On Friday afternoon, two major memos regarding President Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, dropped. The first concerned the Mueller investigation’s recommended sentencing for Cohen in light of Cohen’s repeated untruths as well as his testimony to the Mueller investigation; the second concerned the Southern District of New York’s recommended sentencing for Cohen in light of his testimony regarding President Trump’s campaign and payoffs to women including Stormy Daniels.
Here’s what you need to know about the Mueller sentencing memo.
1. Mueller Smacks Cohen. Mueller begins by stating that Cohen’s “crime was serious.” According to the special counsel’s office (SCO), Cohen “withheld information material to the investigations of Russia interference in the 2016 US presidential election.” The SCO memo says that Cohen’s lies were “deliberate and premeditated,” were not spontaneous, and began in a “written submission.”
2. Mueller Is Focusing In On Cohen’s Lies About Moscow Business. According to the memo, Cohen “lied to Congress about a business project (the ‘Moscow Project’) that he worked on during the 2016 presidential campaign,” while working for the Trump Company and for Trump personally. The goal of such lies was allegedly to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1 [Trump],” and to “give the false impression that the Moscow Project had ended before the Iowa caucus and the first presidential primaries, in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations being conducted by Congress and the SCO.”
According to Mueller, 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. If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues.” Mueller says that Cohen worked on the project and discussed it with Trump “well into the campaign,” and adds that Cohen, “during the campaign, had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia.”
Mueller says that Cohen would have benefitted from the deal, and in a footnote, points out that Trump had personally approved reaching out to Russia before a meeting with Putin during Putin’s visit to the United Nations in 2015.
3. Mueller Is Suspicious Of Other Russian Reach-Outs. According to the memo, “The defendant also provided information about attempts by other Russian nationals to reach the campaign. For example, in or around November 2015, Cohen received the contact information for, and spoke with, a Russian national who claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level.” That person wanted to meet with Trump, and told Cohen that the meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well.” Cohen didn’t follow up on that particular reach-out.
4. There Are Other Figures Who Will Come Into Play Soon. The memo suggests that Cohen provided information “concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 time period.” Presumably, these people could include Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Jerome Corsi.
5. There Is No Allegation That Trump Broke The Law. The “Moscow Project” does not mean that Trump actually violated the law by doing business with the Russians during the election. It means Cohen lied about it, and Mueller is suspicious of a quid pro quo. Those suspicions are obvious from Mueller’s language: “Cohen admitted that he had lied to Congress and to the SCO about the Moscow Project. He 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’s testimony could be damaging to Trump — but he’s provided more dots that require connections. Those dots haven’t yet been connected, but it’s easy to see why Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is concerned that Mueller may believe Trump lied to the FBI about the Trump Tower meeting, given Mueller’s obvious belief that Trump was warm to Russia well in advance of the 2016 election.