Former Trump lawyer Cohen pleads guilty to lying to Congress

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on Thursday to making false statements to Congress regarding a Trump Organization real estate project in Moscow, putting fresh pressure on the president.

Cohen entered the guilty plea in federal court in Manhattan to one count of making false statements to Congress in an investigation by lawmakers into whether Trump’s campaign worked with Russia to sway the election.

Cohen said in court that in 2017, he submitted a written statement to Congress saying all efforts relating to the real estate project in Moscow had ceased by January 2016. Cohen said that in fact these efforts continued until June 2016.

Cohen also said that in the statement to Congress, he claimed to have had limited contact with Trump concerning the project, when in fact it had been “more extensive.” Cohen also said he falsely told Congress he never took any steps toward traveling to Russia, when in fact he had discussed traveling there, although he never did.

In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, tax evasion and bank fraud in a case brought by federal prosecutors in New York.

Thursday’s guilty plea may signal Cohen is hoping for a lighter sentence on the charges in exchange for continuing to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“I made these misstatements to be consistent with individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to individual 1,” Cohen said in court. He previously identified individual one as Trump.

Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation from the FBI in May 2017, has brought criminal charges against a series of former Trump aides and associates, including his former campaign chairman and former national security adviser, as well as Russian individuals and entities.

Cohen has previously said he was Trump’s “fixer” and would “take a bullet” for the president. His plea may turn up the heat on Trump, who has provided written answers to questions posed in the investigation.

Trump has sought to distance himself from Cohen despite their long association. Cohen testified in August that Trump had directed him to commit a crime by arranging payments to silence two women who alleged before the 2016 election that they had affairs with Trump. Adult-film star Stormy Daniels was given $130,000 and former Playboy model Karen McDougal was paid $150,000.

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Cohen pleaded guilty in August to eight criminal charges including tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations.

Trump in October that Cohen’s testimony was “totally false” and he minimized Cohen’s role working for him, describing him as “a PR person who did small legal work.”

Cohen left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.

Reporting by Brendon Pierson; Additional reporting by Nathan Layne and Karen Freifield; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bill Trott

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