Monday 16 September 2019

Details of ex-Trump lawyer’s Russia probe co-operation revealed

Michael Cohen is to be sentenced next week and may face several years in prison.

Michael Cohen, former lawyer to President Donald Trump, leaves his apartment building on New York’s Park Avenue (Richard Drew/AP)
Michael Cohen, former lawyer to President Donald Trump, leaves his apartment building on New York’s Park Avenue (Richard Drew/AP)

By Chad Day, Eric Tucker and Jim Mustian, Associated Press

President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in touch as far back as 2015 with a Russian who offered “political synergy” with the Trump election campaign and proposed a meeting between the candidate and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the special counsel has said.

Court filings from prosecutors in New York and special counsel Robert Mueller’s office lay out previously undisclosed contacts between Trump associates and Russian intermediaries and suggest the Kremlin aimed early on to influence Mr Trump and his campaign by playing to both his political aspirations and his personal business interests.

The filings, in cases involving Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, cap a dramatic week of revelations in Mr Mueller’s ongoing investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

They make clear how witnesses previously close to Trump — Cohen once declared he would “take a bullet” for the president — have since provided damaging information about him in efforts to come clean to the government and in some cases get lighter prison sentences.

One witness, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, provided so much information to prosecutors that Mr Mueller this week said he should not serve any prison time.

Michael Cohen will be sentenced next week (Julie Jacobson/AP)

The interviews with prosecutors have yielded intimate information about episodes under close examination, including possible Russian collusion and hush money payments during the campaign to a porn star and Playboy model who say they had sex with Trump a decade earlier.

In one of the filings, Mr Mueller details how Cohen spoke to a Russian who “claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level’.”

The person repeatedly dangled a meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Putin, saying such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well”.

That was a reference to a proposed Moscow real estate deal that prosecutors say could have netted Mr Trump’s business hundreds of millions of dollars.

Cohen admitted last week to lying to Congress by saying discussions about a Trump Tower in Moscow ended in January 2016 when in fact they stretched into that June, well into the US campaign.

Cohen told prosecutors he never followed up, though the offer bore echoes of a proposal presented by Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who raised the idea to other advisers of leveraging his connections to set up a Putin encounter.

In an additional filing on Friday evening, prosecutors said Manafort lied to them about his contacts with a Russian associate and Trump administration officials, including in 2018.

The court papers say that Manafort initially told prosecutors he did not have any contact with anyone while they were in the Trump administration.

But prosecutors say they recovered “electronic documents” showing his contacts with multiple administration officials. The officials are not identified in the court filings.

Manafort, who has pleaded guilty to several counts, violated his plea agreement by then telling “multiple discernible lies” to prosecutors, they said.

Prosecutors in Cohen’s case said that even though he cooperated in their investigation into the hush money payments to women he nonetheless deserved to spend time in prison.

“Cohen did provide information to law enforcement, including information that assisted the Special Counsel’s Office,” they said. “But Cohen’s description of those efforts is overstated in some respects and incomplete in others.”

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Cohen, dubbed Mr Trump’s “legal fixer” in the past, also described his work in conjunction with Mr Trump in orchestrating hush money payments to two women — adult actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal — who said they had sex with Mr Trump.

Prosecutors in New York, where Cohen pleaded guilty in August in connection with those payments, said the lawyer “acted in coordination and at the direction” of Mr Trump, suggesting they had implicated him in Cohen’s crime.

Despite such specific allegations of Mr Trump’s actions, the president quickly tweeted after news of the filings: “Totally clears the President. Thank you!”

Later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in two statements that the Manafort filing “says absolutely nothing about the President” and the Cohen filings “tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known”.

In addition, the filings reveal that Cohen told prosecutors he and Mr Trump discussed a potential meeting with Mr Putin on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 2015, shortly after Trump announced his candidacy for president.

The White House said the filings offer nothing new (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

In a footnote, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team writes that Cohen conferred with Mr Trump “about contacting the Russia government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting”, though it never took place.

In meetings with Mr Mueller’s team, Cohen “provided information about his own contacts with Russian interests during the campaign and discussions with others in the course of making those contacts,” the court documents said.

Cohen provided prosecutors with a “detailed account” of his involvement, along with the involvement of others, in efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign to complete a deal to build a Trump Tower Moscow, the documents said.

He also provided information about attempts by Russian nationals to reach Mr Trump’s campaign, they said.

However, in the crimes to which he pleaded guilty in August, he was motivated “by personal greed and repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends”.

Prosecutors said the court’s Probation Department estimated that federal sentencing guidelines call for Cohen to serve at least four years in prison.

They said that “reflects Cohen’s extensive, deliberate and serious criminal conduct”.

Prosecutors say Cohen “already enjoyed a privileged life”, and that “his desire for even greater wealth and influence precipitated an extensive course of criminal conduct”.

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