Michael Cohen wants a “time served” sentence when all the dust settles, and he’s willing to throw lots of people under the bus to get it. Politico’s Kyle Cheney reports on a filing by Cohen’s defense team that implies that Donald Trump’s legal team and his White House advisers helped him craft the perjurious testimony he gave to Congress. Furthermore, Cohen — called “Michael” in the filing — spills the beans on his efforts to keep two women quiet about their affairs with Trump:
President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said Friday he was in “close and regular contact” with Trump’s White House staff and legal team when he prepared a statement for Congress that he now says falsely downplayed Trump’s effort to land a Trump Tower Moscow deal during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In a filing seeking a lenient sentence, Cohen’s attorneys say his false statement to Congress — which Cohen pleaded guilty to on Thursday — was based on Trump and his team’s efforts to “portray contact with Russian representatives” by Trump, his campaign or his company “as having effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of February 1, 2016.” …
In the filing, Cohen’s lawyers say his false statement to Congress arose out of loyalty to Trump, who they refer to throughout as “Client-1.”
“Furthermore, in 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 Client-1,” his lawyers wrote.
Cohen’s filing also explicitly describes his efforts to silence two women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump in the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty in August to making hush-money payments to one woman and arranging an effort with the National Enquirer to bottle up the other’s story in violation of campaign finance laws.
From Cheney’s description, it’s not clear what the filing actually declares. Does Cohen actually accuse the White House and Trump’s attorneys of suborning perjury? If those people knowingly and explicitly assisted Cohen in drafting false testimony, they’d be in very serious legal trouble. But that’s something any attorney would know right off the bat, too, which certainly gives reason for a little skepticism, especially given the curiously ambiguous language Cheney describes in this report. Being in “close and regular contact” with other individuals while they plan a crime doesn’t by itself make them part of that crime.
For instance, they may not have been helping Cohen with his statement to Congress at all; the close and regular contact could have been on other matters, such as Cohen’s work on the affairs front. (That seems pretty likely to have been of interest to Trump’s current attorneys.) Even if they did work with Cohen on his congressional testimony, they might not have been aware that it was false. After all, most of the people falling into that description weren’t around for those negotiations. The people in the best position to know for sure it was false were Cohen and Trump, who curiously isn’t included in that implication as Cheney reports it.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani cast a little cold water on Cohen’s claims in a statement later on Friday. “It is important to understand,” Giuliani wrote, “that documents that the Special Counsel’s Office is using to show that Cohen lied to Congress were voluntarily disclosed by the Trump Organization because there was nothing to hide.” It’s probably wise to be a little skeptical of this claim too, just because of its self-serving nature. However, if Trump’s legal team had documentary evidence that the claim was false and knew it would get handed it over to Mueller at some point, why would they help Cohen lie about it — especially since it apparently presented no real legal issue for them?
But that also prompts the question of why Cohen lied about it to Congress at all. Other than avoiding the political consequences of sweet-talking Russian officials to get a deal, there was no apparent reason to lie about this. That makes this a very curious development, and this filing only amplifies its curiosity.