Sat, Dec 01, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Michael Cohen pleads guilty to lying at hearing

AFP, NEW YORK

US President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen on Thursday pleaded guilty to lying to the US Congress over the ongoing Russia investigation in connection with a Moscow real-estate deal and Russian contacts pursued during the 2016 election.

As Democrats decried the plea as evidence that Trump’s associates were willing to lie about his business dealings, Trump sought to deflect mounting political pressure in an incoming US House of Representatives under Democrat control by accusing Cohen of lying to get a reduced sentence.

The 52-year-old Cohen, who once famously said he would take a bullet for Trump, admitted to one count of making false statements relating to an already known prospective real-estate deal in court.

He ignored questions from reporters as he left the federal court in Manhattan and got wordlessly into the back of a vehicle before being driven away.

The Trump Tower deal — which never got off the ground — has been a focus of an investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign, the New York Times reported.

Cohen admitted to making “false, fictitious and fraudulent” written testimony to Congress in August last year in connection with the project.

He lied to suggest that the project was shelved in January 2016 — before the first caucus and primary voting began in the presidential election — to downplay links between the deal and unnamed associates, and in the hope of limiting the Russia investigation, the court documents said.

Contrary to his original testimony, the project was discussed multiple times within the company — beyond January 2016 — and with efforts to obtain Russian governmental approval being discussed as late as June of that year.

Cohen also mulled traveling to Russia in connection with the project and in May 2016 was offered a possible introduction to either Russian President Vladimir Putin or Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev on the sidelines of a Russian forum in June 2016.

Trump ultimately secured the Republican nomination for president just weeks later in July 2016.

On Thursday, Trump said that Cohen was a “weak person” and that the property deal was ultimately dropped.

“He is lying about a project that everybody knew about,” Trump told reporters at the White House before jetting off to the G20 summit in Argentina.

Trump scrapped a planned meeting in Buenos Aires with Putin, citing Moscow’s continued detention of a group of Ukrainian sailors.

Cohen’s chief lawyer, Lanny Davis, leapt to his client’s defense, saying that he had “told the truth and nothing but the truth.”

“Michael will continue to work with the SC [special counsel] and others until the full truth is told,” he tweeted.

“Mr Cohen has cooperated, Mr Cohen will continue to cooperate. Sentencing is set for Dec. 12,” said Guy Petrillo, another of Cohen’s lawyers.

Cohen began talking to investigators working for US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose probe has been a thorn in Trump’s side, after pleading guilty in August to bank fraud and campaign finance contraventions in New York.

Mueller is investigating whether the Trump election campaign in 2016 colluded with Russian efforts to damage his opponent, former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, and whether Trump has sought to illegally obstruct the investigation.

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