COHEN PLEADS GUILTY!
A banner week for Robert Mueller’s investigation got even bigger on Thursday morning, when Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer for President Trump, entered a plea deal and cooperation agreement with the special counsel. The deal may be among the biggest news in the nearly 18-month investigation: Not only does it open the door to more bombshells in the coming weeks, but it also ratchets up the pressure on Congress to protect Mr. Mueller.
The disclosures in Mr. Cohen’s criminal information filing provide valuable detail on one piece of Mr. Mueller’s puzzle: They reveal that Mr. Cohen, the Trump Organization and Mr. Trump himself continued to pursue a Russia-related development deal into the summer of 2016 — long after Mr. Trump had essentially clinched the Republican nomination. Not only does that contradict what Mr. Cohen said in congressional testimony, but it also puts the lie to the president’s claims that he had no dealings with Russia during his candidacy.
Unfortunately for the president, news of Mr. Cohen’s additional cooperation came after the president and his legal team reportedly had submitted written answers to questions posed by Mr. Mueller’s team. So did the news, earlier this week, that Mr. Mueller had caught Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in a series of lies, in breach of his cooperation agreement.
If the president and his lawyers thought that they might sneak something by Mr. Mueller’s team, it is too late to change tactics now. Indeed, ABC reports that Mr. Mueller’s office asked Mr. Trump about the Russia project, raising the question of whether his answers correspond to the truth as Mr. Cohen is now telling it, or to what Mr. Cohen has now admitted to falsely telling Congress.
Mr. Cohen’s plea agreement and accompanying cooperation are also of profound importance for what they don’t cover. When Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to tax and campaign finance charges in August, he did so without the benefit of a cooperation agreement. Now that he has one, it is safe to assume that Mr. Mueller’s team has found his cooperation valuable and thinks it will help build a case against other targets. That cooperation will almost certainly involve topics beyond those mentioned in the documents filed Thursday.
News media reports indicate that the special counsel’s office has asked Mr. Cohen about all aspects of his dealings with Russia, and any discussions that Mr. Trump had with Mr. Cohen about the possibility of a pardon. This makes sense, since any such cooperation would always involve the prosecution team fully debriefing a cooperator about any and all information that could be relevant to the investigation.
Such a discussion could easily contribute to a charge of obstruction of justice against the president, which is already supported by substantial evidence. Mr. Cohen may be in a position to strengthen that case further if he can bolster the proof that Mr. Trump’s attempts to interfere were motivated by corrupt intent or if he can offer evidence that the president tried to induce him to give false testimony.
To be clear: We don’t know that Mr. Cohen has these goods on the president. But you can be sure that if he does, Mr. Mueller’s team knows about them. Indeed, if Mr. Cohen were to admit that the president and Mr. Cohen or someone else worked in concert to derail the investigation — and we don’t know if that’s the case — it could give Mr. Mueller the option of seeking an indictment for conspiracy to obstruct justice and to list the president as an unindicted co-conspirator.
Cohen’s false statements are related to his correspondence with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which were investigating Russian interference in the U.S. election. In August, just before he was to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Cohen released a letter describing the project, which, he said, was similar to other projects undertaken by the Trump Organization.
Under the deal, the Trump Organization would license the Trump brand name to a Moscow-based real estate development company that would be responsible for all development and financing costs. Cohen said in his letter he “determined the proposal was not feasible” by the end of January 2016.
The letter rankled the Senate committee, which felt there was a tendency by Mr. Trump associates to selectively leak favorable parts of the private testimony, and it led them to call off that day’s interview. Cohen was, however, interviewed behind closed doors by the House Intelligence Committee in 2017.
Much of the special counsel’s criminal information focuses on statements in Cohen’s public letter. The criminal information said Cohen wasn’t truthful about the timing of the project, his discussions with people in “the Company” and in Russia, or about travel to Russia related to the project.
As the president left the White House for his trip to a summit of world leaders in Argentina, he fielded questions from reporters about Cohen’s latest plea deal. Mr. Trump called his former longtime personal lawyer “weak” and “not a very smart person,” and he accused him of “lying” and said “he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me.”
Cohen is expected to be sentenced Dec. 12, according to a person familiar with the matter.
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