On November 29th, Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, pleaded guilty to new charges that he lied about a real-estate deal involving Trump and the Russians back in 2016.
In August, Cohen already pleaded guilty to eight federal charges. The main allegation concerned his payments to two women at Trump’s direction in order to silence them. Back then, he admitted that such payments were illegal and violated campaign finance laws, implicating Trump in his statements. Unrelatedly, he also provided falsified information when applying for bank loans and lied to the government to evade paying taxes.
Cohen’s latest confession put Trump in further disadvantages. He not only claimed that Trump was more involved in a hotel deal in Moscow than he had previously admitted, but also promised to work with Mueller in the Russian probe. No longer want to keep quiet in exchange for a potential presidential pardon, Cohen essentially begged judges not to lock him up.
In his legal filings, his father Maurice Cohen, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor, tried to invoke sympathy for the disgraced lawyer. According to Maurice, Michael Cohen was “the oxygen in the air that [he] breathe[s].”
“I pray and beg, beg and pray that you won’t take my oxygen away from me,” said the distressed father.
The new development in Cohen’s case shed light on the Trump Organization’s role in a real-estate project in Moscow, a case crucial to Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation.
In June 2016, Cohen and Felix Sater, Trump’s Russian-born business partner, had a conversation on how to gain Moscow’s approval for the project. After briefing members of the Trump Organization about his interaction with Sater, Cohen discussed the matter with Trump himself at least three times. He also tried to get Trump to travel with him to Russia to advance the project.
In May 2016, when Sater inquired when Trump and Cohen’s Russian trip would take place, Cohen replied that it would happen “once [Trump] becomes the nominee after the convention.” Yet eventually, Cohen decided not to go. He emphasized that ” I did not in fact travel there, nor have I ever been to Russia.”
Cohen admitted that he had attempted to downplay Trump’s role in the project, including their discussions on the subject and Trump’s intention to go to Russia.
“I made the statements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and to be loyal to Individual 1,” Cohen said in his federal court statement, with individual 1 referring to President Trump. Yet he did not say that he lied because Trump told him to.
Special counsel prosecutor L. Rush Atkinson also emphasized another three lies Cohen had made in front of Congress in order to conceal the true nature of the Moscow project.
First, while he told the Senate and House Intelligence Committee in August 2017 that the project was abandoned in January 2016—“before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary”—in fact the project continued until June 2016.
Second, Cohen falsely claimed that he had never spoken to any Russian government employee on the Moscow project. However, it was found that he had had a 20-minute phone conversation with Vladimir Putin’s press secretary in January 2016.
Lastly, in October 2017, Cohen again lied to “give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before ‘the Iowa caucus and … the very first primary,’ in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigation.” On the same occasion, he denied ever agreeing to take the Russian trip with Trump when he indeed made plans to do so. “This was solely a real estate deal and nothing more. I was doing my job,” he claimed back then.
Trump did not hesitate to respond to Cohen’s latest statements.
“He’s a weak person,” Trump said. “He was convicted with a fairly long-term sentence with things unrelated to the Trump Organization…What he’s trying to do is get a reduced sentence.”
Moscow also gave its input to the case. Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told AP that Cohen had contacted the Russian government about the proposed hotel although they never actually carried out the project. “We told them that the presidential administration isn’t involved in construction projects, and if they are interested in making investments we will be glad to see them at St. Petersburg’s economic forum,” said Peskov.
Featured image via AP