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Michael Cohen Says Trump’s Lawyer Told Him to Lie to Congress

He also told Congress that lawyers for Ivanka Trump told him to lie about her knowledge of her father's business dealings with Russia.

by VICE News
May 21 2019, 11:24am

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON — Michael Cohen may be locked up, but apparently we’re not done hearing incendiary accusations from President Trump’s former attorney.

In a fresh batch of transcripts of Cohen’s congressional testimony posted Monday night, he alleges that Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s personal lawyers, encouraged him to lie to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

“Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers reviewed and edited my statement to Congress about the timing of the Moscow Tower negotiations before I gave it,” Cohen told the committee, adding: “There were changes made, additions, Jay Sekulow, for one.”

In his 2017 testimony, Cohen said talks about building the tower ended in January 2016, before the Iowa caucuses, when in fact they continued for months longer, persisting even after it was clear that Trump would win the Republican nomination.

In his closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in February and March, Cohen also claimed:

  • Lawyers representing Trump’s children and his businesses were aware of the false statement and raised no objections
  • Sekulow was the one who suggested using January 2016 as the date the Trump Tower Moscow project purportedly ended
  • Sekulow dangled the possibility of pardoning Cohen repeatedly, both before and after he gave the false testimony

Cohen began serving a three-year sentence earlier this month after pleading guilty to lying about the Trump Tower project, campaign finance violations, and financial fraud.

Trump Tower Timing

In his most recent depositions, Cohen confirms that he initially told Congress that work on the Trump Tower Moscow project finished in January 2016, when in fact it continued until at least June 2016.

But Cohen was eager to point out that the decision to mislead Congress was not his alone. When asked who suggested January 2016 as the date to include as the end of the Trump Tower Moscow project, Cohen replied: “To the best of my recollection it was Jay Sekulow.”

“As Mr. Sekulow had explained, just let’s keep it to that date, which is prior to the lowa caucus,” Cohen added.

Robert Mueller’s report had already revealed that Cohen spoke to one of Trump’s personal attorneys several times ahead of his 2017 testimony to Congress, but the report had not named Sekulow.

According to Cohen, he and Sekulow spoke as many as 20 times before Cohen submitted the testimony. Summarizing what he recalled from those conversations, Cohen told the committee: “Stay on message. Minimum contact. No Russia. No collusion. Nothing here.”

House Democrats are now investigating the role Trump’s lawyers and attorneys representing those of his business interests and his children might have played in shaping Cohen’s false testimony.

“We’re trying to find out whether anyone participated in the false testimony that Cohen gave to this committee,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told the Washington Post Monday. The committee voted on Monday, 12 to 7 along party lines, to release the transcripts.

The committee has subpoenaed documents from Sekulow as well as from Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump; Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Donald Trump Jr.; and Alan Garten, an attorney for the Trump Organization.

What Trump’s children knew

In his testimony, Cohen indicates that lawyers for Trump’s children and his company knew his testimony was false — and that they were just fine with that.

“According to Mr. Cohen, attorneys for Kushner, Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and the Trump Organization also reviewed the statement before it was provided to Congress and raised no concerns with its false content,” said Schiff.

Cohen said he and Donald Trump Jr. periodically discussed the Trump Tower Moscow project, and said that the president’s son’s claims to Congress that he only had a “vague” or “passing” familiarity with the project were “inaccurate.”

According to Cohen, Don Jr. would have known that the letter of intent signed by Trump and the company developing Trump Tower Moscow was only formally revoked once Trump was elected president.

And, Cohen specifically revealed that Lowell asked him to say that Ivanka Trump had no knowledge of the Trump Tower Moscow project. Cohen testified that the president’s daughter was well aware of the communications he had with Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman who also developed the Trump Tower Moscow project.

“She knew about the back and forth, not on all of the back and forth, but on some of it,” Cohen said.

Dangling a pardon

The transcripts reveal Cohen’s claim that Sekulow repeatedly dangled the possibility of a pardon, both before and after the 2017 false testimony.

Cohen said Sekulow told him Trump was considering pardons for him and others in order to “shut down the inquiries and to shut the investigation down.”

When Cohen brought up the possibility of his own pardon, he says Sekulow reassured him, saying, "The president loves you and you're going to be just fine. This isn't going anywhere.”

Asked if Trump knew about the discussions about pardons, Cohen said, “virtually all my conversations were referred back to [Trump]. Jay wasn't going to speak on behalf of the president, he was relaying messages back and forth."

The White House hits back

While Trump himself has yet to respond to Cohen's claims, those close to him have attempted to dismiss Cohen as a “serial liar.”

In a statement, Jane Serene Raskin and Patrick Strawbridge, attorneys for Sekulow, said that “Cohen’s alleged statements are more of the same from him and confirm the observations of prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that Cohen’s ‘instinct to blame others is strong.’”

Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani dismissed Cohen's testimony and said Sekulow is “one of the very most ethical lawyers and honest men I have ever known,” adding he should receive the “most effective and ethical lawyer of the year award.”

Democrats, however, smell blood.

In a statement, Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “if it is accurate that one of the President’s personal attorneys encouraged him or edited his testimony to give Congress a false date, it’s further evidence that the President had some reason for not wanting the American people, or the Senate Intelligence Committee, to know the truth about his dealings with Russia as a candidate.”

“Make no mistake, any attempt by the President, his associates or Administration to suborn perjury, obstruct our investigation or mislead the public will not be tolerated – and will be exposed,” Schiff said in a statement after the transcripts were released.

Cover: FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 file photo, Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, reads an opening statement as he testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)