MANHATTAN (CN) – Pleading guilty to a new charge of having lied to Congress, ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen told a federal judge Thursday morning that the president’s inner circle pursued a Moscow real estate project well into the 2016 campaign season.
Cohen’s surprise court appearance came three months after he first implicated the president in making two illicit payments to women “for the purpose of influencing the election.”
This morning, putting Trump one step closer to election-related conspiracy with the Kremlin, the president’s onetime-fixer admitted that he lied to the Senate and House intelligence committees on Aug. 28, 2017.
On that date Cohen had insisted in a letter to investigators that a plan for Trump skyscrapers in Russia’s capital was abandoned in January 2016.
Revising that statement today, however, 52-year-old Cohen breezily admitted that the project extended through June 2016 – the month before Trump formally accepted the Republican nomination.
Cohen told U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter at the hearing that he lied “out of loyalty” to the president, and said it was also a lie when he told investigators that he never agreed to travel to Russia.
“In fact, I took steps to and had discussions with Individual 1 about travel to Russia,” Cohen said, identifying "Individual 1" as President Trump. “And I would like to note that I did not in fact travel there, nor have I ever been to Russia.”
After Cohen concluded his prepared statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney L. Rush Atkinson said that the lawyer left out a significant detail.
“In fact, he had received a response from the Kremlin and spoke to someone from the press secretary's office for approximately 20 minutes,” Atkinson said. “So, in essence, that Mr. Cohen minimized his contacts with the Russian government and stated so falsely in his submission.”
Pressed about this omission, Cohen said: “There was one contact that I had had for the 20 minutes, as stated.”
Court documents made available following the hearing describe Cohen’s dealings with an intermediary in the real estate deal identified as “Individual 2.”
This figure, who is widely believed to be Russian-mafia linked developer Felix Sater, wrote Cohen on May 4, 2016, roughly two months before the Republican National Convention.
"I had a chat with Moscow,” the intermediary wrote.
“ASSUMING the trip does happen the question is before or after the convention,” the message continued. “Obviously the pre-meeting trip (you only) can happen anytime you want but the 2 big guys where [sic] the question. I said I would confirm and revert."
Cohen’s reply suggests that he wanted Trump to go after he accepted the Republican nomination.
“My trip before Cleveland,” Cohen wrote, referring to the site of the convention. “[Individual 1] once he becomes the nominee after the convention.”