One of the rapid reactions to Michael Cohen‘s false statements guilty plea on Thursday is that President Donald Trump may have also made a false statement. Cohen admitted at a Manhattan federal courthouse this morning that he made false statements about “Individual-1’s” [Trump’s] business dealings, particularly about a Trump Tower real estate proposal called the Moscow Project.
The statements were made to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. This is the latest step in Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia investigation. Notably, this is Mueller bringing the charge, not the Southern District of New York, who had prosecuted Cohen in a separate case earlier this year.
President Trump responded to the news by calling Cohen “weak.” He also said Cohen was “lying” to reduce his prison sentence. Other justifications were made.
So Trump's defense in the aftermath of Cohen's plea deal:
– Cohen is liar and weak
– He hired him because a "long time ago he did me a favor."
– Everyone knew about the Moscow project.
– Even if Cohen is right, "it doesn’t matter. "There would have been nothing wrong."
— Tarini Parti (@tparti) November 29, 2018
Trump, clearly irritated but trying to project calm, downplayed discussions about Trump Tower Moscow, arguing he’s allowed to do business while running for office. If it’s not a big deal, why did Trump say he had no deals with Russia and why did Cohen lie to Congress about it?
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) November 29, 2018
Cohen admitted he violated 18 USC § 1001(a)(2), which makes “any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” a federal crime.
“I made these statements to be consistent with Individual-1’s political messaging and to be loyal to Individual-1,” Cohen explained.
Cohen previously stated that the Moscow Project negotiation was off as early as January 2016. That wasn’t true.
“I knew at the time in that I asserted that all efforts had ceased in January 2016, when in fact they continued until June 2016,” Cohen said. “In fact had more extensive communications.”
CNN legal analyst and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called this “perhaps the most significant issue” he’s seen so far.
This is perhaps the most significant issue I’ve seen raised so far: does Cohen contradict Trump’s recent written answers to Mueller specifically on the Moscow Trump Tower project. If so and Cohen version is corroborated, Trump is guilty of a false statement. https://t.co/PLObA79Al2
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) November 29, 2018
“Does Cohen contradict Trump’s recent answers to Mueller specifically on the Moscow Trump Tower project,” he continued. “If so and Cohen version is corroborated, Trump is guilty of a false statement.”
Bharara was commenting on a bit of news from ABC News’ John Santucci, which said that Mueller’s written questions for the president included questions about the Trump Tower Moscow project.
In other words, the current thinking is that all of this happening after receiving Trump’s submitted answers to a number of Mueller’s questions is not a coincidence. Mueller may have been waiting for Trump to provide answers regarding the Moscow Project before tipping his hand with Cohen’s plea. We don’t know how Trump answered those questions, but, as Bharara said, if his story is different from Cohen’s and Mueller has additional evidence to corroborate Cohen’s story, that could spell trouble for the president.
It was already expected that Mueller developments would stall until the midterm elections passed, but a few stories picked up after the president handed in his answers.
One was the allegation that Paul Manafort lied repeatedly to FBI investigators after he reached a cooperation agreement with the special counsel. We are still waiting on a detailed answer on what Manafort allegedly lied about.
As an aside, the conversation about the Moscow Project is said to have continued into June 2016, which happens to be the same month the 2016 Trump Tower meeting occurred. Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, apparently with the understanding that there was damaging “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Michael Cohen was apparently still discussing the Trump Tower Moscow project in the same month (June 2016) as the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russian nationals. https://t.co/yvcUqejJFj pic.twitter.com/P1rJ9KHY5f
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 29, 2018
[Image via Yana Paskova/Getty Images]