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Michael Cohen plea deal implications for Donald Trump Jr.

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Donald Trump Donald Trump Jr.REUTERS/Lucas
Jackson

  • Michael Cohen is quickly emerging as one of the most
    dangerous cooperators not only against President Donald Trump,
    but also his son, Donald Trump Jr.
  • Cohen’s plea deal with the special counsel Robert Mueller
    raises fresh questions about whether Trump Jr. misled
    congressional investigators about a now-defunct proposal to build
    a Trump Tower in Moscow.
  • Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House
    Intelligence Committee said Cohen’s plea deal indicates that
    “other witnesses were also untruthful before our committee.”
  • A knowledgeable congressional source told INSIDER Trump Jr.
    was one of the witnesses to whom Schiff was referring.

When the FBI raided Michael Cohen’s property earlier this year
and it surfaced that he was the target of a federal criminal
investigation, Justice Department veterans warned that if he were
to flip, he could be the most dangerous cooperating witness
against President Donald Trump and his family.

This week, the special counsel Robert Mueller’s office revealed a
slice of just how much dirt Cohen may have on Trump in a charging
document laying out how Cohen misled congressional investigators
last year about the Trump Organization’s effort to build a Trump
Tower in Moscow during the 2016 election.

Cohen and Trump have known each other for years, and in addition
to being Trump’s personal lawyer, he was also his longtime fixer
and served as the Trump Organization’s lead attorney for a
decade.

Prosecutors said Cohen, who pleaded guilty to one count of lying
to Congress, misled lawmakers when he said negotiations for the
Trump Tower Moscow deal ended in January 2016 and that he did not
discuss it extensively with Trump Organization executives. They
said Cohen did so “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia
investigations.”

These revelations don’t just spell trouble for Trump. They’ve
also cast the spotlight back on Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s eldest
son who is an executive vice president at the Trump Organization.


Donald Trump Jr
Donald Trump Jr.
Chip
Somodevilla/Getty Images


Trump Jr. misled the House Intelligence Committee, per source

When he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last
September, Trump Jr. told the panel he “wasn’t involved” in the
Trump Tower Moscow project and was only “peripherally aware” of
it in 2016.

He also said he was not aware Cohen had reached out to the
Russian government about the deal and indicated that Cohen’s work
with the Russian-born businessman Felix Sater on the project
ended in 2015.

But prosecutors wrote that Cohen “discussed the status and
progress of the Moscow Project” with Trump “on more than the
three occasions Cohen claimed” to the Senate Intelligence
Committee and that “he briefed family members” of Trump within
the Trump Organization about it.

They also said Cohen admitted to pursuing the deal with Sater as
late as June 2016, after Trump became the presumptive Republican
presidential nominee.

After Cohen’s plea deal was announced, Rep. Adam Schiff, the
ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a
statement that Cohen’s plea “highlights concern over another
issue – that we believe other witnesses were also untruthful
before our committee.”

A knowledgeable congressional source told INSIDER that Trump Jr.
was one of the witnesses to whom Schiff was referring.


Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen.
Yana
Paskova/Getty Images


Trump Jr. ‘ought to be alarmed’

Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern
District of New York, told INSIDER the president’s son “ought to
be alarmed” by Cohen’s plea deal. “We know Trump Jr. was
questioned on the same topics that Michael Cohen has now been
convicted of lying about.”

It’s unclear exactly what Trump Jr. told the House Intelligence
Committee about the scrapped deal, because his interview took
place in a closed-door session.

“The decision of whether to charge Trump Jr. with perjury is
really going to come down to a question of precision,” Honig
said. “How clear is it that he misstated the truth? Did he leave
himself enough wiggle room, and is his version of facts squarely
contradicted by documents, emails, or other evidence showing his
level of involvement?”

Honig added the caveat that Trump Jr. likely did not have the
same level of involvement in the project as Cohen did. But, he
added, “it’s clear he did have some involvement at some time. So
the key question is going to be, how much was Trump Jr. involved
in, and how does that square off with the specifics of his
testimony?”

Cohen has been cooperating with investigators since August, when
he pleaded guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud, and
campaign-finance violations in a separate Manhattan US attorney’s
office investigation into his and Trump’s financial dealings
before the election. His most recent sit-down with Mueller was
last week.


Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller.
AP
Photo/Andrew Harnik


‘You don’t get a pass because your last name is Trump’

Cohen’s is the first guilty plea Mueller has secured that is
directly connected to Trump’s business dealings in Russia. And he
is the first person Mueller has prosecuted for lying to Congress.

But DOJ veterans say that doesn’t mean he’ll be the last.

“There are certainly others at the Trump Organization that knew
about this Russian overture,” Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former
federal prosecutor in Chicago, told INSIDER. “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.”

If it emerges that Trump Jr. knew more than he was letting on
about the deal and gave false testimony about it to congressional
committees, “he or any other individual is now staring at the
same fate Cohen is,” Cramer said. “It brings home to those in the
company who may have lied about the deal that their time could be
coming sooner rather than later.”

This isn’t the first time Trump Jr.’s congressional testimony has
come under the microscope.

Lawmakers also questioned the president’s son about his
involvement in a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between top
campaign officials and two Russian lobbyists offering dirt on the
Hillary Clinton campaign as “part of Russia and its government’s
support” for Trump’s candidacy.

Trump and his lawyers have said he did not know about the meeting
until after it was reported on last July. Trump Jr. told the
Senate Judiciary Committee the same, saying he did not inform his
father of the meeting prior to its occurrence.

But CNN, citing sources with knowledge of the matter, reported in July that Cohen
claims he was one of several people who were present when Trump
Jr. informed Trump of the offer before the meeting. Cohen
reportedly says that Trump greenlit the meeting after hearing
about it from his son.

CNN and NBC News reported that Cohen does not have physical
evidence — like a tape recording — to back up his claim but was
willing to testify about it under oath to Mueller.

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