Notes on the Cohen plea

In connection with Michael Cohen’s guilty plea to one count of making false statements to Congress yesterday (see Criminal Information below), I have a few notes. I want to keep these notes simple consistent with a low level of confidence in my understanding of what is happening here.

• The first stories previewing Michael Cohen’s guilty plea to making false statements to Congress were posted yesterday morning before the the Criminal Information became public and the misrepresentations identified. When the news first flashed, I wondered whether the false statements included the denial of Cohen’s alleged trip to Prague in 2016, confirming a key part of the so-called Steele Dossier.

• Peter Stone and Greg Gordon reported (or “reported,” in the fake news genre) that Mueller has evidence of the alleged trip earlier this year. If so, I thought, perhaps Mueller is approaching something like “collusion” that is supposed to bear on his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

• Cohen testified before both the Senate and the house that he never went to Prague. Like the dog that didn’t bark that provides the key evidence in the Sherlock Holmes story, the Prague trip is the dog that doesn’t bark in the Criminal Information. Cohen’s misrepresentations are not tied to Russian interference.

• Cohen’s testimonial misrepresentations are spelled out at pages 5-8 of the Criminal Information. They all involve the Trump company’s interest in a Moscow real estate project. Contrary to Cohen’s testimony, the Moscow project was discussed several times from January to June 2016; Cohen agreed to travel to Russia and took steps “in contemplation of” of a possible trip by “Individual 1” (i.e., Trump) to Russia; and Cohen actually recalled that in January 2016 he heard from a Russian official in the office of Putin’s press secretary and spoke to him about the project.

• The Criminal Information specifies evidence in Mueller’s possession documenting these misrepresentations. Andrew McCarthy’s NR column “Trump Tower Meeting Silently Looms Over Cohen’s False Statements Plea” provides the help needed to construe the Criminal Information.

• Jeffrey Toobin seeks the ominous turn here in the New Yorker column “The legal perils that Michael Cohen’s guilty plea poses for Donald Trump.” (The New Yorker used to be famous for its meticulous editing. I may be mistaken, but I think the plural subject of the headline [legal perils] disagrees with the singular form of the verb [poses]. See also my post “Glenn Simpson: The New Yorker version.”) Shocker: Trump was pursuing his business interests in the course of the campaign.

• Carol Leonnig and Josh Dawsey also seek the ominous turn in the Washington Post story “‘Individual 1’: Trump emerges as a central subject of the Mueller probe.” This is news? We’ve been on this development for a long time. It’s the essence of the investigation that Mueller took over. We call it the Mueller Switch Project.

• Thanks to the work of Rep. Devin Nunes and his Republican colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, we know of actual collusion by a presidential campaign with organs of Russian intelligence. I refer to the Clinton campaign’s work with the friends of Vladimir Putin via the Perkins Coie, Glenn Simpson/Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele. It’s on the face of the Steele Dossier.

• If one seeks false statements to Congress that bear on Russian interference and campaign collusion, look no further than Glenn Simpson’s testimony to the congressional intelligence committees. John and I wrote about Simpson’s testimony in several posts that can be accessed here.

• Republican counsel questioning Simpson focused mostly on Simpson’s simultaneous work with the BakerHostetler law firm on behalf of the Russian company Prevezon in support of its defense of the money laundering/asset forfeiture case brought by the Untied States (in the case underlying the Magnitsky Act). Recall that Simpson’s work with BakerHostetler brought him into contact with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya immediately before and after she met held the infamous meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. et al. at Trump Tower. In part Simpson’s job was to provide research undermining the credibility of Bill Browder, the proponent of the Magnitsky Act in the United States and similar laws elsewhere.

• Incidentally, Trump’s Jr.’s meeting all by itself belies the collusion hysteria in the case of the Trump campaign.

• It is almost unbelievable that at the time Simpson was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign he was also working with the BakerHostetler law firm on behalf of the Russian oligarch Denis Katsyv and Prevezon Holdings in support of their defense in the asset forfeiture/money laundering case brought by the United States. Simpson’s work required him to dog Bill Browder, the well-known proponent of the Magnitsky Act.

• Indeed, as I understand it, Magnitsky originally uncovered the facts underlying the government’s case against Prevezon. In the interview counsel asked Simpson the obvious question whether he understood his work on the Prevezon case principally to have benefited the Russian government. Suffice it to say that Simpson’s labored answer did not enhance his credibility as a witness. Simpson also claimed not to know anything about Veselnitskaya’s meeting with Trump Jr. A serious prosecutor investigation Russian interference might make something of it all.

• A serious prosecutor might also make something of the incredible governmental wrongdoing at the heart of the investigation that gave rise to the Mueller probe. It is the biggest political scandal in our history and Trump is a victim of it, not a perpetrator. See, e.g., Julie Kelly’s American Greatness column “The incorrigible Mr. Comey.” Touching on a point I make above, Kelly cites Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s press release Complaint: Firm behind Dossier & Former Russian Intel Officer Joined Lobbying Effort to Kill Pro-Whistleblower Sanctions for Kremlin.

• It’s almost enough to make an observant bystander conclude that the Mueller probe is a pretext to support the removal of Trump from office and a diversion from the collusion of the Clinton campaign with Russian interference in the election.

Cohen False Statements Criminal Information by Scott Johnson on Scribd

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