NEW YORK — Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, made a surprise appearance before a federal judge in New York on Thursday and pleaded guilty to lying to Congress to cover up that he was negotiating a real estate deal in Moscow on Trump's behalf during the heat of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump called Cohen a “weak person” who is lying to get a lighter sentence.
The charge was brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the presidential election, and was the result of his cooperation with that probe.
Flanked by his lawyers, Cohen admitted making false statements about the project in 2017 to Senate and House intelligence committees, which at the time were investigating possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.
His comments made clear that his communications with Trump about the project were much more frequent than he had suggested.
Cohen, 52, wearing a blue tie and dark suit, was noticeably relaxed throughout the appearance in a packed Manhattan courtroom, unlike his irritable and emotional demeanor when he entered a guilty plea during the summer.
Cohen told the judge he lied about the timing of the negotiations, his communications with people in the company and in Russia about the deal, and other details to be loyal to Trump and consistent with Trump's “political messaging.” Cohen and prosecutors referred to Trump as “individual one” throughout Thursday's proceedings and said he lied “to be loyal to Individual One.”
Among other lies, Cohen said he told Congress that all discussions about building a Trump Tower in Moscow had ended by January 2016, when they had actually continued until June of that year.
He said he also lied about his contacts with Russian officials and lied when he said he never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the project and never discussed with Trump plans to travel to Moscow to support the project.
Prosecutors said in a court document that Cohen had misled Congress to give a false impression that the Moscow project had ended before the Iowa caucus and first Republican presidential primary in 2016.
As he left the White House shortly after the court proceeding concluded, Trump called Cohen “a weak person”
“Michael Cohen is lying and he's trying to get a reduced sentence,” Trump said.
Nothing said in court, or in associated court filings, addressed whether Trump or his aides had directed Cohen to mislead Congress.
The charges were handled by Mueller's team, not the federal prosecutors in New York who handled Cohen's previous guilty plea in August to other federal charges involving his taxi businesses, bank fraud and his campaign work for Trump. Cohen is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 12.
Cohen declined to comment as he left the courtroom.
Cohen's lawyer, Guy Petrillo, noted that a letter from federal prosecutors showed that Cohen's cooperation with Mueller will be described to Cohen's sentencing judge. However, the letter makes clear that Cohen is not receiving the kind of “5K1.1” letter written on behalf of formal government cooperators.
Reacting to the plea, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Cohen “should be prosecuted to the extent of the law. That's why we put people under oath.”
Cohen gave a statement to congressional committees last year saying the president's company pursued a project in Moscow during the Republican primary but that the plan was abandoned “for a variety of business reasons.”
Cohen also said he sent an email to the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of the potential deal.
In his statement, he said that he worked on the real estate proposal with Felix Sater, a Russia-born associate who he said claimed to have deep connections in Moscow.
The discussions about the potential development began after Trump had declared his candidacy. Cohen had said the talks ended when he determined that the project was not feasible.
Cohen had also disclosed that Trump was personally aware of the deal, signing a letter of intent and discussing it with Cohen on two other occasions.
- Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen admits lying about Russian deal
- Michael Cohen heads to prison in Trump hush-money scheme
- Michael Cohen's prison reality: 'The Situation' and Shabbat services
- William Barr says he thinks 'spying' occurred against Trump campaign
- Trump declares victory now but legal perils far from over
- Michael Cohen says Trump knew about WikiLeaks email dump beforehand
- Michael Cohen expected to tell senators about Trump Russia contacts
- Michael Cohen says Trump knew about WikiLeaks email dump beforehand (UPDATED, LIVE VIDEO)
- As protectors abandon Trump, investigation draws closer
- Ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen gets 3 years in prison
- Top House Dems raise prospect of impeachment, jail for Trump
- Ex-Trump fixer Michael Cohen portrayed as greedy opportunist
- Court deadlines set stage for more Russia probe details
- Lawmakers press for a full Russia probe report from Robert Mueller
- After arrest, Michael Avenatti denies LA domestic violence
- With new Justice official, fate of Russia probe in question
- Russia probe revival expected if Democrats win House
- Donald Trump tells AP he won't accept blame if GOP loses House
- Probes of Donald Trump taxes carry potential for millions in fines
- Rosenstein's job to be topic of Thursday meeting with Trump
- Mueller probe gets info from ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen
- Concern in White House over shortage of lawyers, press aides
- News media hesitate to use 'lie' for Trump's misstatements
- The Latest: Sessions seems to push back against Trump barb
- President Trump talks snitching with Fox News
- Democrats seek to keep focus on corruption, not impeachment
- Trump denies wrongdoing, says Cohen is making up stories
- New York state subpoenas Cohen in Trump Foundation probe
- Jury returns guilty verdict on eight charges in Paul Manafort charges; 10 more declared mistrial
- Analysis: With Cohen plea, GOP faces familiar Trump quandary
- Inside catch and kill: Cohen, a porn star and 'Individual 1'
- The Latest: Cohen says hush money paid to influence election (UPDATED)
- Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort found guilty on 8 of 18 counts (UPDATED)
- Trump appears to change story on meeting with Russian lawyer
- White House: Trump's tweet about Russia probe was an opinion
- Legal implications on Trump or Cohen unclear on secret tape
- Trump recorded discussing paying for Playboy model's story
- A day after arrest, Stormy Daniels dances but doesn't touch
- Police say they made 'error' in Stormy Daniels arrest; charges dropped (UPDATED)
- Wet hot Washington: Stormy Daniels strips near White House
- Sanctioned Russian oligarch linked to Cohen has vast US ties
- Donald Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen fires possible warning
- White Sox 3, Indians 2: Covey pitches Chicago past Bauer
- Michael Cohen hunts for new lawyers in FBI probe (UPDATED)
- Immigration firm seems to thrive after Trump lawyer's help
- Rudy Giuliani trying to influence perception of Mueller probe
- The princes, the president and the fortune seekers
- The year of Mueller: 12 months in, here's what we've learned
- Porn star's lawyer says Russian paid Trump attorney Cohen
- Trump considers benching Giuliani from doing TV interviews
- Giuliani finds aiding Trump with his defense is a struggle
- Trump's new 'Stormy' story stuns many in West Wing
- 'Were you lying?' Sanders faces new credibility questions
- Shakeup in Trump's legal team may usher in tougher stance
- Giuliani comments on Stormy payment raise legal questions
- Jim Jordan talks about potential Speaker bid at Amherst town hall
- Report: Mueller team gives Trump lawyers a list of questions
- APNewsBreak: Cohen loaned millions to Ukraine-born cab mogul
- Trump's Cohen comments raise questions about relationship with Stormy Daniels
- Trump says Cohen represented him in "Stormy Daniels deal"
- Lawyer: Trump ready for role in raids' evidence review
- Mystery grows over pro-Saudi tabloid: Embassy got sneak peek
- Trump legal team in Russia probe gets Rudy Giuliani
- Defending Trump in Russia probe? It's hardly a dream job
- The Latest: Sean Hannity: Michael Cohen legal consultation 'no big deal'
- Trump: All lawyers 'deflated' by FBI raid on Michael Cohen
- $30,000 rumor? Tabloid paid for, spiked, salacious Trump tip
- FBI raid sought Cohen's communications with Trump campaign
- As Trump fumes, senators craft a bill to protect Mueller
- Trump fumes at Mueller probe after raid on attorney
- Trump furious after FBI seizes documents from his lawyer (UPDATED)
- Ratings big for "60 Minutes" Stormy Daniels interview, some pushback
- Porn star reveals details about alleged encounter with Trump
- Porn star sues Trump over nondisclosure agreement
- Indians: Michael Brantley taking it slow, won't rush recovery from ankle surgery
- Porn star says she feels free to discuss Trump encounter
- Trump lawyer says he paid porn actress out of his own pocket
- Amid publicity tour, porn star denies affair with Trump
- Bruno Mars crashes rap's big party at the Grammys
- Trump's fundraising prowess keeps Republican Party close
- AP Investigation: A patchwork of justice for juvenile lifers
- Senate panel eager to hear from Comey, given OK to testify
- AP Source: Flynn agrees to provide some requested documents