Russian insider offered ‘political synergy’ for Trump campaign, Mueller finds
Exchange between Michael Cohen and a ‘trusted person’ in Russia suggests that outreach between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia was broader and earlier than previously known
Michael Cohen spoke with a Russian national who repeatedly proposed a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the early months of Trump’s presidential bid and offered “political synergy” for the campaign, according to a filing by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
The unidentified Russian, claiming to be a “trusted person” in the country, told Cohen that a meeting between Trump and Putin could have a “phenomenal” impact politically and for Trump’s business aspirations to build a Moscow tower, according to the filing. There is “no bigger warranty in any project than consent of [the president of Russia],” the person told Cohen, according to Mueller’s filing.
That November 2015 exchange suggests that outreach between Trump’s campaign and Russia was broader and possibly earlier than previously known.
It was disclosed in a slim document that described Cohen’s conversations with Mueller’s office after he pleaded guilty and agreed to provide information to prosecutors who are investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The filing accomplished two things. It provided information to the judge in Manhattan who will sentence Cohen next week. But like previous court filings by Mueller, it also offered a window into Mueller’s probe, in this case displaying the breadth of his knowledge about interactions between Russians and people close to Trump.
Over the course of seven interviews, Cohen appeared to corroborate key findings already known by Mueller. The onetime personal lawyer to Trump gave useful information about “certain discrete Russia-related matters” that he learned about during the campaign, they said.
Cohen also told investigators about his contacts with people connected to the White House during 2017 and 2018 — a period when Mueller’s investigation was underway. Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, acting on a referral from Mueller, raided Cohen’s residences and office in April 2018.
Cohen has asked for no prison time when he’s sentenced next week, citing his assistance to investigators. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan disagreed. In a sharply worded legal brief filed in a separate case in Manhattan, they cited a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life,” said Cohen had committed multiple crimes and recommended “significant time” in prison. The US Probation Office put that at 3 1/2 years when he’s sentenced on Dec. 12.
“After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the presidential election, Cohen’s decision to plead guilty — rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes — does not make him a hero,” the prosecutors in Manhattan said in a filing.
Cohen has pleaded guilty in two cases — one brought by Mueller and one brought by Manhattan federal prosecutors — and admitted nine crimes, including tax evasion, lying to lawmakers and arranging payments to silence women claiming to have had affairs with Trump, to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
The Manhattan prosecutors said Friday that Trump directed Cohen to make the payments to the women, adopting statements by Cohen in his August guilty plea. “Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” prosecutors wrote, using ‘Individual-1’ as a reference to Trump.
The White House said there was nothing new in the submissions.
“The government’s filings in Mr. Cohen’s case tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said. “Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero.”
Friday’s filings underscore that Cohen waited until after pleading guilty to begin talking in earnest with prosecutors and never reached a cooperation deal. He appears to have miscalculated at several turns. Publicly, he vowed to “take a bullet” for Trump, but after federal agents raided his offices in April, he appeared to buckle. In a surprising interview with George Stephanopoulos in July, he said he would do what’s best for his family and, pointedly, for his country.
But he may have missed his moment to admit to crimes and cooperate, as another Trump insider, Michael Flynn, had done. Behind the scenes, the documents indicate, Cohen was slow to admit wrongdoing. It was only after he pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance and other violations that he began providing credible information, the special prosecutor said. While Cohen took “significant steps” to assist Mueller, prosecutors in Manhattan said he refused to reveal all about his misconduct in New York or help investigators there.
Some of what Cohen told Mueller, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, was detailed in the special counsel’s seven-page filing. For instance, during a radio interview in September 2015, Cohen suggested that Trump meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin during a United Nations General Assembly gathering — a suggestion that Cohen later claimed was spontaneous.
In fact, Cohen had previously conferred with Trump “about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting,” the Special Counsel said.
As for the invitation from the well-connected Russian in late 2015, Cohen told Mueller’s investigators that he didn’t follow up on the outreach. He explained that he was also talking to another person with connections in the Russian government about the issue at hand — a real-estate project the Trump Organization pursued in Moscow through the middle of 2016, after Trump had already sealed up the Republican nomination.
Bloomberg, with assistance from Steven T. Dennis