For Trump, Cohen Plea Deal's Beginning to Look a Lot Like ExonerationBy Paul Sperry
Dec. 03, 2018
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Contrary to media speculation that Robert Mueller is closing in on President Trump, the special prosecutor’s plea deal with Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen offers further evidence that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russians during the 2016 election, according to congressional investigators and former prosecutors.
Cohen pleaded guilty last week to making false statements in 2017 to the Senate intelligence committee about the Trump Organization’s failed efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Discussions about the so-called Moscow Project continued five months longer in 2016 than Cohen had initially stated under oath.
The nine-page charging document filed with the plea deal suggests that the special counsel is using the Moscow tower talks to connect Trump to Russia. But congressional investigators with House and Senate committees leading inquiries on the Russia question told RealClearInvestigations that it looks like Mueller withheld from the court details that would exonerate the president. They made this assessment in light of the charging document, known as a statement of “criminal information” (filed in lieu of an indictment when a defendant agrees to plead guilty); a fuller accounting of Cohen’s emails and text messages that Capitol Hill sources have seen; and the still-secret transcripts of closed-door testimony provided by a business associate of Cohen.
On page 7 of the statement of criminal information filed against Cohen, which is separate from but related to the plea agreement, Mueller mentions that Cohen tried to email Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office on Jan. 14, 2016, and again on Jan. 16, 2016. But Mueller, who personally signed the document, omitted the fact that Cohen did not have any direct points of contact at the Kremlin, and had resorted to sending the emails to a general press mailbox. Sources who have seen these additional emails point out that this omitted information undercuts the idea of a “back channel” and thus the special counsel's collusion case.
Page 2 of the same criminal information document holds additional exculpatory evidence for Trump, sources say. It quotes an August 2017 letter from Cohen to the Senate intelligence committee in which he states that Trump “was never in contact with anyone about this [Moscow Project] proposal other than me.” This section of Cohen’s written testimony, unlike other parts, is not disputed as false by Mueller, which sources say means prosecutors have tested its veracity through corroborating sources and found it to be accurate.
Also notable, Mueller did not challenge Cohen’s statement that he “ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia.”
“Though Cohen may have lied to Congress about the dates,” one Hill investigator said, “it's clear from personal messages he sent in 2015 and 2016 that the Trump Organization did not have formal lines of communication set up with Putin’s office or the Kremlin during the campaign. There was no secret ‘back channel.’”
“So as far as collusion goes,” the source added, "the project is actually more exculpatory than incriminating for Trump and his campaign.”
Mueller’s office declined comment to RealClearInvestigations.