Trump Lawyer Investigation

Michael Cohen walks out of federal court, Thursday. Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about work he did on an aborted project to build a Trump Tower in Russia. He told the judge he lied about the timing of the negotiations and other details to be consistent with Trump's "political message."

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, confessed in a surprise guilty plea Thursday that he lied to Congress about a Moscow real estate deal he pursued on Trump’s behalf during the heat of the 2016 Republican campaign. He said he lied to be consistent with Trump’s “political messaging.”

Cohen’s plea arrangement made clear that prosecutors believe that while Trump insisted repeatedly throughout the campaign that he had no business dealings in Russia, his lawyer was continuing to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow project weeks after his boss had clinched the Republican nomination for president and well after the point he and his associates have publicly acknowledged.

Cohen said he discussed the proposal with Trump on multiple occasions and with unidentified members of the president’s family, according to court papers filed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. Cohen acknowledge considering traveling to Moscow to discuss the project.

There is no clear link in the court filings between Cohen’s lies and Mueller’s central question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. And nothing said in court, or in associated court filings, addressed whether Trump or his aides had directed Cohen to mislead Congress.

Still, the case underscores how Trump’s business entity, the Trump Organization, was negotiating business in Moscow at the same time investigators believe that Russians were meddling on his behalf in the 2016 election, and that associates of the president were mining Russian connections during the race.

The Cohen revelation comes as Mueller’s investigation is showing fresh signs of aggressive activity. Earlier this week, Mueller’s team accused Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of lying after his own guilty plea. The special counsel continues to investigate whether campaign associates had advance knowledge of hacked emails becoming public. Another potential target, Jerome Corsi, has rejected a plea offer and faces a possible indictment. Last week, Trump for the first time provided Mueller with responses to written questions.

Cohen is the first person charged by Mueller with lying to Congress, an indication the special counsel is prepared to treat that offense as seriously as lying to federal agents and a warning shot to dozens of others who have appeared before Congress.

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