Obstruction of justice in plain sight: unindicted co-conspirator ‘Individual 1’ instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress (updated)

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Donald Trump’s longtime attorney and personal “fixer” is going to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7, 2019. A source close to Cohen told the Wall Street Journal that in his testimony:

“He’s going to tell the story of what it’s like to work for a madman, and why he did it for so long,” said the person close to Mr. Cohen. “He’s going to say things that will give you chills.”

In a preview of coming attractions, Michael Cohen Acknowledges Payments for Poll Rigging:

Michael D. Cohen, the former personal lawyer and fixer for President Trump, acknowledged on Thursday that he had paid the owner of a technology services company to help doctor results of an online poll to help Mr. Trump as he considered a run for president.

In a post on Twitter about his actions, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Cohen said that he had done so at the direction of Mr. Trump, and regretted it.

The Journal reported that in early 2015, before Mr. Trump declared himself a candidate for president, Mr. Cohen gave $12,000 to $13,000 in cash stuffed in a Walmart bag to John Gauger, the owner of RedFinch Solutions, who also works for Liberty University [run by Jerry Falwell, Jr.]. The money was in exchange for help boosting Mr. Trump’s name in two online polls.

Mr. Cohen was supposed to pay Mr. Gauger $50,000 for the work, the man told The Journal, but the full amount was never paid out. However, Mr. Cohen billed the Trump Organization $50,000 for technology services, according to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, who referenced the amount in a charging document.

As Phillip Bump of the Washington Post points out, this is The quintessential Trump campaign story: A bag of cash, Michael Cohen and a rigged online poll:

This is the same Michael Cohen who shortly before the election laid out $130,000 to keep adult-film actress Stormy Daniels from going public with her story about an alleged affair with Trump — an investment for which Cohen was repaid more than $400,000.

That payment to Daniels spawned one of the federal felonies to which Cohen admitted guilt last summer. It’s illegal to spend that much money to influence a campaign without it being campaign money and without reporting it. Lawrence Noble, former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission, said in an email to The Post on Thursday that the payment to Gauger could similarly cross legal boundaries.

“If Trump paid (or Cohen paid with the agreement of Trump) to have an online poll rigged for the purpose of influencing his run for election, it was a campaign expenditure,” he wrote. In a tweet shortly after the Journal’s report was published, Cohen indicated that the effort was at Trump’s behest.

“The issue is whether it was for the purpose of determining whether to run or help him when he made his announcement,” Noble continued. “If so, it could be considered a testing-the-waters expenditure. It could also be evidence he had already decided to run. Either way, it could be subject to the campaign finance laws.” That the $50,000 repayment may have come from the Trump Organization adds another legal problem, Noble added.

But wait! There’s more. Buzzfeed reports that unindicted co-conspirator “Individual 1,” i.e., President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project:

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.

This revelation is not the first evidence to suggest the president may have attempted to obstruct the FBI and special counsel investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

But Cohen’s testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.

* * *

BuzzFeed News first reported last year that Cohen and an associate, Felix Sater, had continued working on Trump Tower Moscow through June 2016. Sater communicated with Russian bankers, developers, and officials connected to the Kremlin. That revelation was confirmed in Mueller’s filings against Cohen in court last November.

Attorneys close to the administration helped Cohen prepare his testimony and draft his statement to the Senate panel, the sources said. The sources did not say who the attorneys were or whether they were part of the White House counsel’s staff, and did not present evidence that the lawyers knew the statements would be false.

An attorney for Donald F. McGahn II, the former White House counsel who reportedly gave about 30 hours of testimony to the special counsel, told BuzzFeed News: “Don McGahn had no involvement with or knowledge of Michael Cohen’s testimony. Nor was he aware of anyone in the White House Counsel’s Office who did.”

After Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the matter, Mueller’s team filed a memo in court saying he had offered them “credible” and “useful” information over the course of seven interviews. The special counsel wrote that Cohen had provided details about his contacts with “persons connected to the White House” in 2017 and 2018 and about how he had prepared his statements to Congress.

“Cohen declined comment — but the law enforcement sources familiar with his testimony to the special counsel said he had confirmed that Trump directed him to lie to Congress, and also that he had provided details of his conversations about the project with the president and Ivanka and Donald Jr.”

Aaron Blake of The Post reports, BuzzFeed’s Michael Cohen story, if true, looks to be the most damning to date for Trump:

If Robert S. Mueller III has the evidence he reportedly has — that Trump asked Michael Cohen to lie to Congress for him — it could present something that’s been missing thus far from the public domain: An event so cut-and-dried that even Republicans would be hard-pressed not to consider impeachment.

You greatly underestimate the cowardly complicity of enabler Republicans, sir. 42 Republican senators this week enabled Putin’s puppet to lift sanctions on a key suspect in the Russia investigation, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Senate blocks resolution to stop Trump from lifting Russian sanctions. The resolution required 60 votes to advance to a final vote, and on Wednesday, it fell just short in a 57-42 vote. (Surprisingly, Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) voted with the Democrats).

There are important caveats here — and the story is of such significance that we need to emphasize those caveats up high. The first is that it is based upon two anonymous “federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.” The second is that Cohen’s team isn’t confirming it, despite his having flipped on Trump long ago. We also don’t know exactly what evidence Mueller has. The solidity of that evidence matters greatly in what would otherwise be a he-said, he-said situation.

But judging by the report, it sounds like Mueller just might have the goods.

* * *

Justice Department guidelines say that a sitting president can’t be indicted, which means Congress will likely be the judge of all of this. So even if Mueller sees Trump’s actions as being impeachable, you need two-thirds of the Senate (i.e., at least 20 Republicans) to remove him from office. To the extent the evidence doesn’t constitute a smoking gun and irrefutable evidence of a crime, the GOP will be hard-pressed to remove a president its base loves.

Asking someone to lie though, if proven, is not a gray area. As The Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reports, Trump’s own attorney general nominee, William P. Barr, has affirmed repeatedly this week — as well as in that memo criticizing Mueller’s obstruction probe — that this would indeed be a crime, even for a president.

Democratic leaders reacted with fury to the Buzzfeed report and demanded an investigation late Thursday. Democrats demand investigation after report that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie to Congress:

Democrats said that if the report is accurate, Trump must quickly be held to account for his role in the perjury, with some raising the specter of impeachment.

“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date,” wrote Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Friday morning, called the story “as serious as it gets.”

“If this is true, what it means is this is more evidence that the president has violated his oath of office,” Deutch said. “If he told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, if he suborned perjury, this is as serious as it gets.”

Eric Holder, President Barack Obama’s attorney general, tweeted that Congress should start impeachment hearings if the story is accurate.

“If true — and proof must be examined — Congress must begin impeachment proceedings and Barr must refer, at a minimum, the relevant portions of material discovered by Mueller. This is a potential inflection point,” he wrote.

“If the @Buzzfeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached,” tweeted Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Lanny Davis, Cohen’s adviser, issued a statement to MSNBC’s Katy Tur saying that “Out of respect for Mr. Mueller’s and the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation, Mr. Cohen declined to respond to the questions asked by the reporters and so do I.”

You can take this non-denial as confirmation.

Democratic leaders promised a quick probe into whether Trump, in fact, did direct Cohen to lie.

UPDATE: Trump responds to the Buzzfeed story not with a denial, but with an additional criminal act of witness intimidation.

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This is a continuing pattern of witness intimidation of Michael Cohen by unindicted co-conspirator “Individual 1.” Reuters reported, Former Trump lawyer reconsidering plan to testify to Congress:

President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen is reconsidering his plan to testify publicly to the U.S. Congress next month because of intimidation by the president, an adviser to Cohen said on Thursday.

Lanny Davis, an attorney who has been advising Cohen on his media strategy, said in an interview with MSNBC that some remarks made by the Republican president about Cohen amounted to witness tampering and deserved to be criminally investigated.

“There is genuine fear and it has caused Michael Cohen to consider whether he should go forward or not, and he has not made a final decision,” Davis said.

* * *

In a Fox News interview on Saturday, Trump suggested he had damaging information on Cohen’s father-in-law. “That’s the one that people want to look at,” Trump said in the interview.

Davis said: “There is no question that his threatening and calling out his father-in-law, who – quote – has all the money, is not only improper and unseemly for a bully using the bully pulpit of the presidency, but the very definition of intimidation and witness tampering.”

He said Trump’s remarks “could be obstruction of justice.”

Trump called Cohen a “rat” in a tweet last month for cooperating with prosecutors.

Unless mafia “Don” Trump is going to order a hit on Michael Cohen to silence him permanently, there is no reason for Cohen to feel intimidated into not testifying before Congress.  This is his John Dean redemption moment.

UPDATE: Late Friday, a spokesman for the Special Counsel’s Office issued a rare statement in response to a controversial BuzzFeed report that said President Trump instructed his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow Trump Tower talks, citing two federal law enforcement officials involved in investigating the case. Mueller’s office disputes BuzzFeed report that Trump told Cohen to lie:

“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,” spokesman Peter Carr said.

It appears that the Special Counsel’s Office is disputing this specific paragraph in the Buzzfeed report:

“The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.”

It is not disputing the entirety of the Buzzfeed report.

UPDATE: CNN reports “There are a handful of distinct areas where reporting from BuzzFeed’s bombshell lines up with court records, including the charging documents against Michael Cohen, sentencing memos and hearings.” What court filings tell us about BuzzFeed’s Trump-Cohen allegations (excerpts):

Mueller’s charging documents against Cohen:

“COHEN made the false statements to (1) minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual-1 and (2) give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before “the Iowa caucus and the very first primary,” in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Mueller’s sentencing memo for Cohen:

“Cohen provided relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017–2018 time period… Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within it.”

Cohen legal filing:

“Michael’s false statements to Congress likewise sprung regrettably from Michael’s effort, as a loyal ally and then-champion of Client-1, to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging. At the time that he was requested to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Michael was serving as personal attorney to the President, and followed daily the political messages that both Client-1 and his staff and supporters repeatedly and forcefully broadcast.”

“Furthermore, in the weeks during which his then counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1. As such, he was (a) fully aware of Client-1’s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, as well as the strongly voiced mantra of Client-1 that investigations of such ties were politically motivated and without evidentiary support, and (b) specifically knew, consistent with Client-1’s aim to dismiss and minimize the merit of the SCO investigation, that Client-1 and his public spokespersons were seeking to portray contact with Russian representatives in any form by Client-1, the Campaign or the Trump Organization as having effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of February 1, 2016 … “

Cohen comments at plea hearing:

“That I had very limited discussions with Individual-1 and others in the company concerning the project, when in fact I had more extensive communications;”

Mueller’s sentencing memo for Cohen:

“The information provided by Cohen about the Moscow Project in these proffer sessions is consistent with and corroborated by other information obtained in the course of the [special counsel’s] investigation.”





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