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Federal prosecutors laid out how President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen worked to illegally help the Trump campaign in 2016.
Chunks of the Southern District of New York’s sentencing memo for the attorney detail what the government calls efforts to influence his boss’s 2016 campaign for president. Another document from special counsel Robert Mueller explains Cohen’s efforts to give the impression that a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow fizzled out earlier than it actually did.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, “The government’s filings in Mr. Cohen’s case tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known. Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero.”
Trump himself tweeted after memos about Cohen and former campaign chief Paul Manafort was released, claiming he had been cleared. It was not immediately evident which of the filings Trump was referring to. The SDNY’s filing on Cohen said the lawyer committed crimes “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump.
Cohen’s attempts to affect the campaign came primarily through payments to model Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford, a former adult film actress known by her stage name Stormy Daniels, to suppress stories about alleged affairs with Trump, prosecutors say. The document concludes what Cohen has previously said — that he acted “in coordination and at the direction” of the president in making the payments.
The SDNY asked Friday for a “substantial term of imprisonment” for Cohen, who has pleaded guilty in both cases and has been cooperating with the special counsel.
Here are the parts of the memo that mention Cohen’s efforts to shape the election (Individual-1 is Trump, while Woman-1 and Woman-2 appear to refer to McDougal and Clifford, respectively):
- “During the campaign, Cohen played a central role in two similar schemes to purchase the rights to stories – each from women who claimed to have had an affair with Individual-1 – so as to suppress the stories and thereby prevent them from influencing the election. With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1. As a result of Cohen’s actions, neither woman spoke to the press prior to the election.”
- The memo says the “principal purpose” of an agreement with “Woman-1” was to “prevent [her] story from influencing the election.”
- “After the election, Cohen sought reimbursement for election-related expenses, including the $130,000 payment he had made to Woman-2.”
- The government argues Cohen’s “offenses strike at several pillars of our society,” including “transparent and fair elections.”
- “First, Cohen’s commission of two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 election for President of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows. He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1. In the process, Cohen deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”
- “After the election, he arranged for his own reimbursement via fraudulent invoices for non-existent legal services ostensibly performed pursuant to a non-existent ‘retainer’ agreement. And even when public reports of the payments began to surface, Cohen told shifting and misleading stories about the nature of the payment, his coordination with the candidate, and the fact that he was reimbursed.“
- “Cohen’s criminal violations of the federal election laws were also stirred, like his other crimes, by his own ambition and greed.”
- The government writes that, though campaign finance crimes are “difficult to identify and prosecute,” they “erode faith in elections and perpetuate political corruption.”
- “Cohen’s crimes are particularly serious because they were committed on the eve of a Presidential election, and they were intended to affect that election.“
- “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.”
In another filing Friday, Mueller outlined Cohen’s “substantial and significant efforts to remediate his misconduct” and aid his ongoing criminal investigations related to Russian attempts to influence in the 2016 election. Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress related to a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
- “The defendant admitted he told these lies — which he made publicly and in submissions to Congress—in order to (1) minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1 and (2) give the false impression that the Moscow Project had ended before the Iowa caucus and the first presidential primaries, in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations being conducted by Congress and the SCO.”
- “Prior to testifying, the defendant made a public appearance at the U.S. Capitol and released his prepared opening statement, which falsely claimed that the Moscow Project ‘was terminated in January of 2016[,] which occurred before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary.’ By publicly presenting this false narrative, the defendant deliberately shifted the timeline of what had occurred in the hopes of limiting the investigations into possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — an issue of heightened national interest.”
- “The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Similarly, it was material that Cohen, during the campaign, had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia.”
- In a footnote, Mueller writes that Cohen previously claimed that comments about Trump potentially meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 “had been spontaneous and had not been discussed within the campaign or the Company.”
- “During his proffer sessions, the defendant admitted that this account was false and that he had in fact conferred with Individual 1 about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting. The meeting ultimately did not take place.”
- Mueller says Cohen “also provided information about attempts by other Russian nationals to reach the campaign. For example, in or around November 2015, Cohen received the contact information for, and spoke with, a Russian national who claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.”
- The special counsel also said Cohen “recalled that this person repeatedly proposed a meeting between Individual 1 and the President of Russia. The person told Cohen that such a meeting could have a ‘phenomenal’ impact ‘not only in political but in a business dimension as well,’ referring to the Moscow Project, because there is ‘no bigger warranty in any project than consent of [the President of Russia].’ Cohen, however, did not follow up on this invitation. Second, Cohen provided the SCO with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign.“