President Donald Trump has been railing against his former fixer and attorney Michael Cohen for “flipping” on him in federal investigations, but recent developments show that the opposite may be true. Cohen recently pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes in cases brought by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and the Special Counsel’s Office. SDNY had already secured a guilty plea for crimes including campaign finance violations that Cohen said Trump directed. Then the SCO got him for lying to Congress about the timeline of Trump Organization negotiations with Russia over a real estate project in Moscow. At the time the latter plea was announced, pundits focused on how this came after Trump submitted written responses to Mueller’s questions, but that focus may have come from the wrong angle.
Cohen told Congress that talks regarding the “Moscow Project” ended in January 2016. He later confessed to Mueller’s office that he had continued to be engaged in negotiations up until June 2016. Cohen would not have pleaded guilty to this unless Mueller already had additional evidence of this lie. Meanwhile, when it first got out that Cohen came clean about the timing, and that Mueller waited to reveal this until after getting Trump’s responses, the buzz was all about what could happen to Trump if his story didn’t mesh with Cohen’s confession.
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
If Trump’s sworn written statements didn’t align with Cohen’s admission, the theory went, Trump himself could be found guilty of providing a false statement, assuming that Cohen’s story had corroboration.
But what if Trump’s response was the corroboration? Or at least part of it, anyway.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani addressed the Moscow Project on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, and he made quite the revelation. He said that in his response to Mueller, Trump acknowledged continued contact with Russia regarding the real estate deal, as far as up until the election in November 2016.
“According to the answer that he gave, it would have covered all the way up to November of 2016,” Giuliani said. “The president didn’t hide this.” Such an admission from Trump wouldn’t be evidence that the president committed any crimes, but it’s a bad look for him, which makes it very likely that it’s true.
So according to Giuliani, Trump’s official story that he gave to Mueller did not contradict Cohen’s confession, and based on when he submitted it, it just might have led to it.
It’s certainly possible–and likely–that Mueller already had documents that showed that Cohen’s story to Congress wasn’t true, but getting confirmation of this from Trump himself would have been the nail in the coffin for Cohen. Since Cohen took a plea deal soon after Trump gave in his answers, it’s entirely possible that Mueller’s team went to Cohen with the information they got straight from Trump himself, leaving Cohen with no choice but to come clean.
So yes, Cohen flipped on Trump, but it sure looks like it went both ways.
Ronn Blitzer is the Senior Legal Editor of Law&Crime. Follow him on Twitter @RonnBlitzer.
[Image via NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.