Michael Cohen appeared to have been protecting Trump with his lies, which included covering up how long the Trump Tower Moscow project was discussed with Russians (deep into the general election season) and plans to have Trump travel to Russia to discuss the deal with Russian leaders. New York Times:
Donald J. Trump was more involved in discussions over a potential Russian business deal during the presidential campaign than previously known, his former lawyer Michael D. Cohen said Thursday in pleading guilty to lying to Congress. Mr. Trump’s associates pursued the project as the Kremlin was escalating its election sabotage effort meant to help him win the presidency.
Mr. Trump’s participation in discussions about building a grand skyscraper in Moscow showed how the interests of his business empire were enmeshed with his political ambitions as he was closing in on the Republican nomination for president. During the early months of 2016, when the business discussions were taking place, he was publicly pressing for warmer relations between the United States and Russia and an end to economic sanctions imposed by the Obama administration, policy positions that might have benefited his family business.
Court documents made public by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, detailed new accusations against Mr. Cohen, the president’s former fixer, who already pleaded guilty this year to committing campaign finance violations and financial crimes. Mr. Cohen was the point person at Trump Organization for negotiating a deal for the Moscow project, and on Thursday he admitted lying to congressional investigators about the duration of the negotiations and the extent of the involvement of Mr. Trump — who is identified in the court documents as “Individual 1.”
. . . .
Mr. Cohen said on Thursday that he discussed the status of the project with Mr. Trump on more than the three occasions he had previously acknowledged and briefed Mr. Trump’s family members about it. Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen discussed Mr. Trump himself traveling to Russia after the Republican National Convention, though that trip never materialized.
You can read Michael Cohen’s unsealed plea agreement and (more interesting) the information against him here. The information charges that Cohen lied to Congress when he represented that the Trump Tower Moscow deal was over by January 2016 and that it was not discussed extensively with others in the Trump Organization. The information also alleges that Cohen lied when he said that he never agreed to travel to Russia to follow up on the project, and never considered asking Donald Trump (called “Individual 1” in the information) to travel for the project. The fact that Cohen has entered a plea agreement states that Cohen will agree to the truth of the allegations in the information as part of his cooperation.
Remember what I said here on March 29:
There’s really no scenario in which this plays out well for Cohen. We know that Robert Mueller is looking at some of Cohen’s involvement in Russia-related activities like Trump Tower Moscow. Mueller seems like a thorough guy, and if he runs across illegal activity by Cohen of any kind in the course of his investigation, he can at a minimum refer those matters to the Justice Department, and conceivably take them on himself.
Disbarment might be the least of Cohen’s worries at this point.
On August 29, I passed along the news that Michael Cohen had emailed Putin lieutenant and Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov about Trump Tower Moscow. Peskov initially denied responding, but in a statement issued today he is telling a different story, and says the Russians did reply after all:
The Kremlin was caught in an apparent lie about Michael Cohen. Putin spox Dmitry Peskov acknowledged today that his office called Cohen in 2016 to discuss Trump Tower Moscow. But Peskov said last year they never replied to Cohen because "we do not react to such business topics." pic.twitter.com/WkmrHCVnxK
— Marshall Cohen (@MarshallCohen) November 29, 2018
Oddly enough, and I feel weird saying this, but a BuzzFeed story from May 17, 2018 co-authored by (shudder) Jason Leopold appears to have gotten a lot of this right before anyone else did — in particular the extent to which Cohen had continued to push the Trump Tower Moscow deal months after January 2018, when (according to what Cohen had told Congress) the deal had supposedly been dead. Here is an interesting passage from that article:
[I]n a statement he released a week before he was scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee last September, Cohen said the Trump Moscow effort “was terminated in January of 2016,” which Cohen noted was “before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary.”
But the venture did not end in January.
. . . .
Sater told BuzzFeed News that he and Cohen had a conversation about setting up Cohen’s trip to Moscow to reignite the tower project. The next day, May 4 , they discussed when in the presidential campaign Trump should take the extraordinary step of flying to a country at odds with the United States in order to negotiate a major business deal. Sater texted Cohen: “I had a chat with Moscow. ASSUMING the trip does happen the question is before or after the convention. I said I believe, but don’t know for sure, that it’s probably after the convention. Obviously the pre-meeting trip (only you) can happen anytime you want but the 2 big guys were the question.”
Cohen wrote back that day: “MY trip before Cleveland. Trump once he becomes the nominee after the convention.”
Sater: “Got it. I’m on it.”
The following day, Sater told Cohen that Peskov — the press officer whom Cohen had written to in January — “would like to invite you as his guest” to an economic forum in Russia. The country’s top government and finance officials would gather at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Sater said, and Peskov “wants to meet there with you and possibly introduce you to either Putin or Medvedev.”
“The entire business class of Russia will be there as well. He said anything you want to discuss, including dates and subjects, are on the table.” He concluded, “Please confirm that works for you.”
“Works for me,” Cohen said.
Now the same reporters have a story today claiming that the Trump Organization planned to give Putin a pricey condo in the tower:
President Donald Trump’s company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign, according to four people, one of them the originator of the plan.
Two US law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed News that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, discussed the idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary.
I find it very difficult to believe that Donald Trump did not know that Michael Cohen lied to Congress about all of this. Ken White, writing in The Atlantic, agrees:
The third remarkable thing about Cohen’s plea was its substance. The president of the United States’ personal lawyer admitted to lying to Congress about the president’s business activities with a hostile foreign power, in order to support the president’s story. In any rational era, that would be earthshaking. Now it’s barely a blip. Over the past two years, we’ve become accustomed to headlines like “President’s Campaign Manager Convicted of Fraud” and “President’s Personal Lawyer Paid for Adult Actress’s Silence.” We’re numb to it all. But these are the sorts of developments that would, under normal circumstances, end a presidency.
They still might. Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress to support President Trump’s version of events. He notably did not claim that he did so at Trump’s request, or that Trump knew he would do it. But if Cohen’s telling the truth this time, then this conclusion, at least, is inescapable: The president, who has followed this drama obsessively, knew that his personal lawyer was lying to Congress about his business activities, and stood by while it happened.
Those are Ken’s italics.
Alderman Burke's law firm represented Trump's businesses for 12 years. https://t.co/d5LHgKLcZP
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) November 29, 2018
If they truly delve into Trump’s business or his taxes, I suspect they will find criminality.
[UPDATE: A clarification courtesy of commenter nk:
A source told the Sun-Times the raids were in response to new allegations, and not prompted by any past controversies that have swirled around Burke. That means, for now, the investigation isn’t focused on Burke’s property-tax-appeal work for President Donald Trump, or Burke’s oversight of a city workers’ compensation fund, among other matters.
Thanks for that, nk.]
What was it I said this morning? “The Trump presidency: a constant exercise in seeing whether the last bizarre stunt can be topped. So far, the answer is always ‘yes.’ How long can that go on?”
The answer is: another day, at least.
[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]