In documents from the case of Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, Mueller revealed that Cohen has provided new insights into how Trump personally orchestrated efforts to establish contacts with Russian officials as early as 2015, just when his presidential campaign was gearing up.
Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to congressional investigators probing the Trump-Russia matter and is due to be sentenced on December 12. In a footnote in a sentencing memorandum in Cohen’s case released Friday, Mueller revealed that Cohen volunteered information about a long-forgotten radio interview he did in September 2015. During the interview, Cohen suggested that Trump should meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his upcoming visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly session. Mueller says that Cohen had previously insisted that his comment during the radio interview was spontaneous, but he now has admitted to Mueller that that was false and “he had in fact conferred with Individual 1 (Trump) about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russian interest in such a meeting.” The meeting didn’t take place, but Cohen’s new disclosure shows that Trump was personally driving efforts to connect with Putin from the very beginning of his campaign.
Two months after Cohen’s radio interview, he again sought to establish close ties between Trump and Putin’s regime, he has now admitted. In November 2015, Cohen received the contact information for and spoke with a Russian, who is not identified in the court documents, who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation and could offer the Trump campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.” The Russian repeatedly proposed meetings between Trump and Putin, and suggested that such a meeting could help Trump politically, as well as in his business. Putin could make sure that a Moscow real estate development proposal Trump was pursuing, identified in the documents as the “Moscow Project,” could happen. The Russian told him that there is “no bigger warranty” for a development in Moscow than having Putin’s consent. Cohen said he didn’t follow up on this invitation.
At the heart of Cohen’s lies to congressional investigators in 2017 was his effort to downplay the significance and chronology of the proposed Moscow Project. He had originally lied to Congress by saying that the project had been abandoned by January 2016, before the Iowa caucuses — leaving the impression that the project was dead long before it became obvious that Trump would be the Republican nominee for president. In fact, the Moscow Project was still in the works as late as June 2016, and Mueller now discloses that the project could have meant “hundreds of millions of dollars” in licensing fees and other revenue sources for Trump’s business.
Cohen’s lies “obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government,” according to the sentencing memo.
Mueller underscores the significance of the fact that the Moscow Project was still secretly being discussed in the midst of the 2016 campaign. “Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with (Trump) well into the campaign” at the same time that there were “sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.”
In a separate case involving former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, Mueller also revealed an intriguing new line of inquiry. Mueller has charged that Manafort violated his plea agreement by lying rather than cooperating fully and issued a heavily redacted document in the case late Friday. Among other things, the court filing accuses Manafort of lying about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, who worked with Manafort in Ukraine. Mueller has previously alleged that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence.
The significance of Mueller’s new filing about Manafort is that it raises new questions about connections between Trump’s campaign manager and a figure with ties to Russian intelligence. Many of the details are frustratingly redacted in the Mueller filing, but it suggests that Kilimnik plays a more important role in Mueller’s investigation than previously believed.
What is obvious is that, despite Trump’s denials, he and his campaign were involved in repeated, serious efforts to develop deep connections to Putin’s regime from the very beginning of Trump’s run for the presidency.
Correction: December 10, 2018
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story failed to attribute a quote to the Special Counsel’s sentencing memo.