Michael Cohen is about to find out whether he’ll spend a long time in jail for telling a litany of lies over the last few years. And on his way down, he might take a few members of Trump’s White House with him.
Especially if they knew about, and helped coordinate, his lies to Congress — which is exactly what special counsel Robert Mueller’s last legal pronouncement about Cohen appears to suggest, former prosecutors told VICE News.
Two tersely-worded lines at the end of Cohen’s recent sentencing memo appear to signal Mueller may have information concerning others in Trump’s White House who were in the loop about Cohen’s misleading statements to Congress:
Third, Cohen provided relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017–2018 time period.
Fourth, Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within it.
“This very clearly suggests that people within the White House knew about and facilitated the false statements that were made to Congress,” said Seth Waxman, a former federal prosecutor based in Washington, D.C. “I don’t know what other conclusion you could reasonably take from Mueller’s team including that language.”
“This very clearly suggests that people within the White House knew about and facilitated the false statements that were made to Congress.”
While those two lines didn’t get as much attention from the press as other parts of Mueller’s memo when it was released Friday, they should spook anyone who spoke with Cohen about his testimony, legal experts said.
“That’s the money quote,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who helped take down the mobster John Gotti.
Cohen is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday by a judge in New York for crimes including bank and tax fraud, and for falsely telling Congress that his efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended months before they really did. The White House didn’t return an email from VICE News seeking comment.
HINTS OF CONSPIRACY
Former prosecutors took special note of Mueller’s careful language appearing to suggest Cohen’s lies may have resulted from a team effort. If anyone knowingly encouraged or helped along Cohen’s false statements to Congress, they could be charged with being part of a criminal conspiracy to commit perjury or obstruct justice, legal experts said.
“Any experienced criminal lawyer would read that passage as meaning, ‘we are very seriously looking into charging someone with being in conspiracy with him [Cohen] regarding this perjury,” Cotter said.
Trump has blasted Cohen for lying, even though his own lawyers have claimed, confusingly, that Trump’s written statements to Mueller were essentially consistent with Cohen’s corrected testimony.
“He’s lying, very simply, to get a reduced sentence,” Trump said after Cohen’s latest guilty plea concerning his statements about Trump’s business in Russia was announced. “He’s lying about a project that everybody knew about it. I mean, we were very open with it. I decided ultimately not to do it. There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it.”
“They do not cast aspersions lightly.”
But Mueller’s team had a different take on Cohen’s credibility. After seven meetings with Cohen, they wrote that “the information he has provided has been credible and consistent with other evidence obtained in the [special counsel’s] ongoing investigation.”
Prosecutors usually take pains to avoid dropping misleading implications into their public court filings, said Cotter, who previously worked alongside Mueller’s top lieutenant, Andrew Weissmann, in the organized crime section of the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York.
“They do not cast aspersions lightly,” Cotter said. “They go out of their way not to give false impressions. So when you’re reading what they write, and there’s a strong suggestion of something, I’m inclined to think that’s not just puffery. They haven’t engaged in any puffery so far.”
Cover image: Attorney Michael Cohen talks to a reporters as he walks in New York, Wednesday, April 11, 2018.( AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)