President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen told special counsel Robert Mueller’s team that he conferred with Trump about arranging a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the early stages of the 2016 campaign, Mueller’s office revealed in a filing Friday.
Cohen told Mueller’s prosecutors that he reached out to Russia’s government to arrange a meeting during Putin’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly in late 2015. Though he had publicly said it was his idea alone, he told Mueller’s office that he had actually conferred with Trump about it beforehand. The meeting ultimately did not take place.
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The disclosure offered the latest glimpse into Cohen’s sharp turn from Trump fixer and dogged loyalist into cooperating Mueller witness. It also highlights new evidence that Trump’s was seeking to forge deeper ties with Russia’s government at a time he was ramping up his presidential campaign.
Mueller’s vague but potentially ominous description of the scope of Cohen’s cooperation is likely to cause deep concern at the White House. They say information he provided about “persons connected to the White House” over the past two years was “relevant and useful” to the special counsel’s investigation. Mueller’s team did not elaborate on the individuals in question or their alleged conduct.
The White House was quick to bat down speculation that officials were perturbed by the document’s allegations.
“The government’s filings in Mr. Cohen’s case tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero.”
Indeed, Mueller’s description of Cohen as a helpful witness was at odds with a separate filing Friday by federal prosecutors in Manhattan who said Cohen offered minimal assistance after he similarly pleaded guilty to a string of serious financial crimes. Those prosecutors recommended Cohen serve a sentence of just shy of four years.
In contrast, Mueller’s team praised Cohen as mostly cooperative, saying he provided significant information in four areas of their ongoing investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials attempting to interfere in the 2016 election. Cohen last week pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about discussions he had with the president regarding attempts during the 2016 election to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, enraging the president. In Friday’s filing, Mueller’s team recommended that Cohen be charged concurrently with whatever sentence he receives in New York.
Cohen’s sentence is set to be decided next Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley, an appointee of President Bill Clinton.
Mueller’s prosecutors noted that Cohen met with them seven times and was careful not to overstate his awareness of events related to the Russia probe. Cohen, they said, was able to share information about his own contacts with Russians during the campaign and his “discussions with others in the course of making those contacts.”
Cohen also helped with matters connected to the Trump Organization and Russia, based on his “regular contact with Company executives during the campaign.”
Cohen’s debriefs with Mueller’s prosecutors also produced information about attempts form other Russian nationals trying to connect with the Trump campaign. One example the special counsel noted came in or around November 2015 when Cohen got contact information and spoke to an unnamed Russian national claiming to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation. That person offered to help Trump’s campaign with “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.”
Separately, Cohen offered information on his contacts with “persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 time period.” And Cohen described the factors that led him to prepare a false statements to Congress about Trump’s effort to build a Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 campaign.
Cohen initially told lawmakers that discussions about the project ended just before the 2016 primaries began, but later conceded that the dealings extended until at least June 2016, when Trump had nearly secured the GOP nomination. Trump was kept in the loop the entire time, Cohen added.
The two filings — while starkly different in tone — both added new details to Cohen’s two guilty pleas. In August, Trump’s former fixer pleaded guilty in New York to bank fraud charges and facilitating the hush payments that went to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. He latter struck a plea deal with Mueller’s team over lying to Congress about the Trump Tower discussions.
Perhaps the most immediate peril to Trump comes from the New York district prosecutors’ assessment of Cohen’s handling of the two hush money payments that bought their silence in the last weeks of the 2016 campaign. Trump directed Cohen to make the payments, which prosecutors say are a serious federal crime.
“In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1” — Trump — they wrote. But it remains unclear whether Trump had knowledge of the applicable campaign finance at the time.
That passage, said former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, “means that they concluded that Trump committed a felony.” But, he added, “It does not mean … that they could prove Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It only means that it’s more likely than not that he directed Cohen to commit the felony.”
The filing in the Southern District of New York paints a chilling picture of Cohen’s acknowledged crimes on the eve of the 2016 presidential election, saying that his efforts to hide Trump’s affairs “struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency.”
“While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” the New York-based prosecutors wrote.
“Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election,” they added.
The New York prosecutors also picked apart Cohen’s request for a lenient sentence based on the fact he made a small error in judgment.
“Not so,” the SDNY prosecutors wrote. “Cohen knew exactly where the line was, and he chose deliberately and repeatedly to cross it. Indeed, he was a licensed attorney with significant political experience and a history of campaign donations, and who was well-aware of the election laws.”
“This was not a blind act of loyalty, as Cohen has also suggested,” the prosecutors wrote. “His actions suggest that Cohen relished the status of ultimate fixer — a role that he embraced as recently as May 2018.”
Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, declined comment on the latest filings.
The extent of Cohen’s cooperation with Mueller and New York investigators was not known until his legal team submitted a sentencing filing last week that detailed repeated meetings with Mueller’s team to share information. The document also revealed that Cohen was cooperating with New York prosecutors on an investigation of the Trump Foundation, as well as on at least one other criminal matter. Based on this assistance, Cohen’s lawyers said, their client should receive no jail time.
The request prompted Twitter outrage from the president.
“You mean he can do all of the TERRIBLE, unrelated to Trump, things having to do with fraud, big loans, Taxis, etc., and not serve a long prison term?” Trump tweeted.
“He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence,” he added in another Tweet.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The details about Cohen’s cooperation with Mueller came just days before Mueller’s team also described receiving “substantial assistance” from former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI. According to court documents, Flynn met with prosecutors 19 times to discuss their various investigations.
And in a separate filing on Friday, Mueller claimed that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had serially lied about his contacts with members of the Trump administration throughout 2018, as well as about discussions with a longtime business partner in Ukraine. As a result, Mueller ripped up a plea deal that his team had struck with Manafort, in which the longtime GOP lobbyist agreed to cooperate with the ongoing Russia probe.
See the full filing here: