Trump’s ex-lawyer Cohen in contact with Russian seeking ‘political synergy, Mueller says

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors in New York said in a court filing Friday that President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, should receive a “substantial” prison sentence of roughly four years for tax fraud and campaign finance crimes.

Prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office accused him in a separate filing of lying to them about his contacts with Russia.

Mueller also revealed that a Russian national who claimed to be well-connected in Moscow spoke with Cohen in 2015 and offered “political synergy” with the Trump campaign.

The pair of memos from two sets of prosecutors reflect their views of Cohen’s criminality and utility to the federal investigations ahead of his scheduled sentencing on December 12.

In their filing, prosecutors from the Manhattan US Attorney’s office knocked Cohen’s “rose-colored view of the seriousness of his crimes,” noting his years-long willingness to break the law. “He was motivated to do so by personal greed, and repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends,” the filing said.

In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal crimes after being charged by Manhattan federal prosecutors. Those include tax fraud, making false statements to a bank and campaign finance violations tied to his work for Trump, including payments Cohen made or helped orchestrate that were designed to silence women who claimed affairs with the then-presidential candidate. Trump has denied those claims.

Cohen was subsequently charged last week by Mueller’s office with one count of lying to Congress.

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s then-personal lawyer arrives at the Hart Senate Office Building to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on September 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“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 for the southern district wrote.

The filings on Cohen, and a submission from Mueller about Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, appear to further tighten the net that Mueller is gathering around the President and his inner circle.

They come at a time when Trump appears to be increasingly worried and furious about the investigation, following a searing tweet storm aimed at the special counsel on Friday.

Mueller’s sentencing memo lays out how the Trump Tower Moscow project is relevant to Russia’s election meddling during the 2016 campaign.

The special counsel memo states that Cohen’s false statements to investigators about the Trump Tower Moscow project “obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government.”

Mueller’s office said the fact that Cohen continued to work on the Trump Tower Moscow project — and discuss it with Trump — was material to both the ongoing congressional and special counsel investigations, noting in particular that “it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.”

Mueller argues that the false timeline that Cohen laid out publicly and in his testimony — that the Trump Tower Moscow discussions ended in January 2016 — was a deliberate effort to limit the investigations into Russia’s election interference.

In pleading guilty, Cohen disclosed that talks about the proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow had extended through June 2016, after Trump had become the presumptive Republican nominee for president, and that both Trump and his family members had been briefed on the discussions. Cohen also acknowledged pursuing plans to send Trump and himself to Russia in service of the project and discussing the proposed development directly with a representative of the Kremlin.

In the special counsel case, Cohen was given a cooperation agreement, with prosecutors agreeing to alert US District Court Judge William Pauley III to “the nature and extent of the defendant’s cooperation with this office.”

Special counsel prosecutors indicated in court papers that Cohen had met with their office seven times, and Cohen’s attorneys later disclosed in their own filing that Cohen had also met twice with New York federal prosecutors to assist in their ongoing investigative efforts, as well as with the New York attorney general’s office on two matters, including its lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation. Additionally, they said, he assisted with requests for information from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, which has been examining the Trump Organization.

The Cohen cases are being considered together for sentencing purposes. In the New York federal case, the stipulated guideline range of Cohen’s prison term is between 46 and 63 months with a range of fines of between $20,000 and $1 million, although that was determined before Cohen had received a cooperation agreement from the special counsel’s office.

The judge can deviate from the guidelines when he determines Cohen’s sentence. Cohen’s attorneys have asked the court to give him no prison time.

In a filing, Cohen’s attorneys emphasized that his cooperation required exceptional “fortitude” due to the unusual circumstance in which the inquiry he has been seeking to assist — the special counsel’s investigation — has been routinely condemned by Trump.

“Michael is cooperating in a setting in which the legitimacy of the [special counsel’s] investigation — and the rationale for its very existence — is regularly questioned publicly and stridently by the President of the United States,” Cohen’s attorneys wrote.