Government Implicates Trump In Election Scheme In Cohen Sentencing Memos
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the U.S, Attorney for the Southern District of New York have filed sentencing memos that directly implicate the President in a series of felonies.
In near-simultaneous filings yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed sentencing memoranda in the case against Trump attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen that recommend significant prison time for Cohen and implicate the President in a scheme to violate the law in advance of the 2016 Presidential election:
Federal prosecutors said on Friday that President Trump directed illegal payments to ward off a potential sex scandal that threatened his chances of winning the White House in 2016, putting the weight of the Justice Department behind accusations previously made by his former lawyer.
The lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, had said that as the election neared, Mr. Trump directed payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with Mr. Trump. But in a new memo arguing for a prison term for Mr. Cohen, prosecutors in Manhattan said he “acted in coordination and at the direction of” an unnamed individual, clearly referring to Mr. Trump.
In another filing, prosecutors for the special counsel investigating Russia’s 2016 election interference said an unnamed Russian offered Mr. Cohen “government level” synergy between Russia and Mr. Trump’s campaign in November 2015. That was months earlier than other approaches detailed in indictments secured by prosecutors.
The prosecutors in New York mounted a scathing attack on Mr. Cohen’s character. They rejected his plea to avoid a prison term, saying that he had “repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends.”
They argued that he deserved a “substantial” prison term that, giving him some credit for his cooperation, could amount to just under four years. “His offenses strike at several pillars of our society and system of government: the payment of taxes; transparent and fair elections; and truthfulness before government and in business,” they wrote.
Mr. Cohen, 52, is to be sentenced next week for campaign finance violations, financial crimes and lying to Congress about the extent of Mr. Trump’s business dealings in Russia.
Mr. Cohen’s crimes marked “a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life,” the Manhattan prosecutors wrote, saying that he did not deserve much leniency in exchange for his cooperation.
“The sentence imposed should reflect the seriousness of Cohen’s brazen violations of the election laws and attempt to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful,” they said, adding that he “sought to influence the election from the shadows.”
They emphasized that Mr. Cohen had implicated the president in payments to two women during the campaign to conceal affairs that they said they had with Mr. Trump. “Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” the prosecutors wrote. “Individual-1” is how Mr. Trump is referred to in the document.
The prosecutors have said that a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress, violated campaign finance law prohibitions against donations of more than $2,700 in a general election. A $150,000 payment by American Media Inc. to silence Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, constituted an illegal corporate donation to Mr. Trump’s campaign, the prosecutors said.
The special counsel’s prosecutors offered a somewhat more positive view of Mr. Cohen than the New York team, saying he went “to significant lengths to assist” their inquiry, including by providing relevant information he had learned from Trump Organization executives during the campaign.
Over seven meetings with the special counsel’s office, prosecutors said Mr. Cohen had revealed details about an interaction that appeared to be the earliest known contact between a Russian offering to help Mr. Trump’s campaign. The timing of the interaction matched one disclosed earlier this year by BuzzFeed.
In November 2015, as discussions about a possible Moscow hotel that would bear Mr. Trump’s name were gaining momentum, Mr. Cohen told prosecutors he was approached by a Russian claiming to be a “‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation.” The individual, who was not named, offered “synergy on a government level” with the Trump campaign and pushed for a meeting between Mr. Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that could have a “phenomenal” effect both politically and commercially.
Mr. Cohen, who told the special counsel’s team that he never followed up on the invitation, also “provided information about attempts by other Russian nationals to reach the campaign,” the prosecutors said.
He also revealed that Mr. Trump had been more involved in discussions over a potential deal to build a tower in Moscow than was previously known. Although he testified to Congress that negotiations ended in January 2016, before the first Republican presidential primary, he told prosecutors that those discussions had continued until June of that year, just before Mr. Trump won the Republican nomination and only five months before the election.
Mr. Cohen described to prosecutors his interactions with Russian officials who might have tried to use the project as leverage over Mr. Trump when he was running for president.
Before he testified falsely to Congress about the Moscow hotel project, Mr. Cohen has admitted, he consulted with White House staff members and Mr. Trump’s legal team. The prosecutors characterized his information about his contacts with people tied to the White House over the past two years as “relevant and useful information.”
Mr. Cohen has said he lied out of loyalty to Mr. Trump and to be consistent with the president’s “political messaging.” His lawyers, Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester, have asked Judge William H. Pauley III to allow Mr. Cohen to avoid a prison sentence, saying he cooperated with prosecutors even though he never signed a formal agreement.
They portrayed him as a remorseful man whose life had been shattered by his relationship with Mr. Trump, who has lost friends and associates and who wanted to come clean so he could begin his life anew.
The Washington Post has more:
Federal prosecutors filed new court papers Friday directly implicating President Trump in plans to buy women’s silence as far back as 2014 and offering new evidence of Russian efforts to forge a political alliance with Trump before he became president — disclosures that show the deepening political and legal morass enveloping the administration.
The separate filings came from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and federal prosecutors in New York ahead of Wednesday’s sentencing of Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Taken together, the documents suggest that the president’s legal woes are far from over and reveal a previously unreported contact from a Russian to Trump’s inner circle during the campaign. But the documents do not answer the central question at the heart of Mueller’s work — whether the president or those around him conspired with the Kremlin.
The documents offer a scathing portrait of his former lawyer as a criminal who deserves little sympathy or mercy because he held back from telling the FBI everything he knew. For that reason, prosecutors said, he should be sentenced to “substantial” prison time, suggesting possibly 3½ years.
Trump immediately declared that he was vindicated. “Totally clears the president. Thank you!” he tweeted. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the Cohen filings “tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known.”
The special counsel’s office said Cohen had provided “useful information” about its ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as “relevant information” about his contacts with people connected to the White House between 2017 and 2018.
Mueller revealed that Cohen told prosecutors about what seemed to be a previously unknown November 2015 contact with a Russian national, who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation offering the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.”
Cohen told investigators that the person, who was not identified, repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact, “not only in political but in a business dimension as well,” the special counsel’s office wrote.
Cohen, though, did not follow up on the invitation, because he was already working on a Trump project in Moscow through a different person he believed to have Russian government connections, the special counsel’s office wrote.
Prosecutors also singled out Trump as being directly involved in efforts to buy the silence of women who might level public allegations against him.
The memo from New York prosecutors identifies three people at an August 2014 meeting: Cohen, “Individual 1” and “Chairman 1.” The document elsewhere identifies Individual 1 as Trump, and people familiar with the case said Chairman 1 is David Pecker of the National Enquirer.
“In August 2014, Chairman-1 had met with Cohen and Individual-1, and had offered to help deal with negative stories about Individual-1’s relationships with women by identifying such stories so that they could be purchased and ‘killed,’ ” the prosecutors’ memorandum says
Cohen pleaded guilty in August to violating campaign finance law when he arranged payments to an adult-film star during the 2016 election. At the same time, he pleaded guilty to a handful of other crimes, including making a false statement to a bank. In recent weeks, he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about efforts during the presidential campaign to get a Trump-branded tower built in Moscow
Under the applicable federal sentencing guidelines, Cohen faces between four to five years in the case being handled by the Southern District of New York and up to six months in the case being handled by Robert Mueller’s office. In this regard, Mueller’s office has suggested to the Court that any prison time that Cohen is sentenced to in the two cases be served concurrently rather than consecutively, which will cut down the amount of time that Cohen would serve in the two cases. Cohen’s attorneys, of course, are arguing that he should serve minimal to no prison time, and while Judges are required to consult the guidelines, they are not bound by them. Generally speaking, the amount of time that the guidelines call for constitutes the upper limit of what the Defendant can serve, but the Judge is free to deviate from that number and sentence Cohen to less time if he believes it to be justified under the circumstances.
One of the factors that Judge Pauley will likely take into consideration in this regard is the extent to which Cohen has cooperated with prosecutors in their underlying investigations, and that could pose a problem for Cohen. While both the U.S. Attorney in New York and the Special Counsel acknowledge that Cohen has been helpful, they also make clear that he has at times been something of a reluctant witness and that it took several meetings, at which it was no doubt made clear to him what the respective investigators already knew and the extent to which he could be in additional trouble if he lies to them, before Cohen finally began to really spill the beans about the payments to Daniels and McDougal and his knowledge regarding the President’s business dealings in Russia. This could end up undercutting whatever credit Cohen may get for his cooperation. That being said, it’s still clear that Cohen’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate will result in him spending far less time in prison than he would if he had forced the government to take these cases to trial.
Leaving aside the personal implications for Cohen, which will be serious and severe, the most obvious implications of the details revealed by these sentencing memoranda is what they mean for the President of the United States, who is identified in the documents by the pseudonym “Individual 1” or “Chairman 1.” Over the course of the two guilty plea that Cohen has entered in different Federal Courts in August in connection with the SDNY case and the case in Federal Court in the District of Columbia in a case that is part of the Mueller investigation, Cohen has made clear that the actions he took were done at the direction and orders of his boss Donald John Trump.
In the New York plea, for example, Cohen admitted that his involvement in the payments to purchase the silence of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were done for the purpose of trying to protect the campaign in the final weeks of the election and that it was done at the direction and with the full knowledge of his boss Donald Trump. These payments both violated applicable Federal election laws and Cohen’s admission essentially meant that he is an unindicted co-conspirator in an effort to violate the law. In the Washington, D.C. pleas Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress about the extent of the President’s business dealings with Russia, including an effort to build what would of “Trump Tower Moscow” that would last until well into the time that Trump was not only a candidate for President but also the Republican nominee for President. As with the New York plea, Cohen made clear that the President was deeply involved in those negotiations although all business was conducted through Cohen in what seems in retrospect like an obvious effort to shield Trump. While it’s not clear if these contacts were illegal, they do demonstrate that the President was lying when he said that he had no business dealings with Russia.
David French at National Review explains why these memoranda are particularly bad news for Trump:
If you read the special counsel’s Cohen memo, you’ll note that the special counsel takes pains to note that Cohen’s false statements to investigators were “deliberate and premeditated” and “did not spring spontaneously from a line of examination or a heated colloquy during a congressional hearing.” His lies were in a “written submission” and a “prepared opening statement.” These lies were allegedly told to “minimize the links” between the Moscow Trump Tower project and Trump himself.
Also — and this is crucial — the memo notes that Cohen has been cooperating in describing the “circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries” [emphasis added].
In plain English, this means that it is highly likely that senior Trump officials reviewed Cohen’s prepared, false testimony before he lied to Congress. This raises two important questions. Was Trump aware of the substance of Cohen’s testimony? If so, was Trump aware that Cohen’s testimony was false?
As much as Trump’s defenders may want to minimize “process crimes,” it remains a fact that the last two articles of impeachment drafted against American presidents featured clear evidence of, yes, process crimes. Process crimes are still crimes. It is an enduring feature of political corruption that politicians will lie about things that aren’t illegal but are politically or personally embarrassing — and when they lie under oath or cause others to lie under oath they violate the law.
In an Op-Ed in The New York Times, Barry Berke, Noah Bookbinder, and Norman Eisen make a similar argument:
In crediting Mr. Cohen with providing “substantial and significant efforts” to assist the investigation, Mr. Mueller’s separate sentencing memo details new evidence of collusion with Russia, including a previously unreported phone conversation in November 2015 between Mr. Cohen and an unnamed Russian who claimed to be a “trusted person” in Moscow. The Russian explained to Mr. Cohen how the Russian government could provide the Trump campaign with “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level,” and offered to set up a meeting between Mr. Trump, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
This newly disclosed conversation directly speaks to the question of collusion — the outreach was explicitly political and was focused on how each side would gain from a potential partnership.
Mr. Mueller also notes that Mr. Cohen provided his team with additional information relevant to the “core” of the special counsel investigation.
The special counsel focuses on Mr. Cohen’s contacts with people connected to the White House in 2017 and 2018, possibly further implicating the president and others in his orbit in conspiracy to obstruct justice or to suborn perjury. Mr. Mueller specifically mentions that Mr. Cohen provided invaluable insight into the “preparing and circulating” of his testimony to Congress — and if others, including the president, knew about the false testimony or encouraged it in any way, they would be at substantial legal risk.
The President, meanwhile, reacted to the news on Twitter in a predictable manner:
Totally clears the President. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
George Conway, the husband of Presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway, had perhaps the best response to that claim:
Except for that little part where the US Attorney’s Office says that you directed and coordinated with Cohen to commit two felonies. Other than that, totally scot-free. https://t.co/YXmgY9KmXi
— George Conway (@gtconway3d) December 8, 2018
Conway obviously has the better argument here.
Although the sentencing memos don’t go into significant detail in this regard, it is obvious from the allegations and the details that are set forth in that both Mueller and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District have significant additional information to back up what Cohen is saying, much of which I assume will be included in whatever final report is issued in connection with these investigations. At the very least, though, it’s clear that Cohen has implicated the President of the United States in at least two felonies under Federal law. The first can be found in the payments to Daniels and McDougal, both of which were made in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign in an effort to buy their silence and protect the campaign from the revelation of information that could have ended up costing the President the election. The crimes involved here include what amounts to illegal campaign contributions in an amount equal to the payments received by the two women and a conspiracy between Trump and Cohen to evade those laws for the benefit of the campaign. The second appears to be what amounts to obstruction of justice via coordination with the Trump White House regarding testimony that Cohen gave to Congress regarding the President’s business dealings with Russia, testimony that Cohen later admitted was false. The question here is the extent to which the White House might have been aware that Cohen was preparing to lie to Congress. Added into this would be additional conspiracy charges. In other words, things just got a lot more serious for the Trump White House
Here’s the Sentencing Memorandum from Special Counsel Robert Mueller:
United States v Michael Coh… by on Scribd
And here’s the Memorandum from the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York:
United States v Michael Coh… by on Scribd