Trump’s ex-lawyer pleads guilty to lying to Congress
President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday in New York to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that Trump and his company pursued at the same time he was securing the GOP nomination in 2016.
In a nine-page filing, prosecutors laid out a litany of lies that Cohen admitted he told to congressional lawmakers about the Moscow project — an attempt, Cohen said, to minimize links between the proposed development and Trump as his presidential bid was gaining steam.
Cohen made a surprise appearance Thursday morning before U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter Jr., who asked him to enter his plea.
“Guilty, your honor,” Cohen replied. As part of the plea, Cohen said he had lied for the person listed in court documents as “Individual 1” — whom Cohen identified in court as Trump.
“I was aware of Individual 1’s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, his repeated statements that investigations of such ties were politically motivated and without
evidence, and that any contact with Russian nationals by Individual 1’s campaign or the Trump Organization had all terminated before the Iowa Caucus, which was on February 1 of 2016,” Cohen told the judge.
To hew closely to Trump’s public denials of such connections, Cohen said he knowingly gave false answers in 2017 to the Senate and House intelligence committees.
“I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1,” he told the packed courtroom in Lower Manhattan.
Cohen’s guilty plea — his second in four months — is the latest development in a wide-ranging investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Activity in that probe has intensified this week, as one planned guilty plea was derailed and, separately, prosecutors accused Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort of lying to them since he pleaded guilty.
The Cohen plea is likely to further chill relations between the White House and the Justice Department, where acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker has been serving for several weeks since the president forced Jeff Sessions out of the post of attorney general.
Justice Department policies and special counsel regulations call for the attorney general to be notified of significant events in such investigations, and a person familiar with the case said Whitaker was notified ahead of time about Cohen’s plea.
As part of the plea, Cohen admitted to falsely claiming that efforts to build a Trump- branded tower in Moscow ended in January 2016, when in fact discussions continued through June of that year, the filing said. That was a critical period in the presidential campaign, when Trump was plowing past a crowded GOP field of candidates to win the nomination. Among those Cohen briefed on the project’s status was Trump, on more than three occasions, according to the document.
Trump has repeatedly said he had no business dealings in Russia, tweeting in July 2016, “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” and telling reporters in January 2017 that he had no deals there because he had “stayed away.”
After the plea, Trump told reporters at the White House that Cohen was “a weak person” and insisted that he himself had done nothing wrong.
“Michael Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me,” the president said. “This was a project that we didn’t do, I didn’t do. … There would be nothing wrong if I did do it.”
Talking about 2016, Trump added: “There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani suggested that Mueller’s timing was politically motivated.
“It is hardly coincidental that the special counsel once again files a charge just as the president is leaving for a meeting with world leaders at the G20 Summit in Argentina,” Giuliani said in a statement, noting that Mueller also unsealed charges before the president left the country for a summit in Helsinki in July.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the House Intelligence Committee’s senior Democrat, said the guilty plea shows the president was not truthful about his business interests in Russia during the campaign.
“We believe other witnesses were untruthful before our committee,” Schiff said. “We want to share those transcripts with Mr. Mueller.” In particular, Schiff cited Trump adviser Roger Stone as someone whose answers were “far from truthful.”
During the campaign, Cohen acted as Trump’s point person in talks aimed at building the Trump development in Moscow. Cohen has said the project was in its early stages in fall 2015, as Trump’s presidential campaign was heating up.
Cohen previously said the project stalled in January 2016, prompting him to email a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin seeking help. Cohen had previously claimed that he never received a response and that the project was halted that month.
In fact, according to Thursday’s court filing, the Russians did respond, and Cohen discussed the project for 20 minutes on the phone with an assistant to Dmitry Peskov, a senior aide to Putin. At the time, Cohen was seeking help securing land and financing.
Peskov did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.
Michael Cohen walks out of federal court on Thursday in New York, after pleading guilty to lying to Congress about work he did on an aborted project to build a Trump tower in Russia.