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In exchange for deal with Mueller, Michael Cohen pleads guilty to lying to Congress

Michael Cohen, former personal attorney to President Donald Trump, exits federal court on Thursday in New York City. At the court hearing, Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress about a Trump real estate project in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former attorney, has reached a plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller. As part of this deal, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress regarding a Trump Tower project in Moscow.

What happened?

On Thursday, Cohen confessed that he lied to Congress about a real estate project in Russia he had been involved with on behalf of Trump. Cohen had told a Senate committee that a Trump Organization development in Moscow had "ended in January 2016 and was not discussed extensively with others" inside the organization.

According to the court documents:

On or about August 28, 2017, the defendant MICHAEL COHEN, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, in a matter within the jurisdiction of the legislative branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully made a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement and representation, to wit, COHEN caused to be submitted a written statement to SSCI [the U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence] containing material false statements about the Moscow Project, including false statements about the timing of the Moscow Project, discussions with people in the Company and in Russia about the Moscow Project, and contemplated travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project.

Although these court documents used pseudonyms like “individual 1” and “the Company,” the fact that Cohen was listed as “special counsel” to Individual 1 who owned the Company, the plea deal clearly referred to President Trump and the Trump Organization.

The statement in question appeared in a letter that Cohen wrote to the Senate intelligence Committee dated Sept. 19, 2017. It said:

I assume we will discuss the rejected proposal to build a Trump property in Moscow that was terminated in January of 2016; which occurred before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary. This was solely a real estate deal and nothing more. I was doing my job. I would ask that the two-page statement about the Moscow proposal that I sent to the Committee in August be incorporated into and attached to this transcript.

Mueller charged Cohen with purposely lying about the date the project ended in order to “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.” The project, the court documents attest, was still being negotiated as late as June 2016. In early May, Cohen had planned to travel to Russia for multiple meetings related to this project, meetings which eventually fell through. The Iowa caucus took place in early February of that year.

In court, Cohen said,  “I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1.”

Asked Thursday about the plea deal, Trump dismissively said that Cohen “was convicted of various things unrelated to us.” He also criticized Cohen, saying he was “a weak person and what he’s trying to do is get a reduced sentence.”

Cohen’s violation carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release, according to his plea agreement.

What else?

This isn't the first guilty plea from Cohen. He has already pleaded guilty to eight separate criminal counts on charges ranging from tax fraud to excessive campaign contributions. He is due to be sentenced Dec. 12. Cohen has also confessed to paying two women “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” at the request of an unnamed political candidate who, based on context, was Trump.

Although he did not have a previous formal cooperation agreement with Mueller, it is known that Cohen has been speaking for the past several months to the special counsel’s office. Mueller is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination between Trump campaign-related figures and the Kremlin, as well as possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

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