Mueller: Russian national offered Trump campaign ‘political synergy’ in 2015, Cohen says
- Special counsel claims US president’s former lawyer disclosed significant new information to the investigation into Russia’s alleged election meddling
US prosecutors have revealed that a Russian offered cooperation to Donald Trump’s campaign as early as 2015, declaring that the president’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen had provided “relevant” and “substantial” help to the Russia investigation.
In a separate case, federal prosecutors Friday demanded “substantial” jail time of between 51 to 63 months – four to five years – for Cohen for bank fraud and campaign finance violations to which he plead guilty in August.
US Attorney Robert Khuzami accused the 52-year-old, who once vowed to take a bullet for the president, of being motivated by “personal greed” and of “repeatedly” using his power and influence for “deceptive ends.”
The new details were disclosed in court filings submitted by Mueller and federal prosecutors in Manhattan in advance of Cohen’s sentencing for violating campaign finance laws, committing financial crimes and lying to Congress.
They were swiftly followed by new disclosures in the criminal prosecution of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. He was accused by Mueller of repeatedly lying about his relationship with an alleged former Russian intelligence operative and recent communications with the White House.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said: “The government’s filings in Mr Cohen’s case tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known. Mr Cohen has repeatedly lied … Mr Cohen is no hero.”
Cohen gave investigators “relevant and useful information” about his contacts this year and last with people “connected to the White House”, according to Mueller, hinting Cohen may have implicated Trump and aides in wrongdoing.
Manafort, meanwhile, falsely claimed he had no contact with Trump’s administration since it entered office, according to Mueller. In fact, he was communicating with a senior official until February this year and asked an intermediary to talk to an official on his behalf as recently as late May.
Whether Manafort’s ties to pro-Kremlin figures in eastern Europe are connected to Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election is the big question in the inquiry.
Prosecutors said he overstated his overall cooperation with the government and showed a “rose-coloured view of the seriousness of the crimes”.
Despite his wrongdoing, Mueller said, Cohen disclosed significant new information to the investigation into Russia’s alleged election meddling. US intelligence agencies have concluded the action was aimed at helping Trump and harming the campaign of Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent.
On Friday Mueller said in November 2015, Cohen spoke with a Russian “who claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation” and offered Trump’s campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level”.
The Russian repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Putin, according to Mueller, and told Cohen the meeting “could have a ‘phenomenal’ impact ‘not only in political but in a business dimension as well’”, because there was “no bigger warranty in any project than consent of Putin”.
Mueller said Cohen chose not to pursue the offer of help in part because he was working on the project with someone else he “understood to have his own connections to the Russian government”, a possible reference to Felix Sater, a developer who was working on the Trump Tower Moscow plans.
Last week, Mueller tore up a plea deal with Manafort and told a judge he repeatedly lied to investigators even after agreeing to cooperate with the Trump-Russia investigation.
In his submission on Friday, Mueller said Manafort lied about five areas of the inquiry, including his relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian employee of Manafort’s political consulting firm. Kilimnik is alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence, which he denies. Manafort and Kilimnik are accused of asking business associates early this year to lie about their past lobbying work.
Additional reporting by The Guardian