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The Ripples of Cohen’s Guilty Plea

Terry H. Schwadron

Nov. 30, 2018

More than anything else, the Michael Cohen guilty plea seems to reflect just how delicious we find it when people in power find themselves entangled in their own lies and plots.

The news was Cohen, Trump’s one-time fixer, lawyer and confidante and now mortal enemy, pleading guilty to lying to Congress as part of the all-things-Russia affair.

The testimony Cohen now was correcting went to the heart of a relationship between the Trump Organization and Russia, with negotiations for a new Moscow Trump Tower project continuing much later than previously described, virtually to the day of the New York Trump Tower meeting to offer dirt about Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner.

For Cohen, another guilty plea on top of his several others, probably does not extend jail time more than a few months, but will help rebuild his personal life. For the White House, however, the guilty plea likely is sounding all kinds of alarms, despite the usual remarks pooh-poohing the plea.

There are a lot of reasons that were still emerging as journalists and others dug into the nine-page filing.

· These charges were formed around lies to Congress. Lots of people from the Trump campaign and the White House have testified to the two Congressional committees looking into these areas, and with Democrats taking over control of the House, lots of transcripts and documents will be forward to Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III for review about lies to Congress. There were lots of mentions of the president and his family members in the plea.

· All the protestations about lack of collusion or relationship with Russia need a new suit if the president wants to pursue this defense. Cohen’s testimony in the charging documents outlines a strong financial relationship over building a tower in downtown Moscow. No one, including Trump, can plan such a building project without having the approval of Russian government officials — and any number of unsavory characters.

· From all the reporting around what it means to do business with Russian officials, this means dealing with organized crime figures in Russia. If this is where Mueller is headed, it means only problems for Trump. Among other things, there are notes in the charging documents that say an assistant to Putin’s top spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, provided a special phone number to avoid using emails in the dealings.

· That the charges against Cohen went through at all is momentarily interesting because it means that Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who signed the papers, remains in charge for now, and not the anti-investigation Acting Atty. Gen. Matthew Whitaker. Nevertheless, The Washington Post reported that Whitaker knew about the plea before it was made and did not intervene.

· There were specific dates buried in the documents that line up with the New York Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have knowledge of information that would prove harmful to Hillary Clinton. Other dates for abandoning the project aligned with the same day that the Democratic National Committee headquarters computers were hacked.

Throughout the campaign and in the two years since, Trump has insisted that he has had no business dealings with Russia. He was lying, but apparently feels he could run his business while running for president — and being president.

As news reports explained, Cohen admitted at a surprise federal court hearing in Manhattan that he had minimized Trump’s role in efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and gave the false impression to Congress that the negotiations had ended in January 2016, just before the Iowa caucuses. In fact, Cohen admitted, the negotiations continued for at least another five months, until June, which was just after Trump had clinched the Republican nomination.

Cohen also admitted that he agreed in early May to travel to Russia for meetings on the project and that he spoke to Trump about Trump, himself, making a trip, despite telling congressional investigators that he had not done so. The trips never happened. Cohen said he made the false statements to Congress out of “loyalty” to the president and so that he would not contradict Trump’s “political messaging.”

Earlier this week, of course, Manafort was told that his lying to the FBI and the special counsel amounted to an annulment of any plea deal they had been discussing. But it was disclosed that Manafort’s lawyers had continued to share information with the president’s lawyers, a violation of legal ethics since a convicted Manafort, should not have been allowed to share information. That led to discussions about presidential pardons and the possibility of yet more legal problems over obstruction of justice and possible witness tampering for the president’s team.

Just hours after that news broke, Trump decided to cancel a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Buenos Aires, perhaps fearing a replay of the disastrous appearance with Putin in Helsinki, when Trump sided with him over the conclusive findings of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia meddled in our election.

Just another day in Washington.


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