WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors filed new court papers Friday directly implicating President Donald 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 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 3 1/2 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 about 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 2016 presidential campaign to get a Trump-branded tower built in Moscow.
Cohen had asked for a sentence of no prison time, citing his cooperation with investigators. Mueller’s office gave him some credit for his assistance, saying that while his crime was “serious,” he had “taken significant steps to mitigate his criminal conduct.”
“He chose to accept responsibility for his false statements and admit to his conduct in open court. He also has gone to significant lengths to assist the Special Counsel’s investigation,” the office wrote.
New York prosecutors, however, were far harsher in their assessment of Cohen’s character, saying he should get only a modest reduction in an expected prison sentence of about five years. In their 38-page filing, they suggest he should receive about 3 1/2 years in prison.
“He seeks extraordinary leniency – a sentence of no jail time – based principally on his rose-colored view of the seriousness of the crimes; his claims to a sympathetic personal history; and his provision of certain information to law enforcement,” prosecutors wrote in their filing. “But the crimes committed by Cohen were more serious than his submission allows and were marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.”
The filing also suggests that Cohen’s cooperation with law enforcement was not so significant to the investigations swirling around the president.
“To be clear: Cohen does not have a cooperation agreement and is not . . . properly described as a ‘cooperating witness,’ as that term is commonly used in this District,” the prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors also accused Cohen of holding back some of what he knew.
“This Office understands that the information provided by Cohen to [Mueller’s office] was ultimately credible and useful to its ongoing investigation,” prosecutors wrote, but said they would not give him a legal letter detailing his cooperation because “Cohen repeatedly declined to provide full information about the scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge.”
The two memos were submitted to U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley III, who is scheduled to sentence Cohen.
Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, said the filings show that Cohen “was trying to have it both ways” and that, instead of succeeding, he became “a textbook example of how not to cooperate with federal prosecutors.”
Mueller submitted a seven-page memo that doesn’t take any firm position on how long Cohen should spend in prison.
In their memo, New York federal prosecutors lambasted Cohen, detailing his lies to the IRS and banks and his gaming of the campaign finance system – acts that prosecutors said were driven largely by his “own ambition and greed.”
Cohen, they claimed, relished the role of being Trump’s “fixer,” trying to use it to win a role in the administration, and then, when that failed, he set out to swindle companies out of money by tricking them into thinking he could provide access and insight.
In reality, though, they said Cohen was not much more than “a man whose outlook on life was often to cheat,” and he did not deserve to be spared entirely because he finally decided to plead guilty.
“After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the Presidential election, Cohen’s decision to plead guilty – rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes – does not make him a hero,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors repeatedly highlighted what they suggested was minimal information provided by Cohen, noting that while he also met with New York state investigators and tax authorities, that cooperation “warrants little to no consideration as a mitigating factor” because Cohen told them nothing of value beyond what they would probably have gotten without his help.
The Mueller memo says that Cohen “repeated many of his prior false statements” when he met with the special counsel’s office in August, and it was only in a second meeting on Sept. 12 – after he pleaded guilty to the campaign finance charges – that he admitted “his prior statements about the Moscow Project had been deliberately false and misleading.”
The special counsel’s office wrote that Cohen’s lies to Congress “obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government,” and that, if completed, the Trump Organization could have received “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues.” They noted, as Cohen had already admitted, that Cohen and Trump discussed the project “well into the campaign.”
The special counsel’s office added, though, that Cohen “has gone to significant lengths to assist the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
The office wrote that Cohen had “explained financial aspects of the deal that would have made it highly lucrative,” and, without prompting, he had corrected other statements he made about his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign.
For example, Cohen said in a radio interview in September 2015 that Trump should meet with the president of Russia during the United Nations General Assembly, and he claimed for a time afterward that the comment had been “spontaneous” and not discussed with members of the campaign. In fact, the special counsel’s office said, Cohen later admitted that he had conferred with Trump about contacting the Russian government for the meeting – which ultimately did not take place.
In asking for a sentence of no prison time, Cohen stressed his extensive cooperation with Mueller as well as investigators from other agencies. His lawyers linked his wrongdoing directly to Trump, writing that Cohen was motivated to pay the women to keep quiet and lie to Congress out of his “fierce loyalty” to Trump. Trump had publicly denied the affairs and said he “stayed away” from business in Russia.
“He could have fought the government and continued to hold to the party line, positioning himself perhaps for a pardon or clemency, but, instead – for himself, his family, and his country – he took personal responsibility for his own wrongdoing and contributed, and is prepared to continue to contribute, to an investigation that he views as thoroughly legitimate and vital,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote in court papers submitted last week.
For his part, Trump ridiculed Cohen’s request on Twitter and seemed to contrast him with Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser who has suggested publicly that he would be unwilling to cooperate against the president.
Of Cohen, Trump said, “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.” Of Stone, he said, “Nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’ “