Remember when it looked like Robert Mueller had lost interest in Michael Cohen? Well, surprise, surprise. Donald Trump’s former attorney and fixer has gone to court to plead guilty in a deal with Mueller to add to his early deal with federal prosecutors in New York. And that sounds like very bad news for the president — at least for now:
Special counsel Robert Mueller has reached a tentative deal with Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney and long-time fixer for President Donald Trump, sources told ABC News.
Cohen is scheduled to appear in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday where he is expected to enter a guilty plea for misstatements to Congress in closed-door testimony last year about his contacts with Russians during the presidential campaign. …
Cohen’s earlier plea deal with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York implicated President Trump in campaign finance felonies. Since then, Cohen has spent more than 70 hours in interviews with Mueller’s team. The questioning has focused on contacts with Russians by Trump associates during the campaign, Trump’s business ties to Russia, obstruction of justice and talk of possible pardons, sources familiar with the discussions have told ABC News.
“The potential significance of Cohen’s cooperation is immense,” said Kendall Coffey, a former United States Attorney in Florida.
The New York Times notes the interesting timing of this move by Mueller:
The expected new guilty plea in Federal District Court marks the first time the office of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has charged Mr. Cohen. In exchange for pleading guilty and continuing to cooperate with Mr. Mueller, he may hope to receive a lighter sentence than he otherwise would.
The moves comes just two weeks before Mr. Cohen, 52, is scheduled to be sentenced for his earlier guilty plea. That case, which also included bank and tax crimes, was brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
That’s not the only timing of interest. Mueller made this move just after Trump submitted written answers to questions posed by special-counsel investigators. A leak yesterday reported the substance of two of those answers, but Mueller undoubtedly had more questions than just the Wikileaks and Trump Tower issues. Michael Cohen would be in position to know whether those and other answers were truthful.
We’ll have more on this as it develops, but this might explain Trump’s tweets this morning on the “Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt” that “has shattered so many innocent lives.” Of course, Trump tweets on that theme often, so perhaps this will be a surprise surprise to him as well.
Update: Were Trump’s businesses working on real-estate deals in Moscow during his campaign?
CNN: According to information which is being read out in court, Cohen made a false statement regarding Trump Tower deal in Moscow that he was working on in 2015 and 2016. He had discussion about the project even later. Cohen had previously said the deal was stopped in Jan 2016
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) November 29, 2018
Continued: Cohen had discussion about the project even later. Cohen had previously said that the deal was stopped in January 2016.
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) November 29, 2018
If this doesn’t involve Trump personally, that’s more of a political headache than a legal issue. But if it didn’t involve Trump personally, why would Cohen lie about it, and why would Cohen be working on it at all?
Update: Perhaps it’s worth noting that this Moscow nugget is coming out in court just a day or two before Trump was scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 meetings. That might put a damper on Trump’s enthusiasm for that photo op, which had already waned after Putin’s aggression in the Kerch Strait against Ukraine.
Update: After Mueller handed Cohen off to the SDNY, it was assumed that Cohen’s biggest threat to Trump wasn’t the Russia-collusion hypothesis but more mundane violations of campaign finance laws. This deal with Mueller puts Cohen back on the map for the special-counsel probe, clearly.
Update: A good counterpoint on timing from a Twitter follower:
Mueller had to wait until elections were over. MS voted Tuesday. Stuff started coming out about movement on Mueller's end shortly thereafter. This may have been the first available opportunity to do this.
— Scott (@IamScottlevine) November 29, 2018
If so, that suggests we’re going to see a lot of pent-up activity play out over the next couple of days. Or perhaps it’s just a coincidence in all directions.
Update: The New York Times has the charging document at the link above. Cohen admits to lying to committees in both the Senate and House on the Moscow project in three key ways:
a. The Moscow Project was discussed multiple times within the Company and did not end in January 2016. Instead, 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.
b. COHEN agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and took steps in contemplation of Individual 1’s possible travel to Russia. COHEN and Individual 2 discussed on multiple occasions traveling to Russia to pursue the Moscow Project.
i. COHEN asked Individual 1 about the possibility of Individual 1 traveling to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project, and asked a senior campaign official about potential business travel to Russia.
ii. On or about May 4, 2016, Individual 2 wrote to COHEN, “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 1] once he becomes the nominee after the convention.”
iii. On or about May 5, 2016, Individual 2 followed up with COHEN and wrote, “[Russian Official 1] 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.”
iv. On or about May 6, 2016, Individual 2 asked COHEN to confirm those dates would work for him to travel. COHEN wrote back, “Works for me.”
v. From on or about June 9 to June 14, 2016, Individual 2 sent numerous messages to COHEN about the travel, including forms for COHEN to complete. However, on or about 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.
c. COHEN did recall that in or around January 2016, COHEN received a response from the office of Russian Official 1, the Press Secretary for the President of Russia, and spoke to a member of that office about the Moscow Project.
“Individual 1” is probably Trump, but who’s Individual 2? Manafort?
Update: Individual 1 is not impressed:
Trump now addressing Cohen plea. Calls him a “weak person.”
Of Trump Moscow project, Trump says “there would have been nothing wrong if I did do it” https://t.co/ECEvxsThC2
— Jordan Fabian (@Jordanfabian) November 29, 2018
BREAKING: Trump calls ex-lawyer Michael Cohen a `weak person' after new guilty plea, claims he's `lying' to get a reduced sentence.
— The Associated Press (@AP) November 29, 2018
There might not have been anything wrong with it, legally speaking; after all, Trump was still a private-sector businessman until Election Night. Politically, though, it looks bad, and it ties him to Russian interests that commingle with the Russian government. Even in a straight-up business deal, that looks bad — which is likely one reason why Cohen lied about it.
Update: Here’s the video of Trump’s reaction (updated with longer video):
WATCH: President Trump says his former attorney Michael Cohen is "a weak person" and "not a very smart person," after Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements https://t.co/vEE5vZwqpw pic.twitter.com/avuaV9mT0B
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 29, 2018