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Trump lawyers say Cohen is lying but agree on Trump’s Moscow Tower

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Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller.
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  • After Michael Cohen struck a new plea deal with the special
    counsel Robert Mueller, President Donald Trump and his lawyers
    slammed his former fixer as a “liar” and said “we can’t trust
    him.”
  • At the same time, they say Trump’s version of events about a
    now-defunct effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the
    election lines up with what Cohen told prosecutors.
  • A source close to Trump’s legal team told INSIDER the
    president’s lawyers were furious that Mueller waited to announce
    Cohen’s plea deal until after he had secured Trump’s written
    answers to questions about collusion.
  • The source said Trump’s lawyers believe the timing of the
    event indicates Mueller is trying to trap Trump into perjuring
    himself, by getting his answers first and then presenting him
    with evidence that contradicts what he claimed.

President Donald Trump and his lawyers can’t seem to get their
story straight on whether his former lawyer and longtime fixer,
Michael Cohen, is a liar.

On the one hand, they have repeatedly said Cohen cannot be
trusted to tell the truth. On the other, they say Trump’s story
lines up with Cohen’s as it relates to the Trump Organization’s
effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow at the height of the
election.

On Thursday, Cohen pleaded guilty to one count of making false
statements to Congress about his involvement in the project.

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, including Trump and his family
members.

Trump unleashed a tirade against Cohen after his plea deal was
announced, saying, “So very simply, Michael Cohen is lying.”

Trump’s lead defense lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, struck a similar
tone.

“He has so many different versions of the same stories, so by
definition he is a liar and we can’t trust him,” Giuliani said of
Cohen. “He has lied, so how can we believe him?”

But at the same time, Giuliani told The New York Times that
Trump’s story is the same as Cohen’s when it comes to the Trump
Tower Moscow deal.

The president knew about the deal and discussed it with Cohen
before it fell apart, Trump’s lawyers told The Times. “The
president said there was a proposal, it was discussed with Cohen,
there was a nonbinding letter of intent, and it didn’t go beyond
that,” Giuliani added.

Prosecutors are said to have asked Trump about the now defunct
project in a series of questions Mueller’s office sent over to
the president. Trump’s lawyers sent back Trump’s written answers
to the questions last week.

A source close to Trump’s legal team told INSIDER the president’s
lawyers were furious that Mueller waited to announce Cohen’s plea
deal until after he had secured Trump’s written answers.

The source said Trump’s lawyers believe the timing of the event
indicates Mueller is trying to trap Trump into perjuring himself,
by getting his answers first and then presenting him with
evidence that contradicts what he claimed.


WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 29: U.S. President Donald Trump walks toward a group of reporters to answer questions while departing the White House November 29, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump answered numerous questions regarding his former attorney Michael Cohen's recent court appearance and testimony before departing for the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win
McNamee/Getty Images


Jeffrey Cramer, a former longtime federal prosecutor who spent 12
years at the DOJ, expressed doubt at that argument.

“It’s only a perjury trap if you lie,” Cramer told INSIDER. “If
you tell the truth, there’s no question of a perjury trap. It’s
telling that everyone in Trump’s orbit just seems to
automatically assume he’s going to lie if given the opportunity.”

Prosecutors said in Cohen’s charging document that he “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.

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

Trump does not face significant criminal liability based on the
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. Later Thursday, BuzzFeed News
dropped a bombshell report that said the Trump Organization
wanted to give Russian President Vladimir Putin the $50 million
penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow.

The development will likely be of keen interest to prosecutors as
they examine Trump’s long history of praising Russia and 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, said Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at
Cornell Law School who is an expert on criminal law.

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

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