A web of lies and deceit: The Trump-Russia plot thickens with Michael Cohen guilty plea
Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, lied to two Republican congressional committees, and Donald Trump is OK with that.
Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to Congress regarding Trump’s involvement in the now infamous efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen told Congress last year that the efforts ended in early 2016. In fact, court documents show, they continued nearly until the Republican convention.
Cohen originally claimed that the deal died when, in January of 2016, he sent an email about the project to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, and never received a response. Not only did Cohen receive a response, he had a 20-minute phone call with an assistant to Peskov (“Russian official 1”). The contacts continued and, that May, Cohen was even invited to “Russia’s Davos” along with a possible opportunity to meet either with the prime minister of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, or with Putin himself.
Coincidentally, the deal was not actually killed off until June 14, 2016, the day The Washington Post broke the story that the Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee. Huh. Go figure.
Collusion with Russia on lying to Congress
President Trump’s response to all this was typically combative, and that’s a very bad sign for Trump. We have more than enough data now to conclude that his derision for special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe is directly related to it effectiveness. The better Mueller does his job, the louder are the president’s claims that it’s a waste of money and an “illegal Joseph McCarthy-style witch hunt.”
And that’s an odd claim coming from Trump, since Roy Cohn, his personal lawyer for many years, was Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man during the infamous McCarthy hearings.
What can we make of all this? First, while maybe there isn’t a smoking gun, yet, on the Trump campaign working with the Russians to help Trump win the election, there is now a smoking gun proving that the Russians colluded with Trump and his people to lie to Congress.
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That is because in August 2017, after Cohen told Congress that he had never heard back from Peskov, the press secretary issued a public statement admitting he had received an email from Cohen and backing Cohen’s claim that he never responded: “Since, I repeat again, we do not react to such business topics — this is not our work — we left it unanswered.”
Second, President Trump was in this whole mess up to his eyeballs. He made brief remarks to reporters Thursday during which he revealed that he, himself, had killed off the Moscow deal. “I decided not to do it,” he said.
This is directly contrary to what Michael Cohen told Congress when he claimed that he had let the deal lapse in January of 2016 without discussing it with Trump, since he could not move it forward. Who decided to terminate further discussions about the deal with Moscow? It was Trump in June, not Cohen in January.
But Trump knew all this perfectly well when Cohen lied to Congress on his behalf in August of 2017. And yet, he did nothing to correct the record, content to let the lie stand. Perhaps worse, he was perfectly comfortable with the Russian government’s complicity in reinforcing it.
Impeachable if Congress wants it to be
Let me make this clear: On Donald Trump’s behalf, Michael Cohen and the Russians lied to two Republican-led congressional committees with the specific intent of derailing the Mueller investigation. Trump knew all about this and, at a minimum, did absolutely nothing to stop it or to correct the record. And none of this would ever have come to light were it not for Mueller’s dogged efforts to expose the truth and protect our democratic institutions.
Is this impeachable? I don’t know. As a practical matter, “high crimes and misdemeanors” are whatever Congress decides they are. But Trump’s cynical lies make the very people he claims to lead look like utter fools. By endorsing Cohen’s perjury, Trump could not make his contempt for Congress and the Republican majority more clear.
Hopefully that, if nothing else, will finally make congressional Republicans step up and do their jobs by protecting Mueller’s investigation. Even lap dogs will bite if you twist their tails.
Chris Truax, an appellate lawyer in San Diego, is on the legal advisory board of Republicans for the Rule of Law.
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