I never turned it over to any­one.”

Cohen also told The Post that Arte­menko in­di­cated to him that his peace ini­tia­tive for Ukraine came with Rus­sian sup­port. “He said Rus­sia was on board — the Rus­sian govern­ment,” Cohen said.

Arte­menko de­nied this week that the Rus­sian govern­ment was in­volved, al­though he said he had briefed some Rus­sian of­fi­cials on the peace ini­tia­tive dur­ing trips to Moscow in the year be­fore the Cohen meet­ing.

“They said: ‘Lis­ten, we need the con­fir­ma­tion. We need the con­fir­ma­tion that you have au­tho­riza­tion from both sides, from Ukraine and from United States,’ ” he said. “That was the an­swer from Rus­sia. That’s all. I shared this in­for­ma­tion to Michael.”

Asked whether Mueller’s pros­e­cu­tors in­quired about Rus­sian sup­port for his pro­posal, Arte­menko replied, “Ob­vi­ously.”

Af­ter news of his meet­ing with Cohen be­came public, Arte­menko was ex­pelled from the Ukrainian par­lia­ment and stripped of his ci­ti­zen­ship. He is liv­ing in Canada and in­sisted that his in­ten­tions in meet­ing with Cohen have been mis­in­ter­preted.

“My destiny, my main goal, is to bring peace to Ukraine,” he said.

Arte­menko said he was also asked at the grand jury about an ef­fort he and Sater were in­volved with in re­cent years to re­fur­bish Ukrainian nu­clear power plants.

Arte­menko said he met re­peat­edly with U.S. of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing mem­bers of Congress, to pro­mote the pro­posal in Wash­ing­ton. The meet­ings, he said, he were set up by Curt Wel­don, a Repub­li­can for­mer con­gress­man from Penn­syl­va­nia. Arte­menko said the pro­posal did not in­volve mem­bers of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Wel­don did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Sater, who tried to ar­range fi­nanc­ing for the project, said he was not in­volved in the lob­by­ing. He said he shared all he knew about the plan with govern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors months ago but de­clined to say whether he spoke to Mueller’s of­fice.

He said the nu­clear power plan would have been a blow to Rus­sia be­cause it would have pro­vided in­de­pen­dent power to neigh­bor­ing states that had been de­pen­dent on Rus­sian en­ergy sources.

“Since this was an anti-Rus­sia en­ergy de­vel­op­ment pro­posal, it was no sur­prise to me that U.S. of­fi­cials would sup­port this project,” Sater said. Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leon­nig con­trib­uted to this re­port.

SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IM­AGES

Michael Cohen leaves U.S. Dis­trict Court in New York late last month. Pres­i­dent Trump’s al­lies are wor­ried that pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan are at­tempt­ing to build a crim­i­nal case against Cohen, Trump’s per­sonal at­tor­ney, to push him to co­op­er­ate with the spe­cial-coun­sel probe.

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