Sunday 22 September 2019

Cohen reveals the full details of proposed Moscow development

Michael Cohen was former personal lawyer for Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters
Michael Cohen was former personal lawyer for Donald Trump. Photo: Reuters

Rozina Sabur

Donald Trump's former personal lawyer has admitted he was pursuing a project to build a Trump tower in Russia deep into the 2016 US presidential campaign and later misled Congress about the discussions.

Michael Cohen, who once said he would take a bullet for Mr Trump, on Thursday pleaded guilty to misleading Congress and made a string of new revelations about the project in Moscow.

Court documents showed that while Mr Cohen claimed the project ended in January 2016 - before the first primary vote in the Republican presidential campaign - he actually pursued it until June 2016.

Mr Cohen admitted he talked to Mr Trump - identified as 'Individual 1' in court documents - about the building project more than the three times he had previously disclosed. He also said he briefed members of the Trump family.

Emails showed that Mr Cohen agreed to visit Russia to discuss the deal in May 2016 and that there appeared to be a discussion about getting Mr Trump to also visit the country during the campaign.

Mr Cohen gave the misleading statements, made to two congressional committees last year, in order to minimise the links between the Moscow project and Mr Trump and give the "false impression" that the project had ended before the first Republican primary vote in 2016, according to court documents.

Taken together, the revelations show that the Trump team were pursuing a building project in Russia for months longer during the 2016 election campaign than had previously been admitted. That raises questions of whether there was a financial incentive to get close to the Kremlin, which could play a role in the approval of such a major building project in the country's capital.

The proposal in question was a 100-storey building in Moscow that would have the word 'Trump' emblazoned on the top, according to an investigation by Buzzfeed News. It would have become the tallest building in Europe.

A Kremlin spokesman confirmed that they had called Mr Cohen back when he reached out to discuss the deal during the 2016 election campaign, but said they explained Mr Putin's administration has "nothing" to do with the approval of building projects in the city.

Mr Trump dismissed the developments, saying that Mr Cohen was lying in an attempt to reduce a previous criminal sentence. He also said there would be nothing wrong with pursuing a business deal while running for president.

"[Cohen] is a weak person and not a very smart person," Mr Trump told reporters outside the White House. "He's got himself a big prison sentence. And he's trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up this story."

Mr Trump added: "I don't know when I decided but somewhere during the period of time, I was never very enthused, somewhere during the period of time when I was running for president . . . But when I run for president, that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to do business. I was doing a lot of different things when I was running."

During his surprise court appearance in New York on Thursday, Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress in written testimony he made last year about the Moscow project.

Mr Cohen said that he discussed the Moscow 'Trump Tower' project with Mr Trump more than the three times he had previously disclosed, and that he had talked about it with Trump family members, who were not named.

Mr Cohen also admitted that he had agreed to visit Russia to discuss the deal and was in discussion about a potential visit from Mr Trump himself during the 2016 election campaign.

Mr Cohen told the court he made the "misstatements" to be consistent with Mr Trump's "political messaging" and "out of loyalty" to the president.

Mr Cohen's comments came as part of a plea deal he struck with Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. It confirms that Mr Cohen is co-operating with the probe. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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