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Mueller “finally starting to get to the truth” after Cohen plea deal

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Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller.
Alex
Wong/Getty Images


  • The special counsel Robert Mueller’s latest plea deal with
    Michael Cohen has far-reaching implications for President Donald
    Trump, as well as other witnesses in the Russia investigation.
  • Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress,
    marking the first time the special counsel has prosecuted someone
    for making false statements to Congress, as opposed to the FBI.
  • “Today’s plea deal has certainly shown that anyone who has
    lied to Congress before about the Russia probe, you don’t have to
    wait for Congress to bring any sort of contempt charge,” said one
    DOJ veteran. “Mueller will take care of that for them.”
  • The deal also ascribes a potential motive to Trump for his
    repeated deference to Russia: “The motive is money and
    business deals,” said a criminal law expert. “This gives Mueller
    the last piece of the puzzle.”
  • The deal additionally adds context to other meetings and
    financial dealings between campaign associates and Russians
    during the election.
  • “When you start to see corroboration from two people who
    didn’t intersect, as far as plea deals and the time period, and
    the same facts, that tells you as a prosecutor that you’re
    starting to finally get to the truth,” a former federal
    prosecutor told INSIDER.

Prosecutors conducting the Russia investigation made one of their
most consequential moves to date on Thursday, when they announced
that they had struck a plea deal with Michael Cohen, President
Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer.

According to a criminal information against Cohen the special
counsel Robert Mueller’s office filed, Cohen pleaded guilty to
one count of lying to Congress about his Russia contacts last
year.

Cohen also pleaded guilty earlier this year to tax evasion, bank
fraud, and campaign finance violations as part of a separate
Manhattan US attorney’s office investigation. He has been
cooperating with that investigation and the Mueller probe since
August.

Mueller has already shown a willingness to prosecute witnesses
who lie to the FBI, including former national security adviser
Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos,
and former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates.

But Mueller’s plea deal with Cohen marks the first time the
special counsel has prosecuted someone for making false
statements to Congress.


Read more:



Michael Cohen reaches a new plea deal with Mueller,
and his dozens of hours of testimony could severely damage
Trump



Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen.
Yana
Paskova/Getty Images


‘You don’t have to wait for Congress to bring any sort of
contempt charge — Mueller will take care of that for them’

Cohen’s false statements charge centers primarily around claims
he made about his involvement in the Trump Organization’s push to
build a Trump Tower in Moscow at the height of the election.
Lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees
questioned Cohen extensively on the project last year, and Cohen
also expanded on it in statements he provided to both panels.

Prosecutors said Cohen knowingly misled congressional
investigators when he said negotiations for the deal ended in
January 2016 and that he did not discuss it extensively with
Trump Organization executives.

In fact, they wrote, 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 he
briefed family members of [Trump] within the [Trump Organization]
about the project.”

He was also discussing it with the Russian-born businessman Felix
Sater as late as June 2016.

Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12
years at the DOJ, didn’t mince words when discussing the
implications of the plea deal.

“There are certainly others at the Trump Organization that knew
about this Russian overture,” he 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.”


Read more:
Trump falsely accuses Mueller of coercing people to ‘flip and
lie’ and suggests he may pardon Manafort

If, for instance, Cohen briefed Donald Trump Jr. — a key adviser
in the Trump Organization — about the now-defunct Trump Tower
Moscow project, and if Trump Jr. 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,” he added. “And it could also endanger people who have
potentially lied about other things.”

The longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone has been in Mueller’s
crosshairs for months over his murky links to the radical
pro-transparency group WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange,
as well as the Russia-linked hacker Guccifer 2.0.

In addition to investigating whether Stone had any advance
knowledge of Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee
and WikiLeaks’ plans to disseminate stolen emails, Mueller is
also looking into whether Stone perjured himself before the House
Intelligence Committee last year about his connections to
WikiLeaks and Russia. 

Where Cohen and Stone are concerned, “there’s no doubt that
potentially lying to Congress falls within Mueller’s purview,
because we’re talking about Russian interference in the
election,” Cramer said.

“Today’s plea deal has certainly shown that anyone who has lied
to Congress before about the Russia probe, you don’t have to wait
for Congress to bring any sort of contempt charge,” he added.
“Mueller will take care of that for them.”


roger stone
Longtime
Donald Trump associate Roger Stone arrives to testify before the
House Intelligence Committee, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 26,
2017, in Washington.

Associated
Press/J. Scott Applewhite


‘This gives Mueller the last piece of the puzzle’

Jens David Ohlin, a former vice dean at Cornell Law School,
cautioned that it’s unlikely the special counsel would put
someone on trial for lying to Congress.

“In this case, though, the charge flows from a plea deal with
Cohen,” Ohlin told INSIDER. “It’s the easiest way of getting it
on the record that Trump still had business dealings with Russia
during the campaign. Yes, others could be charged with lying to
Congress as well, but prosecutors usually rely on a charge of
lying to the FBI as a first option.”

Trump does not face significant criminal liability based on
the now-defunct Trump Tower Moscow deal itself, because it isn’t
illegal for Americans to do business in Russia.

But Cohen’s guilty plea is a confirmation that the
president was not being truthful when he denied having any
financial interests in Russia during the campaign. It could also
help prosecutors shed light on Trump’s long history of praising
Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and of siding with
Russia against US intelligence agencies.

In other words, the problem for the president arises not
from actions, but from motive, Ohlin said.

“Not Cohen’s motive but Trump’s motive for deferring to
Russia over and over again,” he added. “The motive is money and
business deals. This gives Mueller the last piece of the
puzzle.”


trump tower
Trump
Tower stands on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on August 24, 2018 in
New York City. Following new allegations over hush money that
former Trump attorney Michael Cohen paid to an adult-film
actress, the Manhattan district attorneyÕs office in New York
City may seek criminal charges against the Trump Organization in
the coming days.


Spencer
Platt/Getty Images



Mueller may be ‘finally starting to get to the
truth’

The Cohen plea also adds new context to previously reported
meetings and business dealings between Trump associates and
Russia-linked individuals.

Prosecutors wrote in Cohen’s charging document that in addition
to traveling to Russia to discuss getting the Russian
government’s backing for the Trump Tower Moscow deal, Cohen also
asked Trump and a “senior campaign official” about the
possibility of Trump himself going to Russia for business.

In May 2016, the filing said, Sater told Cohen he “had a chat
with Moscow” and asked whether Trump’s trip to Moscow should
happen before or after the Republican National Convention in
July. Cohen responded that he would head to Russia before the
convention, and Trump would go after.

Over the next few days Cohen and Sater discussed an invitation
from a Russian official — believed to be Putin aide Dmitry Peskov
—  to Cohen to attend the St. Petersburg Forum in June, at
which the official said he would introduce him to Putin or
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Sater said the official told him “anything you want to discuss
including dates and subjects” were on the table.

Cohen replied, “Works for me.”

Sater later sent Cohen information about the event and travel
between June 9 and June 14, but Cohen met with Sater in the lobby
of Trump Tower on June 14 and told him he would not go to Russia
after all.

Around the same time, however, other Trump campaign officials
were arranging a separate meeting with two Russian lobbyists
offering dirt on the Clinton campaign. Trump Jr., then campaign
manager Paul Manafort, and senior adviser Jared Kushner met the
lobbyists at Trump Tower on June 9.

Trump Jr. initially said the meeting had nothing to do with
campaign business, but it later emerged that the meeting was
pitched to him as “part of Russia and its government’s support”
for Trump’s candidacy.


Donald Trump Donald Trump Jr.
U.S.
President-elect Donald Trump speaks with his son Donald Trump Jr.
during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in
Manhattan, New York City, U.S., January 11,
2017.

REUTERS/Lucas
Jackson


Meanwhile, The Atlantic reported late Thursday that
federal investigators are probing a letter in which someone who
used to be close to Papadopoulos claims he told them he was
pursuing a lucrative Russian business deal on behalf of himself
and Trump that would yield “large financial gains” for them.

The letter, which was sent to House Intelligence Committee
ranking member Adam Schiff last week, says Papadopoulos made the
disclosure in December 2016, shortly after Trump won the
election.

“Cohen’s guilty plea raises questions about a lot of these things
that happened during and right after the election that we
wouldn’t normally have thought would be related,” Cramer said.

A hallmark of most investigations, he said, is that “when you get
closer to the end, all these different data points that may have
seemed unrelated become connected later on. When you start to see
corroboration from two people who didn’t intersect, as far as
plea deals and the time period, and the same facts, that tells
you as a prosecutor that you’re starting to finally get to the
truth.”

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