Cohen Pleads Guilty to Lying to Congress About 'Moscow Project'

Michael Cohen walks out of federal court Nov. 29, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s longtime former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen returned to federal court in New York today to admit that he lied to House and Senate intelligence committees on details concerning efforts to open a Trump Tower in Moscow.

According to the plea agreement from the special counsel’s office, in exchange for his guilty plea Cohen will not be prosecuted further for false statements to Robert Mueller’s team or Congress, or for “obstructing, aiding or abetting” in such perjury.

Cohen is set to be sentenced for lying to Congress on Dec. 12. He faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

According to the criminal information filed by Mueller’s office, which refers to Trump as “Individual 1,” Cohen falsely told both congressional intelligence panels that “the Moscow Project ended in January 2016 and was not discussed extensively with others in the Company,” that he “never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and ‘never considered’ asking Individual 1 to travel for the project,” and that he “did not recall any Russian government response or contact about the Moscow Project.”

Cohen said publicly in September 2017, in advance of his questioning before the Senate Intelligence Committee, that the Moscow project was terminated “before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary.”

“This was solely a real estate deal and nothing more. I was doing my job,” Cohen said then.

Cohen said in court today that he made the false statements “to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and to be loyal to Individual 1.”

Mueller’s court filing states that “the Moscow Project was discussed multiple times within the Company and did not end in January 2016,” noting that “as late as approximately June 2016 , Cohen and Individual 2 discussed efforts to obtain Russian governmental approval for the Moscow Project.”

“Cohen discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1 on more than the three occasions Cohen claimed to the Committee, and he briefed family members of Individual 1 within the Company about the project,” the filing adds.

Cohen also “agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and took steps in contemplation of Individual l ‘ s possible travel to Russia.” The unnamed Individual 2 wrote to Cohen on May 4, 2016, “I had a chat with Moscow. ASSUMING the trip does happen the question is before or after the convention. Obviously the pre – meeting trip (you only) can happen anytime you want but the 2 big guys where [sic] the question. I said I would confirm and revert.” Cohen responded, “My trip before Cleveland. [Individual l] once he becomes the nominee after the convention.”

A message to Cohen the next day from Individual 2 said, “[Russian Official l] would like to invite you as his guest to the St. Petersburg Forum which is Russia’s Davos it’s June 16- 19. He wants to meet there with you and possibly introduce you to either [the President of Russia] or [the Prime Minister of Russia], as they are not sure if 1 or both will be there. He said anything you want to discuss including dates and subjects are on the table to discuss.”

On June 14, 2016, Cohen “met Individual 2 in the lobby of the Company’s headquarters to inform Individual 2 he would not be traveling at that time.”

Russian Official 1 is identified as Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s longtime aide and current press secretary.

Cohen reached out to Peskov’s office multiple times in January 2016 “for assistance” with the Moscow Project, the court document continues. Individual 2 later wrote to Cohen, “It’ s about [the President of Russia] they called today.”

Before departing Washington this morning, bound for the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, Trump told reporters that the Moscow Project was “written about in newspapers” and “was a well-known project” that “lasted a short period of time.”

“I didn’t do the project. I decided not to do the project, so I didn’t do it. So we’re not talking about doing a project, we’re talking about not doing a project,” he said. “…There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it. If I did do it, there would have been nothing wrong. That was my business…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.”

Trump slammed Cohen as “a weak person… unlike other people that you watch.”

“He’s lying, very simply, to get a reduced sentence, OK?” the president added. “…Now, here’s the thing: Even if he was right, it doesn’t matter, because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign. I was running my business, a lot of different things, during the campaign.”