Trump’s ex-lawyer pleads guilty to ly­ing to Congress

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Rosalind S. Helderman, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Bar­rett The Wash­ing­ton Post

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.

Co­hen

JULIE JA­COB­SON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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