Another bombshell lobbed by Michael Cohen exploded late Friday night: He says he told Donald Trump about a phone call to the Kremlin asking for the Russian government’s help to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in 2016.
And Cohen also claims he was talking to Trump’s lawyers and White House staff in 2017 while he crafted a misleading statement to Congress seeking to cover up the truth about the Moscow project and the level of Trump’s involvement.
The twin accusations were made by Cohen’s lawyers in a case being prosecuted by special counsel Robert Mueller. They were contained in a sentencing memo in which Cohen asked for a no jail time thanks to his extensive cooperation with Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Cohen told the House and Senate intelligence committees last year that he only briefed Trump three times about the plan to build a 100-story skyscraper in Russia’s capital. Cohen also said his general inquiry to the Kremlin went unanswered.
But Mueller’s office said Cohen, a former Trump Organization executive, briefed Trump repeatedly about the project and had a 20-minute phone call in January 2016 with a Kremlin official’s assistant in which Cohen asked the Russian government for help securing financing and land for Trump’s tower.
Cohen’s lawyers added Friday that Trump was briefed by Cohen on this extraordinary request of the Kremlin while Trump was running for president.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, has distanced his client from the project, saying on Thursday that the proposal “never got beyond” a letter of intent signed in October 2015. “It was discontinued, they withdrew from it,” Giuliani said.
“This was Cohen’s deal,” Giuliani stressed, saying that Trump didn’t talk directly to Russians about the project.
When news of the Trump Tower Moscow proposal broke into the open in 2017, Cohen was called to Capitol Hill to explain his role in it and other Russia-related matters. Cohen admitted in court Thursday he lied to lawmakers about the extent of his and Trump’s involvement.
Cohen told Congress the Moscow project was dead by January 2016, when in fact it was still alive—including discussions about Trump and Cohen traveling to Russia for it—until June 2016.
Cohen’s lawyers said this misleading testimony was prepared last summer while Cohen “remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel” to Trump.
The cover story was crafted when Cohen “specifically knew” that Trump and his spokespersons sought to portray the Moscow project was “effectively terminated” before the Iowa caucuses in Feb. 2016.
“At the time, Michael justified his false summary of the matter on the ground that the Moscow project ultimately did not go forward,” the lawyers wrote.
On Thursday, Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress about the Moscow project; he is expected to be sentenced next week. He will also learn how much time he will serve behind bars for charges of financial and election fraud for his role in paying off two alleged Trump mistresses, which he pleaded guilty to in August.