Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has cut a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, and the deal was announced in a New York federal court Thursday.
As part of the deal, Cohen admitted to making false statements to congressional committees investigating the Russia scandal. The false statements related to a planned Trump real estate project in Russia — specifically, efforts to build a “Trump Tower Moscow.”
Cohen had already pleaded guilty to tax fraud, bank fraud, and campaign finance charges as part of an investigation run by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. But he had not previously been charged as part of the Russia probe or officially agreed to cooperate with that investigation.
Cohen’s team has, however, been telling reporters for months that Cohen had bombshell information about the Trump-Russia scandal. But the claims about what Cohen purportedly knew sometimes changed, which has led to skepticism about whether he knew anything worthwhile. Now, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos claims (per his sources) that Cohen will provide “dozens of hours of testimony potentially damaging to” President Trump.
Cohen had told Congress that the Trump Tower Moscow project ended early in the campaign, that he hadn’t discussed it much with others at the company, and that he hadn’t talked to the Russian government about it.
As part of the deal, Cohen admits all of those claims were false. The discussions continued into June 2016, he briefed Trump and Trump’s family members on the project more often than he’d admitted, and he talked with a Russian government official about the project.
This is the first time the “Trump Tower Moscow” project has been mentioned in a Mueller charge
In the fall of 2015, Cohen — then Trump’s lawyer and a Trump Organization executive — began exploring the possibility of building a Trump Tower in Moscow. He did so with the help of a longtime business associate, Russian-born developer Felix Sater.
“I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Sater emailed Cohen. “Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins [sic] team to buy in on this.”
Trump’s company signed a letter of intent to build the Moscow tower in late 2015, the Times has reported. And when Cohen saw a news story about Putin praising Trump, he emailed Sater: “Now is the time … Call me.”
In mid-January 2016, just weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Cohen even emailed Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov asking for help with the project. “I am hereby requesting your assistance,” Cohen wrote. “I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals.”
Cohen has previously said he never got a response from Peskov and claimed the company abandoned the project soon afterward.
However, the plea deal reveals that Cohen in fact quickly got a response from Peskov’s office. Cohen then spoke on the phone to Peskov’s assistant for 20 minutes, asking for help moving the project forward, and giving many details about it.
Cohen also admits, as BuzzFeed News’s Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold previously reported, that his efforts to make Trump Tower Moscow happen continued through at least June 2016, and that he discussed traveling to Moscow for it. (The trip didn’t end up happening.)