The Slatest

Michael Cohen’s Sentencing Request Seems to Implicate Trump Officials in His Lies to Congress

Michael Cohen, former personal attorney to President Donald Trump, exits federal court, November 29, 2018 in New York City.
Michael Cohen, former personal attorney to President Donald Trump, exits federal court, November 29, 2018 in New York City. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Michael Cohen’s attorneys submitted a sentencing memo requesting that their client receive “time served” for tax fraud and for multiple felonies that Cohen says he committed at the behest of his former client Donald Trump.

Cohen faces between 51 and 63 months in jail based on advisory guidelines, but it’s unclear what he will actually serve.

As Cohen’s memo notes, though, his cooperation with law enforcement officials appears to have been extensive. Special Counsel Robert Mueller will soon have the opportunity to weigh in on Cohen’s behalf, as he did for Michael Flynn on Tuesday night in an incredibly lenient sentencing recommendation. Cohen will be seeking similar treatment as Flynn after having cooperated in seven interviews with Mueller’s office, two interviews with Southern District of New York investigators, and with the New York Attorney General’s office.

Like with Flynn’s heavily redacted sentencing information released late Tuesday, little is new here. But the latest of the back-to-back releases tells us a couple of big things: First, Mueller is still holding his cards closely to his chest. Second, it’s clear that Mueller is saving his fire for other Trump officials.

Even though this was Cohen’s release, we can probably credit its relative paucity of information to Mueller—Cohen would not have released further information about the extent of his cooperation without permission.

Crucially, Cohen’s attorneys revealed additional details about the lies Cohen told Congress regarding a Moscow Trump Tower proposal, and the White House’s potential involvement in that cover-up. Cohen says the lies were “intended to benefit [Trump]” and were “in accordance with [Trump]’s directives.” From the memo:

[I]n the weeks during which his then-counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to [Trump].

Cohen told Congress that work on the Moscow Trump Tower proposal had ended in January 2016, when in fact it lasted at least through June. He also lied about the extent of his conversations with Trump and Trump family members regarding the proposal. Cohen says that he did this for Trump:

[Cohen] specifically knew, consistent with [Trump]’s aim to dismiss and minimize the merit of the [special counsel] investigation, that [Trump] and his public spokespersons were seeking to portray contact with Russian representatives in any form by [Trump], the Campaign or the Trump Organization as having effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of February 1, 2016.

The memo doesn’t explicitly say how Cohen knew that this was Trump’s wish and we don’t know what his evidence might be. But we do know why Trump would have wanted to give that impression.

For months, Trump had been saying that he didn’t have any business dealings with Russia. In reality, Cohen’s memo states that the then-Trump lawyer had “engaged in additional communications concerning the project as late as June 2016, and kept [Trump] apprised of these communications.”

In July 2016, just one month after this last known Moscow Trump Tower update, Trump gave one of his earliest and most forceful public denials about Russia dealings during an interview with a local CBS Miami affiliate:

CBS Miami: What’s your impression of this notion that the Russians are trying to help you get elected?

Trump: Well, I don’t know anything about it. I can tell you, I think if I came up with that, they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s a conspiracy theory,’ it’s ridiculous. I mean I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia

CBS Miami: The theory is, and I want you to just address it head on, because I think that’s the way you like to do things, is that somehow you have—your companies are beholden to Russian investment, that Russian dollars have flown into your businesses and therefore somehow Putin could control you by threatening your ventures.

Trump: Is that the theory? I haven’t heard that at all. I mean I haven’t heard that. But I have nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do. I never met Putin, I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.

Again, just one month prior, Cohen had been working on a Moscow Trump Tower proposal that reportedly involved a $50 million penthouse for the Russian president.

Trump’s denial at the time that Russia was working to aid his candidacy was also consistent those of former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr., who the same week as that Trump interview each respectively portrayed the notion that Russia might be supporting the campaign as a “disgusting” smear orchestrated by the Clinton campaign. Since then, we have learned that Manafort and Trump Jr. had both been sent an email that June offering “information that would incriminate Hillary” as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” contrary to these denials. It still hasn’t been revealed if the president knew about the promised support via the infamous Trump Tower meeting in question, but he has denied being made aware of it.

It’s clear, though, that the misleading statements about the Russia business dealings map precisely with the lies about the Russian campaign support, e.g. collusion. It is also becoming clearer and clearer that if there’s a connection between the two, the special counsel seems incredibly likely to ultimately uncover it.