EX-TRUMP LAWYER PLEADS GUILTY
Michael Cohen admits negotiating to build a tower in Russia for Donald Trump well into the 2016 presidential campaign.
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, admitted in court Thursday that he had engaged in negotiations to build a tower in Moscow for Trump well into the 2016 presidential campaign, far later than previously known.
Cohen said he discussed the status of the project with Trump on more than three occasions and briefed Trump’s family members about it. He also admitted he agreed to travel to Russia for meetings on the project.
The revelations, which came as Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, were a startling turn in the special counsel’s investigation of Trump and his inner circle.
Cohen’s guilty plea comes at a particularly perilous time for Trump, whose presidency has been threatened by Cohen’s statements to investigators. In recent days, the president and his lawyers have increased their attacks on the Justice Department and the special counsel’s office.
After Cohen appeared in court Thursday, Trump abruptly canceled a planned meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia while both leaders are in Argentina for a world economic summit meeting. The president said he called off the meeting because of Russia’s recent hostilities with Ukraine.
Shortly after Cohen’s plea, Trump said his former fixer was once again lying in order to get a reduced sentence for the crimes he pleaded guilty to earlier this year. Under the earlier plea agreement, Cohen faced four or five years in prison.
“He was convicted of various things unrelated to us,” Trump said, adding, “He’s a weak person and what he’s trying to do is get a reduced sentence.”
Trump made his comments to reporters as he left Washington for the Group of 20 meeting in Buenos Aires.
At a surprise federal court hearing in Manhattan, Cohen admitted that he had minimized Trump’s role in efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and gave the false impression to Congress that the negotiations had ended in January 2016, just before the Iowa caucuses.
In fact, Cohen admitted, the negotiations continued for at least another five months, until June, which was just after Trump had clinched the Republican nomination. Cohen also admitted he agreed in early May to travel to Russia for meetings on the project and that he spoke to Trump about it despite telling congressional investigators that he had not done so. The trips never happened.
Cohen concluded his statement in court, saying: “I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1.”
“Individual 1” is Trump, officials said.
Trump said Thursday that discussions about the Moscow project took place in early 2016 but that he did not know the exact timing of when he decided to stop pursuing it.
“We decided — I decided ultimately — not to do it,” he said, adding, “There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it.”
The president suggested the Moscow business consideration was a byproduct of running a company while campaigning for president.
Cohen’s new guilty plea in U.S. District Court marks the first time the office of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has charged Cohen. In exchange for pleading guilty and continuing to cooperate with Mueller, he may hope to receive a lighter sentence than he otherwise would.
Cohen, 52, had already pleaded guilty to eight charges, including campaign finance, bank and tax crimes, brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. He is scheduled to be sentenced for those crimes in two weeks.
This week, Mueller accused Trump’s onetime campaign manager, Paul Manafort, of repeatedly lying to investigators in breach of a plea agreement. And Trump’s lawyers recently submitted his written responses to questions from Mueller, whom the president accused on a tweet Tuesday of operating a “Phony Witch Hunt.”
It was just three months ago that Cohen, pleading guilty for the first time, stood up in a different Manhattan courtroom and accused Trump of directing hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign to conceal potential sex scandals. Those payments formed the basis of the campaign finance charges against Cohen.
Although Cohen’s first plea agreement did not include a formal cooperation deal, he had sat for repeated interviews with Mueller’s investigators.
He also offered assistance to the office prosecuting him, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, according to a person briefed on the matter. (Mueller’s investigators referred the investigation of Cohen to the Southern District earlier this year).
The Southern District said last month in a court filing it was continuing to investigate “Michael Cohen and others.” While the filing did not identify other suspects, the prosecutors are expected to examine whether people in Trump’s circle were aware of Cohen’s criminal conduct.
In the Southern District case, Cohen already faced a potential prison sentence of about four to five years under the nonbinding federal sentencing guidelines, according to his plea agreement. It is unclear what additional time he could face with the new guilty plea.
During his plea hearing in August, Cohen admitted to making a $130,000 payment to an adult film actress, Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, to keep her quiet about an affair she said she had with Trump.
The payment amounted to an illegal contribution to Trump’s campaign, prosecutors argued, since her silence bolstered his election hopes and campaign finance law prohibits individuals from donating more than $2,700 to a presidential candidate.
Cohen also pleaded guilty to arranging what amounted to an illegal corporate campaign donation when he helped to silence a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal. At Cohen’s urging, tabloid publisher American Media Inc. bought the rights to McDougal’s story of an affair with Trump but did not publish a story.
“I participated in this conduct, which on my part took place in Manhattan, for the principal purpose of influencing the election,” Cohen said in court in August when he entered his plea.
He said the payments to the women were made “in coordination with, and at the direction of, a candidate for federal office” – a reference to Trump.
The special counsel identified Cohen’s false statements to Congress in testimony Cohen provided to the House and Senate Intelligence committees, which have been conducting their own, separate inquiries into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Thursday that the committee had made additional criminal referrals to Mueller, but he did not offer specifics.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Cohen’s plea only added urgency for congressional investigators who plan to begin an inquiry into Trump’s foreign business dealings when Democrats take control of the House in January.
“If the president and his associates were being untruthful in real time as they were pursuing this deal, what does it mean now on how much we can rely on what the president is saying about any continuing Russian financial interest?” Schiff told reporters Thursday.
‘‘ I MADE THESE MISSTATEMENTS TO BE CONSISTENT WITH INDIVIDUAL 1’S POLITICAL MESSAGING AND OUT OF LOYALTY TO INDIVIDUAL 1. Michael Cohen, in court, referring to President Donald Trump
Michael Cohen, left, walks out of federal court with his attorney Guy Petrillo, on Thursday in New York after pleading guilty to lying to Congress.