- On Thursday, November 29, news broke that Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime fixer and lawyer, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.
- BuzzFeed news claims that Russian-born businessman Felix Sater’s plan for Trump Tower Moscow included giving Russian President Vladimir Putin a $US50 million penthouse to entice other Russian oligarchs to purchase apartments in the building.
- “He was convicted of various things unrelated to us,”Trump said of his former fixer, adding that Cohen was “a weak person and what he’s trying to do is get a reduced sentence.”
- If all the new information seems disorienting, don’t worry, we have you covered.
On Thursday, November 29, news broke that Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime fixer and lawyer, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. Specifically the charges revolved around how long he and the Trump Organisation had been in conversations about building a Trump Tower in Moscow and the extent that Trump was involved vs. what he told congressional investigators.
And then a flurry of reports emerged – each in some way related to the revelations and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
If all the all the new information seems dizzying, don’t worry, we have you covered. Here are five details you need to know:
1. “Individual 1”
Cohen appeared in Federal District Court in Manhattan, and the charges were made public, on Thursday. “In exchange for pleading guilty and continuing to cooperate with Mr. Mueller, he may hope to receive a lighter sentence,” The New York Times explained. This is the first charge levied against him by Mueller. Earlier this year, Cohen pleaded guilty to charges, including campaign finance violations, brought by federal prosecutors.
The latest court document charges Cohen with lying to both Senate and House investigations into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. In the document Trump is referred to as “the owner of [Trump Organisation] (‘Individual 1’).”
Cohen was the point person for trying to secure a deal to place a Trump Tower in Moscow. In 2017, Cohen told investigators that he worked on the deal from September 2015 to January 2016 – but stopped before the Iowa Caucus.
In reality, he didn’t abandon the discussions until June of 2016, the court document reveals.
The court document also details other misleading statements from Cohen – he claimed he never planned to travel to Russia or arrange for Trump to travel to Russia, he said that the tower plans were “not discussed extensively with others in the Company,” and he told congressional investigators that he had no response from Russian government officials.
All of these claims, the document states, were false. Cohen worked with “Individual 2” (we’ll get to him) to try to travel to Russia (plans which were abandoned in June), and to try to get “Individual 1” to go; Cohen talked about the plan at least three times with “Individual 1,” and he also discussed it with a personal assistant to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov for 20 minutes.
2. G20 meeting canceled – and Russia learned about it from a tweet?
Trump canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that was scheduled to take place in Argentina during the G20 Summit – via Twitter. The cancellation was allegedly due to the Russian military’s clash with the Ukrainian navy in the Kerch Strait, on Sunday, and the capture of 24 Ukrainian sailors.
“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin,” Trump wrote. “I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”
And according to what spokesman Peskov told a state-owned news agency, Trump’s tweet was the first the Kremlin heard of the cancellation.
Following the news of the plea deal, both the New York Times and BuzzFeed News released stories with information on Felix Sater, who reportedly worked with Cohen on the Trump Tower Moscow discussions and referred to as “Individual 2” in the aforementioned charges. Sater, a businessman who was born in Russia and moved to the US as a child, was an associate of Cohen and is a convicted felon, who also assisted US intelligence agencies. Sater worked to connect Cohen to contacts in Russia.
In its report, BuzzFeed news claims that Sater’s plan for Trump Tower Moscow included giving Russian President Vladimir Putin a $US50 million penthouse to entice other Russian oligarchs to purchase apartments in the building.
4. The Trump team’s response – getting their story straight.
While leaving Washington to head to Argentina for the G20 Summit, Trump was asked by reporters about Cohen pleading guilty that morning in Manhattan.
“He was convicted of various things unrelated to us,” Trump said. He also stated that Cohen was “a weak person and what he’s trying to do is get a reduced sentence.”
Regarding the Moscow deal that never went through, Trump said, “There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
Trump’s lawyers have repeatedly painted Cohen as a liar, but as INSIDER’s Sonam Sheth wrote, “At the same time, they said Trump’s version of events about a defunct effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the election lines up with what Cohen told prosecutors.”
5. The implications
The guilty plea shows that the Trump Organisation was indeed trying to secure a business deal in Russia, and it also reveals that lying to Congress about this investigation falls under the purview of the special counsel’s office.
“There are certainly others at the Trump Organisation that knew about this Russian overture,” Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor told Sheth. “If they knew about it and lied, either to Mueller or to Congress, there’s no reason to think they’d be treated differently than Cohen. You don’t get a pass because your last name is Trump.”
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