Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying to House and Senate intelligence committees regarding a potential deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Cohen sent a letter to the Senate and House intelligence committees last year claiming that the Trump Organization’s pursuit of the Moscow deal ended in January 2016 and that Trump’s involvement was limited. He also claimed that he never agreed to travel to Russia to work on the deal and “never considered” asking Trump to do so. And he said he didn’t recall any response from Russian government officials to his inquiries about the proposal.
But Mueller stated in a court filing on Thursday that none of those claims were true. Cohen pleaded guilty to misleading Congress to “minimize links between the Moscow Project” and Trump — identified as “Individual 1” in the court filing — and make it seem like the project had ended before the Iowa caucus “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”
Cohen kept discussing the Moscow project for longer than he’d admitted and asked Trump about the possibility of traveling to Russia “in connection with the Moscow Project.” And Cohen spoke at least once with the personal assistant to Dmitri Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, according to Mueller.
What to make of this? On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much there.
It isn’t illegal to have business interests in Russia. And the court filing makes no mention of any Steele dossier allegations, such as Cohen’s alleged trip to Prague or work with Kremlin insiders to hack Democrats’ emails (which he has always vigorously denied).
So once again, we have a Trump team member being prosecuted for a process crime — lying to the House and Senate intelligence committees.
It’s nice to finally know that people can actually be prosecuted for lying to Congress, I guess.
When is the law going to catch up with serial prevaricators like John Brennan, James Clapper, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, and James Comey — all of whom have been caught in lies to Congress or the FBI with no repercussions? In addition to these high-ranking former Obama officials, Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson and British spy Christopher Steele have also been accused of lying to Congress. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley referred Steele to the Justice Department for prosecution way back in January, but so far nothing has been done in either case.
So how much legal jeopardy is the president now in?
According to Trump’s lawyers, the president’s recollection of the Moscow deal matches what Cohen said. The president answered written questions on Russia from the special counsel earlier this month, and a question about the Moscow deal was apparently among them.
“The president said there was a proposal, it was discussed with Cohen, there was a nonbinding letter of intent and it didn’t go beyond that,” Rudolph Giuliani told the New York Times.
Giuliani also said that the president and the Trump Organization have been forthcoming with Mr. Mueller’s investigators for months, voluntarily providing investigators with documents related to the Moscow deal.
“We have provided them with every document about this from the beginning — that’s the only reason they know about it,” he said.
Mr. Giuliani said that Mr. Mueller’s office did not ask the president about the timing of his discussions with Mr. Cohen about the project.
The fact that Mr. Cohen’s admission in a deal with prosecutors came so soon after Mr. Trump returned his responses to Mr. Mueller’s questions raised concerns among the president’s legal team that Mr. Mueller was laying a perjury trap — waiting for the president to explain his understanding of events before presenting evidence to the contrary to show that he lied, according to people close to the president’s legal team.
Conservative author Jerome Corsi, for one, believes he was ensnared by a perjury trap when he forgot about an email he had forwarded to an associate regarding WikliLeaks.
On Fox News last night, Corsi claimed that Mueller’s team tried to coerce him into accepting a fraudulent plea.
“I was ridiculed, my testimony was laughed at. They yawned at it, they misbehaved, and they accused me of being a liar and a fabricator,” Corsi said. He told Hannity that he’s facing jail time for the rest of his life because he refused to say what the special counsel wanted him to say.
“They wanted to hear that I had a source connected to Assange or I did some way had a direct contact with Assange so they could do the connection, which would go Roger Stone, Jerry Corsi, Assange, and then they’d have their basis for collusion. It was complete nonsense. But they would not accept when I told them that in fact I never met Assange. I had no contact with Assange or intermediaries,” Corsi said.
He added that Mueller’s prosecutors “abused me all kinds of ways psychologically and they did that to coerce me, to make me from day one think that if I didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, I was going to go to prison for the rest of my life and die there.”
Corsi told Hannity that Aaron Zelinsky, one of the prosecutors, ridiculed the research he did for his books on Barack Obama’s birth certificate and John Kerry’s Vietnam record.
“I’m being persecuted and prosecuted because the left wants to get rid of me,” he added.
If this sounds like prosecutorial abuse to you, you’re right, it is. And Mueller has a long history of it, as Mollie Hemingway revealed in an enlightening post at The Federalist.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz pointed out on Fox News Thursday that Mueller is making almost all of his cases “based on false statements.”
Hypothetically, for example, if they were building buildings or planning to build buildings in Russia, truly that wouldn’t be a crime, but lying about it might be a crime.
He said Mueller’s team is likely combing through Trump’s answers and seeing if they can find anybody who can contradict anything the president said. Thus it’s called a perjury trap because even if the president believes that what he said was true, if somebody will contradict it, then the president can be charged with lying to government officials.”
Dershowitz went on to say that he thinks “the weakness of Mueller’s substantive findings is suggested by the fact that he has to resort to false statement prosecutions,” which “shows that he didn’t start with very much.” He added that “the very fact that he’s conducting an investigation has created these crimes. These are not crimes that had been committed prior to his appointment, they’re crimes that were committed as the result of his appointment.”
He said that he doesn’t think Mueller is going to come up with “very much” criminal conduct that existed before he was appointed.