02:10 - Source: CNN
Buzzfeed: Sources say Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress
Washington CNN —  

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.

BuzzFeed’s reporting citing “two federal law enforcement sources” sometimes goes further than what was explicitly stated in the court records. CNN has not corroborated the BuzzFeed report.

Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said accusations Trump told him to lie are “categorically false.” “Today’s claims are just more made-up lies born of Michael Cohen’s malice and desperation, in an effort to reduce his sentence,” Giuliani said in a statement.

A day after the report published, special counsel Robert Mueller’s office disputed it as “not accurate.”

“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,” said special counsel spokesman Peter Carr in a statement.

It’s highly unusual for the special counsel’s office to provide a statement to the media – outside of court filings and judicial hearings – about any of its ongoing investigative activities.

Here are the relevant sections of court filings and how they match the BuzzFeed report:

Allegation: Trump directed Cohen’s lies to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project

Sources told BuzzFeed that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress. That assertion wasn’t made in any of the relevant legal proceedings. But filings from Mueller and Cohen made it clear that Cohen coordinated parts of his false testimony with people in or around the White House, keeping the door open that he lied at Trump’s direction.

BuzzFeed article:

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.

… 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.

…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.

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;”

Cohen’s planned trip to Russia in summer 2016

BuzzFeed reported that Trump personally encouraged Cohen to visit Russia to close the real estate deal. Cohen’s planned trip to Moscow is mentioned in the court filings, and Mueller’s team said that Cohen spoke directly with Trump about traveling to Russia. But the specific “make it happen”quote isn’t in the filings.

BuzzFeed article:

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.

Mueller’s charging documents against Cohen:

“COHEN agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and took steps in contemplation of Individual-1’ s possible travel to Russia. COHEN asked Individual 1 about the possibility of Individual 1 traveling to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project, and asked a senior campaign official about potential business travel to Russia.”

Mueller’s sentencing memo for Cohen:

“[Cohen] provided detailed information about the true circumstances of the Moscow Project, including its duration, the persons involved in the discussions, contacts with Russian government officials, and discussions during the first half of 2016 about the possibility of travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project.”

Cohen legal filing:

“In fact, Michael had a lengthy substantive conversation with the personal assistant to a Kremlin official following his outreach in January 2016, engaged in additional communications concerning the project as late as June 2016, and kept Client-1 apprised of these communications. He and Client-1 also discussed possible travel to Russia in the summer of 2016, and Michael took steps to clear dates for such travel.

Cohen comments at plea hearing:

“Lastly, that I had never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the project and had never asked Individual 1 to travel, when in fact I took steps to and had discussions with Individual 1 about travel to Russia.”

Cohen’s briefings to Trump kids about Moscow proposal

BuzzFeed said Cohen gave “regular” and “detailed” updates about Trump Tower Moscow to Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. Court filings never mentioned any of the President’s children by name, but Mueller’s team did confirm that Cohen briefed Trump’s family members about the Russia project.

BuzzFeed article:

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.

Mueller’s charging documents against Cohen:

“COHEN discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1 on more than the three occasions COHEN claimed to the Committee, and he briefed family members of Individual 1 within the Company about the project .”

Cohen corroborated other evidence in Mueller’s hands

Sources told BuzzFeed that Mueller has collected a lot of corroborating evidence to support the notion that Trump told Cohen to lie. Mueller’s prosecutors didn’t delve into the specifics, but they said the information from Cohen was “consistent with and corroborated by” other evidence in their possession.

BuzzFeed article:

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.

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.”

Lucrative nature of the Trump Tower Moscow project

In court filings, Mueller’s team said the Trump Tower Moscow deal could have earned the Trump Organization “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources.” BuzzFeed’s story put a number on it: $300 million or more.

BuzzFeed article:

On the campaign trail, Trump vehemently denied having any business interests in Russia. But behind the scenes, he was pushing the Moscow project, which he hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million.

Mueller’s sentencing memo for Cohen:

“In addition to correcting the timeline and detailing the contacts he had during pursuit of the Moscow Project, Cohen explained financial aspects of the deal that would have made it highly lucrative for the Company and himself.”

“The defendant’s false statements obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government. If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues.”

10 face-to-face meetings about the Moscow project

In his plea, Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress when he said he discussed the Moscow deal with Trump on only three occasions. But neither Cohen nor Mueller clarified how many discussions took place. BuzzFeed’s story says that Trump and Cohen had at least 10 face-to-face conversations about the plan.

BuzzFeed article:

… The two law enforcement sources said he had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign.

Mueller’s charging documents against Cohen:

“COHEN discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1 on more than the three occasions COHEN claimed to the Committee, and he briefed family members of Individual 1 within the Company about the project.”

Special counsel at Cohen sentencing hearing:

Mueller prosecutor Jeannie Rhee alluded to the possibility that Cohen also lied to the special counsel’s office for the same reasons he lied to Congress:

“Mr. Cohen actively misled Congress about was an issue of national importance and interest, and Mr. Cohen intentionally repeated many of the false statements to us at the Special Counsel’s Office initially when we met with him in July. And those false statements were intended to limit ongoing investigations into Russian interference in a U.S. presidential election, and the question of any links or coordination between a campaign and a foreign government.”