MANHATTAN (CN) — Standing up for the substance of explosive January reporting that elicited a rare denial at the time from the typically silent spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller, Michael Cohen’s attorney told Congress late Thursday that the president pushed Cohen to deceive Congress.
“When Cohen had to submit testimony to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in the fall of 2017, Trump and his [White House] advisors encouraged Cohen to lie and say all Moscow Tower project contacts ended as of January 31, 2016,” attorney Lanny Cohen said in the new memo to House Democrats.
The date of the contacts is key as Iowa caucuses kicked off on Feb. 1, 2016, marking the official start of the Trump campaign.
Cohen has since admitted that negotiations stretched far longer.
“Trump did so using ‘code’ language – telling Cohen during various conversations that there was ‘no collusion, no Russian contacts, nothing about Russia’ after the start of the campaign,” his lawyer’s memo continues.
This is not a new allegation from Cohen’s team: Cohen said as much during his congressional hearing, and his prior attorney Guy Petrillo made a similar suggestion back in back in November.
Thinly veiling Trump’s name, Petrillo said of Cohen’s false statements to Congress: “In each case, the conduct was intended to benefit Client-1, in accordance with Client-1’s directives.”
Quoting this passage in a footnote, Davis noted that it is “not far off the words used by BuzzFeed reporters.”
This past January, however, the report by BuzzFeed prompted an uncharacteristic rebuke by Mueller’s spokesman Peter Carr.
“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate,” Carr said in a carefully worded statement at the time.
Cohen has testified about this matter and others in his marathon testimony before House and Senate committees, most of them in private.
His legal team claims that the classified portion of the testimony corroborates the claim that Trump encouraged Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Moscow tower project.
“Mr. Cohen shared the facts contained in this section with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees but cannot reveal the direct testimony publicly,” another footnote of the new memo states.
In a different report of undisputed accuracy, BuzzFeed revealed that Trump Moscow tower talks included a promise of a $50 million penthouse for Russian President Vladimir Putin and could have made President Trump hundreds of millions of dollars.
Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, noted in a phone interview that the clarification from Cohen’s team paints a more nuanced picture of what happened.
“BuzzFeed’s report was specific,” Rocah said. “It said that he was instructed, which conveys the idea that there was a specific instruction given. What seems to now emerge from Cohen, through his lawyer, is that it wasn’t an explicit instruction. It was implicit.”
Conspiracies based on tacit directives are harder for prosecutors to prove, but Rocah added they are far more typical.
“That actually rings more true to me,” she said. “That’s actually how these things work.”
Currently scheduled to report to prison a month from Saturday, Cohen asked House Democrats to postpone his incarceration to let him sift through a hard drive with 14 million files that he claims will aide their investigation.
“Working alone, Mr. Cohen has only had the time to go through less than 1 percent of the drive, or approximately 3,500 files,” Davis told U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Maxine Waters and Elijah Cummings, in a letter also signed by his co-counsel Michael Monico and Carly Chocron.
Vanity Fair reporter Emily Jane Fox, labeled the “Cohen whisperer” for her ready access to the former presidential fixer, has confirmed that Cohen did not discover new evidence.
“What he’s offering to share with Congress is what was recently returned to him by investigators,” she tweeted. “He hadn’t been able to review or share these materials with lawmakers when he testified earlier this year.”
If true, that fact may be significant to Southern District prosecutors who will ultimately make the final call on whether to reduce or delay Cohen’s sentence.
Describing her old experience in that post, Rocah said: “It seems like a bit of a last-ditch effort to try to stay out of jail.”
U.S. District Judge William Pauley III, who sentenced Cohen to three years of imprisonment, already granted him a two-month reprieve to allow him to testify to Congress.
“Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony contains evidence of at least 10 or more federal and state crimes,” the memo sent to House Democrats estimates. “Michael’s testimony led to the subpoenaing of 80 individuals by the House Judiciary Committee and dozens of new congressional and state investigations.”
Although Davis alleged that his client faced “selective prosecution,” Cohen pleaded guilty twice and remains a cooperating witness in a still active grand jury investigation.
Among the 121 pages of exhibits, Cohen’s attorneys included the signed checks that Trump signed in reimbursements for hush-money payments.
“It is a fact that President Trump committed a felony while president when he signed these $35,000 checks to reimburse Michael Cohen,” the memo states. “If he were not president, he would have been indicted and convicted of this crime. There is also no doubt that his son Don Jr. could now be indicted and probably almost certainly would be convicted for signing similar hush money checks from the Trump Trust Organization.”
The signature of Trump’s son appears on another exhibit, which Cohen’s legal team claims is the check to silence pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels about her affair with his father.
Cohen’s legal team also undermined the summary offered by Attorney General William Barr of Mueller’s “principal conclusions,” which said the special counsel did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government’s interference with the 2016 presidential election.
Like the Moscow tower accusations, Cohen accuses the president of using code to collude with the Kremlin before the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016.
“Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians and knew its purpose was for the Russian government to help Trump and harm Clinton in the election,” the memo states, summarizing the “strong inferences” of Cohen’s testimony.
At his sentencing, Mueller’s prosecutors commended Cohen’s assistance with their investigation, but Southern District prosecutors blasted him for “selective cooperation.”
Several federal investigations in New York remain pending.
Cohen’s memo alludes to one involving a reported back channel to Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, telling Cohen on the month the FBI raided him: “Sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places.”
“Information disclosed in this section cannot be disclosed in greater detail since this matter is under investigation by prosecutors,” a footnote of Cohen’s memo states.
Rocah noted that Cohen’s gambit could come across as political gamesmanship and ultimately alienate the very people he needs to persuade: federal prosecutors in New York.
“He’s essentially going to Congress and saying, ‘Help me,’” Rocah said.