President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen made a surprise appearance in federal district court in Manhattan Thursday to plead guilty to a new charge brought by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
The president's longtime fixer admitted he lied to Congress in 2017 about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to documents distributed by the special counsel’s office.
Cohen had been the point person for the Trump Organization on the proposed Trump-branded tower. But he told Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that plans to develop the tower ended before the Trump presidential campaign kicked into high gear before the primaries in early 2016.
In reality, discussions aimed at winning Russian governmental approval for the Moscow project continued until at least June 2016.
“The Moscow Project was discussed multiple times within the Company and did not end in January 2016,” the filing by Mueller’s team says.
Trump blasted Cohen as a “weak person” who’s telling lies to get a reduced sentence, in comments to reporters on the White House lawn Thursday morning.
“He’s lying, very simply, to get a reduced sentence,” Trump said. “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.”
Prior to his appearance before the Senate in 2017, Cohen said attempts to develop Trump Tower in Moscow had been shelved months earlier.
“I assume we will discuss the rejected proposal to build a Trump property in Moscow that was terminated in January of 2016; which occurred before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary,” Cohen said in that statement.
On Thursday, Cohen said he kept a person identified as “Individual 1,” an apparent reference to President Trump, better informed of his efforts to raise a Trump Tower in Moscow than he had previously admitted to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
“Cohen discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1 on more than the three occasions”
“Cohen discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1 on more than the three occasions Cohen claimed to the Committee, and he briefed family members of Individual 1 within the Company about the project,” the document reads.
Cohen also admitted Thursday that he had a phone call directly with a person working for the Kremlin about the project, in which he sought the Russian government’s help securing land and financing for the deal.
Cohen had a 20-minute phone call with the personal assistant to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, the document said.
The assistant asked detailed questions and took notes, and said she’d follow up, according to the document.
Peskov has worked with Putin for years, and is widely seen as an important member of Russia’s political firmament with a close working relationship with Putin.
When Trump and Putin held a working lunch in Helsinki last summer, Peskov joined them at the table, just a couple spots away from his boss across from Trump.
Reports had already emerged that Cohen had emailed Peskov in January 2016 seeking help with the deal, although Cohen had been ridiculed for addressing the email to the Kremlin press office’s generic inbox. Peskov has admitted seeing the email but said he didn’t respond.
But according to Thursday’s document, Cohen received a response from Peskov’s assistant, who followed up with the phone call.
Cohen previously admitted to tax fraud and campaign finance violations in federal court three months ago. But Thursday’s admission marks the first guilty plea in a charge brought against him by Mueller in the wide-ranging Russia investigation.
This story is developing. Please check back for updates.
Cover image: Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, exits from federal court in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. Photographer: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images.