Cohen’s guilty plea suggests Russia has ‘leverage’ over Trump, top Democrat says

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in an appearance on NBC’ News’s “Meet the Press” that Thursday’s guilty plea by Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, raises the question of whether Russia continues to have leverage over Trump.

.. “Does the Kremlin have a hold on him over other things?” Nadler said. “There certainly was leverage during the campaign period and until recently because they knew he was lying, they knew he had major business dealings or that Cohen on his behalf had major business dealings.”

.. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said Sunday that “most Republicans who were about to nominate Donald Trump in the summer of ’16 would probably have thought it was a relevant fact” that Trump was still trying to do business with Russia at the time.

.. “What I find particularly interesting with the revelation of Cohen’s plea is that he’s saying he lied to protect then-candidate Trump’s stories that he had nothing to do with Russia,”

.. “So, the president seemed to already be changing his story a little bit and say, ‘well, it was all legal.’ ”

The Legal Perils That Michael Cohen’s Guilty Plea Poses for Donald Trump

on Thursday, Cohen admitted that this had been a lie; he acknowledged that he had continued to negotiate on Trump’s behalf well into 2016, until at least June, when Trump was already the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee. In other words, while Trump was running for President, his company was simultaneously (and secretly) negotiating with Russia to build a tower. Since Putin and his government effectively control all such developments in Russia, they held the fate of the project in their hands. As I wrote in the magazine in February, Trump had dreamed of building in Moscow for decades, and had travelled to the Russian capital as far back as the nineteen-eighties to try to make it happen.

.. The timing of Cohen’s guilty plea is significant. It seems that the prosecution team, led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, delayed Cohen’s admission of guilt until after Trump and his legal team had submitted the President’s written answers to Mueller’s questions, which he did earlier this month. Mueller surely asked Trump about the Moscow negotiation, and the President’s answers were likely locked in before he and his lawyers could factor in Cohen’s admissions

.. If those answers were to conflict with Cohen’s latest version of events, it would potentially be a matter of great peril for the President.

.. The charging document from the guilty plea, prepared by the Mueller office, shows that Cohen’s account is corroborated by multiple contemporaneous e-mails between him and an “Individual 2,” who is likely Felix Sater, a frequent Trump business associate. (Sater is not named in the document.)

.. It’s true that Trump had the right to do business in Russia during the time when he was a candidate, but the public also had a right to know where his true financial interests lay. It would have been highly relevant to the public to learn that Trump was negotiating a business deal with Russia at the same time that he was proposing to change American policy toward that country. Not only was the public deprived of this information but Cohen’s guilty plea indicates that voters were actively misled about Trump’s interests.

.. That is what is so important about Thursday morning’s news—it says that while Trump was running for President, he was doing his private business, not the public’s business. Trump may believe that his interest is the national interest, but it wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now.

A Clear Link Between Trump and Russia Is Now Out in the Open

A new Mueller court filing describes how Michael Cohen negotiated with the Kremlin about a Moscow business deal during the 2016 campaign.

And according to the document, Cohen spoke to Trump about the deal more than three times during that period, and asked both Trump and other senior campaign officials about a Trump trip to Russia in connection with the deal.

Cohen is pleading guilty to lying to Congress by saying these negotiations had ended by January 2016 and by denying that he spoke to Trump about them.

The details that emerge in the document are fascinating and rich.

But the main takeaway is that Cohen and others in the Trump organization were actively doing a Russia deal that linked Trump’s emerging presidential candidacy with his business interest in a Moscow Trump Tower. And Trump knew about it, to a degree yet to be revealed.
Until now, many have speculated that there must be some link between Trump’s business interests in Russia and his campaign conduct. The Cohen plea provides more concrete evidence of such a link.

Starting in September 2015, the Trump Organization was pursuing a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen was working on making the deal happen.
In mid-January of 2016, someone described as “a U.S. citizen third-party intermediary” and identified only as “Individual 2” suggested to Cohen that he contact Putin’s press secretary for “approvals” from the Russian government.

Cohen emailed Putin’s press secretary twice, on Jan. 14 and Jan. 16, 2016.
On Jan. 20, Cohen got a call from the press secretary’s assistant. They spoke for 20 minutes, and Cohen described the deal.
The next day, Jan. 21, Individual 2 wrote to Cohen that he should call them about Putin, because “they called today.”

That began a period of negotiations lasting six months. Apparently, the Russians’ goal was to get Trump to visit Russia and meet Putin. Cohen asked Trump and other campaign officials about Trump traveling to Russia for the meeting. Cohen would go to Russia ahead of time to negotiate the details.

In May, things heated up. Individual 2 emailed Cohen explaining the state of play. “I had a chat with Moscow,” he wrote. “ASSUMING the trip does happen the question is before or after the convention … 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.”
This email makes clear that there was a close connection between Trump’s status as a candidate and the visit.

Cohen wrote back about “My trip before Cleveland” — where the Republican national convention would be held starting on July 18. Trump would travel to Russia “once he becomes the nominee after the convention.”

Over the next month, Individual 2 sent Cohen the paperwork for a visa, which Cohen seems to have filled out.

The trip looked like it was a go to Cohen, but it was called off around June 14, 2016, when Cohen met Individual 2 at Trump Tower to tell him it wasn’t happening. According to Cohen, the real estate deal was also off at that point.

The document doesn’t say how or why Cohen’s trip was canceled. The most logical possibility is surely that Trump’s campaign advisers told him that he couldn’t go to Moscow after becoming the Republican nominee.

Trump and his supporters will no doubt insist that Cohen and Individual 2 were freelancing, not really representing Trump or the campaign. But the fact that Cohen kept Trump in the loop by asking him about possible travel to Russia strongly suggests that Trump knew that the negotiations over the Moscow Trump Tower were continuing during this period.
Trump supporters might add that it isn’t surprising to discover that Trump didn’t stop his business negotiations with Russia just because he was running for president. Yet it remains significant that those negotiations were happening with Putin’s office directly, not just with real estate developers in Moscow.

Trump supporters can also point out that the deal was canceled. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the deal was killed not because Trump realized it was wrong but because outside advisers told him it would look bad.

Cohen’s latest revelations on their own don’t constitute evidence of a crime or impeachable offense by Trump. However, they do show that Trump was part of a negotiation that linked his status as a candidate to his business interests in Russia. They bring Mueller’s team an important step closer to explaining Trump’s Russia ties during the campaign.