Fil­ings note Co­hen’s aid, Manafort’s ‘lies’ But prison time urged for ex-Trump lawyer

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - 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

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.”

RUS­SIAN CON­NEC­TION

The al­le­ga­tions in­volv­ing Manafort came in a new court fil­ing by the spe­cial coun­sel that pointed to some 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.

SEN­TENC­ING AHEAD

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 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.

AP/RICHARD DREW

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.

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