Robert Mueller: Cohen provided details 'core' to probe into Russian coordination with Trump campaign

Key pieces of the special counsel’s Russia investigation appear to be falling into place.
In three court filings Friday, prosecutors for the first time connected President Donald Trump to a crime involving hush money payments to a porn actress. They revealed new details about outreach from Russia early in the Trump presidential campaign. And they vividly laid out how they say two central figures in the Trump orbit — Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort — were continually tripped up by lies.
Here are the key takeaways from the latest round of court documents from Robert Mueller’s investigation:
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EARLY RUSSIAN OUTREACH
Trump announced his presidential candidacy in June 2015 — and by November, the Russians were reaching out about “political synergy.”
The court papers provide new details about one of the earliest known contacts between Russia and a Trump campaign associate. In fall 2015, Cohen was months into his work on a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow when an unidentified Russian national proposed a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The person, prosecutors say, claimed to be a “trusted person” in Russia, who could offer the Trump campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.”
And the person sought to connect the Trump business project with the campaign, saying the meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact on the proposed tower in Moscow. There is “no bigger warranty in any project than the consent of” Putin, the person told Cohen.
Prosecutors say Cohen didn’t follow up, and the meeting never occurred.
Still, the outreach is more evidence that Russia was eager to build relationships with the Trump campaign and sought to use Trump’s business as an entree.
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TRUMP DIRECTED COHEN’S CRIME
Prosecutors didn’t mince words: The campaign finance violations Cohen committed came “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump, according to the new filings.
Those violations stemmed from payments Cohen made to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both had alleged they had affairs with Trump, which the White House denies. Daniels was paid $130,000 as part of a nondisclosure agreement signed days before the 2016 election.
Trump has denied knowing anything about the Daniels payment. But the filing directly contradicts that claim. It also, for the first time, directly ties Trump to a federal crime. Campaign finance law requires candidates to report any payments made to influence the election. The Trump campaign failed to report the payment at the time.
Prosecutors don’t say Trump broke the law and the Justice Department has maintained that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
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PUBLIC STATEMENTS MATTER TO MUELLER
At least they did when Cohen lied to Congress— and it could have implications for other episodes under investigation in the Russia probe.
Cohen has admitted lying to Congress about how long he worked on the Trump Tower Moscow project and repeating the falsehoods to the press. But Mueller’s team doesn’t just consider this self-protection. It was a “deliberate effort” to publicly present a “false narrative” in the hopes of limiting the scope of the various Russia investigations, prosecutors say in the court papers.
Mueller’s focus on public assertions — and their impact on witnesses, lawmakers and ongoing investigations — could serve as a warning shot to Trump.
The president also has spread falsehoods about his campaign’s ties to Russia. The special counsel has questioned witnesses about a statement Trump dictated on Air Force One last year that omitted several details about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian attorney.
The filing suggests Mueller intends to hold witnesses accountable for the statements made privately and publicly. If the lies are meant to influence the investigation, they may factor into Mueller investigation into whether Trump has tried to obstruct the probe.
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TRUMP ADMINISTRATION CONTACTS
Despite their criminal cases, the Trump administration just can’t quit Manafort or Cohen, according to prosecutors.
In Cohen’s case, Mueller’s team said he has provided “relevant and useful” information about his contacts with people connected to the Trump White House in 2017 and 2018. With Manafort, prosecutors say he also had several recent Trump administration contacts — and lied about them.
After Manafort pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government, prosecutors say he told them he had “no direct or indirect” contact with people in the Trump administration. But that was a lie, they say.
Instead, they found evidence, including electronic documents, showing contacts with multiple Trump administration officials. That included communication with a “senior administration official” through February 2018. Manafort also directed a person to speak with an administration official on his “behalf” on May 26.
Neither Cohen’s nor Manafort’s filings detail the content of the conversations or identify the officials. Manafort has contended he was truthful with Mueller’s team.
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NOT JUST COHEN’S WORD
Since his guilty plea, Trump has attacked Cohen as a liar who is telling “stories” to get a reduced prison sentence. But prosecutors revealed Friday that they’re not just taking Cohen’s word for it.
The information Cohen told prosecutors in seven separate interviews “has been credible and consistent with other evidence obtained” in Mueller’s investigation, they note in the sentencing recommendation.
Some of that information from Cohen, prosecutors say, concerns “certain discrete Russia-related matters” at the “core” of Mueller’s probe, particularly those involving his contact with Trump Organization executives.
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‘LUCRATIVE’ MOSCOW DEAL
Trump and his lawyers have downplayed the Trump Tower Moscow proposal. The president has said he never put any money into it and ultimately decided not to do it. But Mueller’s team reveals that if he did, they believe they know the windfall.
According to Cohen’s filing, the deal could have yielded “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues.”
They also note that the project’s success likely hinged on Russian government approval, which Cohen sought.
Despite a sharply critical assessment of Michael Cohen's cooperation with New York federal prosecutors in a campaign-finance investigation, President Donald Trump's former fixer and personal attorney has given Russia special counsel Robert Mueller a potential bounty of information about the Trump campaign's contacts with the Kremlin.
In seven separate meetings with Mueller's team, according to new court documents filed Friday, Cohen described contacts with Russian sources that appeared to go far beyond his previously acknowledged efforts to conceal a proposed – and later abandoned –Trump Tower project in Moscow.
"Cohen provided the (special counsel's office) with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contacts with (Trump Organization) executives during the campaign," Mueller's team said in a seven-page sentencing memorandum.
The substance of Cohen's assistance was not disclosed, but the statement offered perhaps the most striking acknowledgement by the special counsel of the Trump campaign's links to Russia and government's pursuit of them.
Michael Cohen
Mary Altaffer, AP
As early as November 2015, prosecutors said, Cohen was in contact with an unidentified Russian national who claimed to be a "trusted person" in the Russian government who was offering the Trump campaign "political synergy."
Trump announced his bid for the White House in June 2015.
Cohen told prosecutors that the contact "repeatedly proposed" a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"The person told Cohen that such a meeting could have a phenomenal impact not only in (politics) but in a business dimension, as well," the documents state.
Cohen told prosecutors that the reference to a "business dimension" referred to the ultimately abandoned Moscow Trump Tower project. The Russian contact went further, according to the documents, telling Cohen that there is "no bigger warranty in any project than consent of (Putin)."
Prosecutors said the tower project "likely required the assistance of the Russian government. And if completed, the company stood to gain hundreds of millions dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues." 
In a brief tweet, Trump, who has disparaged Cohen as a liar, appeared to entirely dismiss the new allegations contained in the court documents.
"Totally clears the President," Trump wrote. Thank you!"

'Relevant, useful information' about White House

Cohen pleaded guilty last week to lying to Congress about the Moscow project as part of his cooperation agreement with Mueller.
In yet another detail from Mueller's Friday memorandum that is likely to give the White House new pause, prosecutors said that Cohen provided "relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 time period."
Special counsel Robert Mueller
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
"The defendant has provided and committed to continue to provide, relevant and truthful information to the (special counsel) in an effort to assist with the investigation," the documents state.
A companion document filed by federal prosecutors in New York, where Cohen also has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, however, offered a sometimes-blistering assessment of Cohen's cooperation in that case.
"Cohen repeatedly declined to provide full information about the cope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged," New York prosecutors asserted, urging a federal judge to impose a "substantial term of imprisonment."

Prosecutors: Cohen orchestrated payoffs

Still, the New York prosecutors alleged for the first time that Cohen orchestrated payoffs to two women “in coordination with and at the direction of” then-candidate Trump, whom they identified in court filings as “Individual 1.” Cohen had said in court that Trump was behind the payoffs, but Friday’s filing was the first time that Justice Department lawyers have themselves implicated the president in the crime.
Prosecutors in New York said Cohen had met with them to provide information “about the participation of others in the campaign finance crimes” to which he pleaded guilty. The charges against Cohen include veiled references to executives at Trump’s private business, The Trump Organization, as well as at American Media Inc., the publisher of The National Enquirer.
According to the documents, Cohen also "coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls."
At the same time, prosecutors suggested that Cohen had declined to give them information about yet another subject they were investigating.
White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders criticized Cohen.
“The government’s filings in Mr. Cohen’s case tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known," Sanders said. "Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero.”
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, said the filing from New York prosecutors in the campaign finance case "concluded that the president has directed someone to commit crimes.”
“Michael Cohen is a convicted liar and fraudster," Mariotti said. "So it’s one thing for him to say that the president directed him to commit a crime. It’s a whole separate thing for federal prosecutors, who ostensibly work for the president, to say that it is their conclusion that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to commit a crime.”
The filings come just days after Mueller cited the "substantial" cooperation provided by former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. Mueller has recommended that Flynn serve no prison time after pleading guilty last year to lying to the FBI in part about his pre-inaugural contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
While the 13-page Flynn filing was heavily reacted, Mueller acknowledged that Flynn had met with prosecutors 19 times in the past year and was not only cooperating in the ongoing Russia inquiry but also in two other investigations. The subjects of those additional investigations, one of them a criminal inquiry, were not disclosed.
The White House attempted to dismiss a barrage of new developments in the Russia investigation Friday, saying the updates were not "of value" and not related to the president. 
President Donald Trump also posted on Twitter, appearing to feel vindicated after special counsel Robert Mueller released new details in the criminal cases against Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, and Michael Cohen, his former attorney and fixer. 
"Totally clears the President. Thank you!" Trump said in a short post on Twitter. He didn't elaborate as to what he was referring to, though the timing of the tweet suggested he was reacting to the new information released in the investigation, which he's dubbed a "witch hunt." 
The new information released by the New York prosecutors and Mueller's team, some of which was redacted and blacked out, did not accuse the president of colluding with Russia and did not reveal any new information as to whether the president was informed or played any role in the Russian effort to sow discord during the election.
But, the documents do show Trump's connection in some of the crimes, specifically alleging that the president directed Cohen to commit two felonies when he violated campaign finance laws. They also offer new insights as to the direction in which the probe is heading, something that could pose issues for the president and his family. 

Trump Organization, the president's company, is mentioned several times, along with a possible deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Mueller's office seems to draw a connection to the deal, which continued during the 2016 election, and the Russian government's efforts to interrupt the election in favor of him. Both, the special counsel notes, were happening simultaneously. 
The filings also include that Cohen was contacted by a Russian national as far back as 2015 in hopes of setting up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, something that prosecutors note could have helped Trump's aspirations of building a Trump Tower in Moscow. The meeting never happened. 
Mueller is still investigating Russian interference and large portions of his office's filings in recent days have been blacked out, a telling sign that there's more to come and details that have not been revealed to the public. 
But the lack of a smoking gun being revealed or any substantial links between Russian collusion and the president were not lost with the White House. 
“The government’s filing in Mr. Manafort’s case says absolutely nothing about the President," said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. "It says even less about collusion and is devoted almost entirely to lobbying-related issues. Once again the media is trying to create a story where there isn’t one.”
Sanders claimed that there was nothing of value released in the 47 pages of documents released by both New York prosecutors and those working with Mueller's office. 
"The government’s filings in Mr. Cohen’s case tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known," she said. "Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero." 
Sanders didn't address the new revelations in the filings, specifically when it came to Cohen and the connections between Russia and the Trump Organization.