Michael Cohen made illegal hush payments at direction of Trump, prosecutors say

Donald Trump directed his personal lawyer to make illegal hush payments to two women ahead of the 2016 election, US prosecutors said on Friday.

In court filings that revealed details of how Michael Cohen has helped the Russia investigation, prosecutors also detailed a previously unknown attempt by a Russian to help the Trump campaign.

Prosecutors in New York asked a judge to sentence Cohen to a “substantial term of imprisonment” for paying an adult film star hush money on Mr Trump’s behalf, and for evading taxes. Cohen pleaded guilty to the charges in August.

He has been cooperating with Mr Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Russia and Mr Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

Cohen also pleaded guilty last week to a separate charge brought by Mr Mueller’s office that he lied to Congress about discussions over the construction of a proposed Trump Organisation skyscraper in Moscow.

Robert Mueller said Cohen had cooperated

In a separate recommendation on Friday Mr Mueller said Cohen should serve no extra jail time for that offence.

Any sentence imposed for that crime should be served concurrently with the punishment imposed for the New York charges, Mr Mueller said.

Payments to women

While Cohen implicated the president in the hush payments to two women – adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal – in his guilty plea in August in New York, the filing on Friday marked the first time federal prosecutors officially concurred.

It said Cohen made the payments in “coordination with and the direction of” Mr Trump.

Democrats jumped on that assertion and called for steps to protect Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.

Stormy Daniels 

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David Hartley

“These legal documents outline serious and criminal wrongdoing, including felony violations of campaign finance laws at the direction of President Trump,” Senator Diane Feinstein said in a statement.

The White House said the new court filings offered nothing new or damaging about Mr Trump.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the filings “tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known.”

“Totally clears the President. Thank you!” tweeted the US president on Friday, without elaborating. 

Contacts with Russia

Mr Mueller revealed that Russia had reached out to Cohen as far back as November 2015 offering “political synergy” with the Trump campaign.

Last week, Cohen admitted to lying to congressional investigators in an attempt to minimise his efforts to secure the Kremlin’s help for a Trump skyscraper in Moscow. He has said he did so to stay in sync with Mr Trump’s political messaging, and that he consulted with the White House while preparing to testify to Congress.

Mr Mueller said on Friday that Cohen repeated his false statements about the project in his first meeting with Mr Mueller’s office, admitting the truth only in a later meeting in September after he had pleaded guilty to the separate New York charges.

On Friday, Mr Mueller said Cohen’s false statements to Congress had “obscured the fact” that the skyscraper project held the potential to reap “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” for the Trump Organization.

Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen stands behind Trump during a campaign rally

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Reuters

Mr Mueller said that discussions about the potential Moscow development were relevant to the investigation because they occurred “at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the US presidential election.”

In addition to coming clean on the Moscow project, Cohen provided information to Mueller about several attempts by Russians to contact the Trump’s campaign, according to Friday’s filing.

In November 2015,  five months after Mr Trump launched his bid for the presidency and well before previously reported contacts, Cohen spoke with a Russian national who said he could offer the campaign “political synergy” with Russia and repeatedly proposed a meeting with Putin. The Russian claimed it could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well.”

Cohen did not follow up on the offer, the filing says.

Mueller also said in the filing that Cohen had provided “relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House” in 2017 and 2018.

Cohen ‘assisted significantly with Russia probe’

Mr Mueller said Cohen had gone to “significant lengths to assist the Special Counsel’s investigation”.

The New York prosecutors said in their filing that Cohen should receive some credit for his cooperation with Mr Mueller.

However, they noted that he had not entered into a cooperation agreement with their office.

They said his sentence should reflect a “modest” reduction from the roughly four to five years guidelines would suggest.

Cohen is scheduled to be sentenced next Wednesday by US District Judge William Pauley in New York on all of the charges to which he pleaded guilty.

His lawyers have asked that he receive no jail time, saying he has cooperated extensively with Mr Mueller and New York prosecutors and has taken responsibility for his actions.

Prosecutors said Cohen was motivated “by personal greed and repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends”.

How Manafort ‘lied’

Mr Mueller has also described in a court filing how Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s former campaign chairman, lied to federal investigators

Mr Mueller’s office submitted the filing to a US District Court judge in Washington who had asked for more details on Mr Mueller’s allegations last month that Manafort had breached a plea agreement by lying.

“In his interviews with the Special Counsel’s Office and the FBI, Manafort told multiple discernible lies — these were not instances of mere memory lapses,” Mr Mueller’s office said in the filing.

Paul Manafort is accused of lying to Robert Mueller’s inquiry

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AP

According to the filing, Manafort lied about his interactions with Russian-Ukranian political consultant Konstantin Kilimnik, Kilimnik’s efforts to tamper with witnesses, the circumstances surrounding a $125,000 payment to a firm working for Manafort, and Manafort’s contacts with officials in the Trump administration.

Manafort also provided investigators with shifting accounts about information relevant to another Department of Justice investigation.

The filing also said that Manafort, who maintains he has been truthful to Mueller, appeared before a grand jury twice.

Ms Sanders said the filing “says absolutely nothing about the President” and is blaming the media for “trying to create a story where there isn’t one.”

The documents turned up the heat on Mr Trump by confirming prosecutors’ belief of his involvement in a campaign finance violation, while adding to a growing list of contacts between campaign aides and Russians in 2015 and 2016, legal experts said.

“In total, the prosecutors seem to be saying the president was more aware than he has claimed to be,” former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin told Reuters.