A trio of sentencing memos filed Friday in cases against President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort offer the strongest indication yet of repeated contact or coordination between members of the Trump campaign and Russian operatives at a time when Russia was attempting to interfere in and exert influence on the 2016 presidential election.
Cohen, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office acknowledged, presented a false narrative in the days leading up to the Iowa caucus about the status of the “Moscow Project,” a proposed deal to build a Trump Tower Moscow, “deliberately” shifting “the timeline of what had occurred in the hopes of limiting the investigations into possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election – an issue of heightened national interest.”
After initially lying to Congress and to the special counsel’s team, Cohen came clean, admitting to trying to “minimize his role in and what he knew about contacts between [the “Manhattan-based real estate company” – the Trump Organization - he worked for] and Russian interests during the course of the campaign.”
Mueller said Cohen has been assisting his office since September 2018, meeting in seven proffer sessions to provide “the SCO with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation [widely agreed to be Russian interference in the election] that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with the Company executives during the campaign.”
Cohen also offered up details not only about his own contacts with Russians, but also about Russian nationals’ efforts to reach the campaign as well as “relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during” 2017-2018.
“For example, in or around November 2015, Cohen received the contact information for, and spoke with, a Russian national who claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level,” the memo read.
The lawyer, who called himself the president’s fixer, also “described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries.”
While Mueller remained relatively mum on details and declined to recommend sentencing for Cohen, noting only that his cooperation should persuade the court to allow his sentence for lying to run concurrently with any imposed in the Southern District of New York case, the New York-based prosecutors in a separate filing dropped the proverbial hammer on Cohen for a variety of felonies, including violating campaign finance laws when making hush money payments to two women at the behest of the president (referred to as Individual-1 in the filing), and called for him to serve four years.
The 55-page memo from the Southern District of New York acknowledged Cohen’s cooperation with Mueller’s office but contended that the seriousness of his crimes and the level of his cooperation with its office demand a tk punishment.
“Cohen’s crimes are particularly serious because they were committed on the eve of a Presidential election, and they were intended to affect that election,” the memo read.
Separately, in a heavily redacted memo, Mueller outlined how Manafort lied about contacts with Russian national associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who has connections to Russian military intelligence, and had ongoing interactions with the Trump administration even after he had entered into a plea deal with the special counsel’s office, leading prosecutors to void his plea agreement.
Manafort, who was convicted on eight counts earlier this year, previously had said he had spoken to Kliminick about WikiLeaks and the release emails stolen from the DNC and other Democratic operatives at the time he served as Trump campaign manager. He was also in attendance at a controversial meeting at Trump Tower in 2016 with Donald Trump, Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to get dirt on Clinton.
The Manafort and Cohen memos were filed just a few days after Mueller recommended that former National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn avoid prison time for lying to the FBI since he has offered “substantial assistance” on a number of ongoing investigations, including Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the presidential election and any potential coordination between the nation-state and members of the Trump transition team.
Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor early in 2017 after then acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates warned the White House that he had misrepresented the content of his calls with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and could be vulnerable to blackmail.