Filings note Cohen’s aid, Manafort’s ‘lies’
But prison time urged for ex-Trump lawyer
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in touch as far back as 2015 with a Russian who offered “political synergy” with the Trump election campaign, the federal special counsel said Friday in a court filing.
In an additional filing Friday evening, prosecutors said former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to them about his contacts with a Russian associate and Trump administration officials.
Manafort, who has pleaded guilty to several counts, violated his plea agreement by then telling “multiple discernible lies” to prosecutors, they said.
Filings by prosecutors from both New York and the Trump-Russia special counsel’s office laid out for the first time details of the cooperation of Cohen, who once said he’d “take a bullet” for the president but who in recent months has become a prime antagonist and pledged to come clean with the government.
Federal prosecutors said
Friday that Cohen deserves a substantial prison sentence despite his cooperation with investigators.
In hours of meetings with prosecutors, Cohen detailed his intimate involvement in an array of episodes, including some that directly touch the president, that are at the center of investigations into campaign-finance violations and potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
In one of the filings, special counsel Robert Mueller details how Cohen spoke to a Russian who “claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level.’”
Cohen told investigators the person, who was not identified, repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact, “not only in political but in a business dimension as well,” the special counsel’s office wrote.
Cohen, though, did not follow up on the invitation because he was already working on a Trump project in Moscow, which could have netted Trump’s business hundreds of millions of dollars, through a different person he believed to have Russian government connections, the special counsel’s office wrote.
Cohen, dubbed Trump’s “legal fixer” in the past, also described his work in conjunction with Trump in orchestrating hush-money payments to two women — a porn actress and a Playboy model — who said they had sex with Trump a decade earlier. Prosecutors in New York, where Cohen pleaded guilty in August regarding those payments, said the lawyer “acted in coordination and at the direction” of Trump, the first time prosecutors have connected Trump to a federal crime.
Cohen has previously said Trump was involved in the hush-money scheme, but the court documents made clear prosecutors believe Cohen’s claim. The filing stopped short of accusing the president of committing a crime. Whether a president can be prosecuted while in office remains a matter of legal dispute.
Cohen also told prosecutors that he and Trump discussed a potential meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, shortly after Trump announced his candidacy for president, the filings say.
In a footnote, Mueller’s team writes that Cohen conferred with Trump “about contacting the Russia government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting,” though it never took place.
Despite such specific allegations of Trump’s actions, the president quickly tweeted after news of the filings: “Totally clears the President. Thank you!”
Later, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in two statements that the Manafort filing “says absolutely nothing about the President” and the Cohen filings “tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known.”
Earlier in the day, Trump had derided Mueller in a series of Twitter messages as a friend of James Comey, the former FBI director who said the president fired him in May 2017 after demanding “loyalty.”
Trump also claimed that Andrew Weissmann, a senior prosecutor on Mueller’s team, had “wrongly destroyed people’s lives” and is “doing the same thing to people now.”
The allegations involving Manafort came in a new court filing by the special counsel that pointed to some of the questions prosecutors have been asking a key witness in their closely held investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
They said that Manafort had told numerous lies in five areas, including about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian employee of Manafort’s political consulting firm who prosecutors have said has Russian intelligence ties. Manafort met twice during the campaign with Kilimnik, including in August 2016 in New York City. Kilimnik has told The Washington Post that the two discussed the presidential campaign at the New York meeting.
Much of a section of the filing dealing with Kilimnik was redacted, but prosecutors indicated that they have obtained electronic records, travel documents and other evidence that demonstrate Manafort “lied repeatedly” about his interactions with the Russian aide.
Manafort was convicted of tax and bank fraud charges in Virginia in August. He pleaded guilty in September to additional charges, including conspiring to defraud the United States by hiding years of income and failing to disclose lobbying work for a pro-Russia political party and politician in Ukraine.
That plea helped him avoid a second trial in Washington and offered the former Republican operative the hope of some leniency in sentencing — provided he cooperated with prosecutors and provided truthful testimony to investigators.
However, Mueller’s team informed the judge last week that the team believed Manafort had breached the agreement by lying repeatedly.
Prosecutors said they would detail his “crimes and lies” for U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
After signing a plea agreement in September, Manafort “stated he had no direct or indirect communications with anyone in the administration while they were in the administration and that he never asked anyone to try to communicate a message to anyone in the administration on any subject matter,” prosecutors said.
But, they said, Manafort hid information from them about his contacts with Trump administration officials, telling “multiple discernible lies — these were not instances of mere memory lapses.”
Manafort told a colleague in February — four months after he was indicted — that he was in contact with a senior administration official through that time, according to the filing. And in a text message, he authorized another person to speak with a White House official on May 26.
They also accused Manafort of lying about a $125,000 transfer of funds.
Mueller’s team has left open the possibility that it could file new charges for lying against Manafort.
Manafort’s lawyers have said that Manafort did not believe he lied or violated the deal. Manafort, 69, is jailed in Alexandria, Va.
Cohen is to be sentenced next week in two cases, one involving campaign-finance violations and lying to a bank, and another in which he admitted to lying to Congress about efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow.
Cohen was prosecuted by two parts of the Justice Department, Mueller’s office and federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Those offices filed separate memos Friday in preparation for Wednesday’s scheduled sentencing before U.S. District Judge William Pauley III.
Cohen had asked for a sentence of no prison time, citing his cooperation with investigators, but prosecutors for the Southern District of New York filed a memo arguing that he should serve substantial time, possibly years, in prison.
A separate sentencing memo filed by Mueller was somewhat kinder to Cohen, saying that while his crime was “serious,” he had “taken significant steps to mitigate his criminal conduct.”
“He chose to accept responsibility for his false statements and admit to his conduct in open court. He also has gone to significant lengths to assist the special counsel’s investigation,” they wrote.
Under the federal sentencing guidelines, Cohen could face roughly five years in prison. In the filing, federal prosecutors in New York suggested he should get a modest reduction and serve around 3½ years.
“Cohen did provide information to law enforcement, including information that assisted the Special Counsel’s Office,” they said. “But Cohen’s description of those efforts is overstated in some respects and incomplete in others.”
The filing also suggests Cohen’s cooperation with law enforcement officials was not so significant to the investigations swirling around the president.
“To be clear: Cohen does not have a cooperation agreement and is not … properly described as a ‘cooperating witness,’ as that term is commonly used in this district,” the prosecutors wrote in the 38-page letter.
Perhaps most striking, prosecutors accused Cohen of holding back some of what he knew.
“This office understands that the information provided by Cohen to (Mueller) was ultimately credible and useful to its ongoing investigation,” prosecutors wrote, but said they would not give him a legal letter detailing his cooperation because “Cohen repeatedly declined to provide full information about the scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge.”
In meetings with Mueller’s team, Cohen “provided information about his own contacts with Russian interests during the campaign and discussions with others in the course of making those contacts,” the court documents said.
Cohen provided prosecutors with a “detailed account” of his involvement, along with the involvement of others, in efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign to complete a deal to build a Trump Tower Moscow, the documents said. He also provided information about attempts by Russians to reach Trump’s campaign, they said.
However, in the crimes to which he pleaded guilty in August, he was motivated “by personal greed and repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends.”
Prosecutors said the court’s probation department estimated that federal sentencing guidelines call for Cohen to serve at least four years in prison. They said that “reflects Cohen’s extensive, deliberate and serious criminal conduct.”
Prosecutors say Cohen “already enjoyed a privileged life,” and that “his desire for even greater wealth and influence precipitated an extensive course of criminal conduct.”
The developments capped a busy week for Mueller’s team. On Tuesday, his prosecutors disclosed that Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, had provided substantial assistance with several investigations. Flynn pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.
They took a harsher approach with other defendants, including George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide who was released Friday from a federal prison in Wisconsin after serving 14 days. After he pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential race, prosecutors asked a judge to sentence him to prison, saying he cooperated only grudgingly.
Caroline Polisi, his lawyer, wrote in an email that Papadopoulos is “doing well, and looking forward to moving on with his life.” Information for this article was contributed by Chad Day, Eric Tucker, Jim Mustian, Larry Neumeister and Michael Balsamo of The Associated Press; by Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett, Rosalind S. Helderman, Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu of
The Washington Post; and by Adam Goldman and Sharon LaFraniere of
Michael Cohen greets the doorman of his Park Avenue apartment building Friday in New York as he goes out. Court filings Friday revealed Cohen’s involvement in a number of dealings at the center of the special counsel’s investigation.
A page from a court filing released Friday by prosecutors from the special counsel’s office is displayed Friday.