One of Donald Trump’s closest advisers spoke with a Russian offering help from Moscow and a meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, during the 2016 election campaign, the special counsel Robert Mueller revealed on Friday. Manafort lied on five separate matters after agreeing to cooperate, Mueller says Read more Michael Cohen had the conversation…
One of Donald Trump’s closest advisers spoke with a Russian offering help from Moscow and a meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, during the 2016 election campaign, the special counsel Robert Mueller revealed on Friday.
Michael Cohen had the conversation among other “contacts with Russian interests” while the Kremlin was interfering in the campaign to help Trump, Mueller said, as prosecutors argued Cohen should receive a prison sentence of about four years.
Cohen, who was Trump’s personal lawyer and legal fixer, also told investigators he made efforts to contact the Russian government to propose a meeting between Trump and Putin in New York in September 2015, after discussing this with Trump.
The remarkable new details were disclosed in court filings submitted by Mueller and federal prosecutors in Manhattan in advance of Cohen’s sentencing for violating campaign finance laws, committing financial crimes and lying to Congress.
They were swiftly followed by new disclosures in the criminal prosecution of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. He was accused by Mueller of repeatedly lying about his relationship with an alleged former Russian intelligence operative and about his recent communications with Trump’s White House.
Following a week of increasingly frenzied attacks against Mueller, Trump falsely stated on Friday evening that the latest development “totally clears” him. In fact, the new legal documents showed an aggressive investigation edging ever closer to the door of the Oval Office.
The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said: “The government’s filings in Mr Cohen’s case tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known. Mr Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr Cohen is no hero.”
Cohen gave investigators “relevant and useful information” about his contacts this year and last with people “connected to the White House”, according to Mueller, hinting that Cohen may have implicated Trump and aides in wrongdoing.
Manafort, meanwhile, falsely claimed he had no contact with Trump’s administration since it entered office, according to Mueller. In fact, he was in communication with a senior official until February this year, and asked an intermediary to talk to an official on his behalf as recently as late May.
The contacts will be of great interest to investigators. Whether Manafort’s ties to pro-Kremlin figures in eastern Europe are connected to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election remains the central unanswered question in the Trump-Russia inquiry.
Mueller said Cohen had provided significant help to the investigation, but prosecutors said Cohen overstated his overall cooperation with the government and had shown a “rose-colored view of the seriousness of the crimes”.
Cohen was motivated by greed and “repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends”, the prosecutors said in a court filing. “After cheating the [Internal Revenue Service] for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the presidential election, Cohen’s decision to plead guilty – rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes – does not make him a hero.”
Despite his wrongdoing, Mueller said, Cohen disclosed significant new information to the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. US intelligence agencies have concluded the action was aimed at helping Trump and harming the campaign of Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent.
Cohen previously pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s plans to develop a building in Russia. He admitted the project continued well into Trump’s campaign for the presidency – contradicting Trump’s account – and that Cohen spoke with a Kremlin official about securing Russian government support.
On Friday Mueller disclosed that in November 2015, Cohen separately spoke with a Russian “who claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation” and offered Trump’s campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level”.
The Russian repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Putin, according to Mueller, and told Cohen the meeting “could have a ‘phenomenal’ impact ‘not only in political but in a business dimension as well’”, because there was “no bigger warranty in any project than consent of Putin”.
Mueller said Cohen chose not to pursue the offer of assistance in part because he was working on the project with someone else he “understood to have his own connections to the Russian government”, a likely reference to Felix Sater, a developer who was working on the Trump Tower Moscow plans.
Cohen previously pleaded guilty in August to violating election campaign finance laws by arranging payoffs to women who claimed in 2016 to have had sexual relationships with Trump. Cohen said he acted under direction from Trump. He also pleaded guilty to several financial crimes relating to his business and tax affairs.
Last week, Mueller tore up a plea deal with Manafort and told a judge he repeatedly lied to investigators even after agreeing to cooperate with the Trump-Russia investigation.
In his submission on Friday, Mueller said Manafort had continued lying about five areas of the inquiry, including his relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian employee of Manafort’s political consulting firm. Kilimnik is alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence services, which he denies. Manafort and Kilimnik are accused of asking business associates early this year to lie about their past lobbying work.