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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Trump lawyer met Russian who offered 'political synergy'

Robert Mueller lays out previously undisclosed contacts between Trump associates and Russian intermediaries

Michael Cohen leaves federal court after pleading guilty to charges related to lying to congress in New York, New York, USA, 29 November 2018 EPA
Michael Cohen leaves federal court after pleading guilty to charges related to lying to congress in New York, New York, USA, 29 November 2018 EPA

US President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen was in touch as far back as 2015 with a Russian who offered "political synergy" with the Trump election campaign and proposed a meeting between the candidate and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the federal special counsel said.

Court filings from prosecutors in New York and special counsel Robert Mueller's office on Friday laid out previously undisclosed contacts between associates of Mr Trump and Russian intermediaries, and suggested the Kremlin aimed early on to influence Mr Trump and his campaign by playing to both his political aspirations and his personal business interests.

The filings, in cases involving Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, capped a dramatic week of revelations in Mr Mueller's investigation into possible co-ordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. They bring the legal peril from multiple investigations closer than ever to Mr Trump, tying him to an illegal hush money payment scheme and contradicting his claims that he had nothing to do with Russia.

They make clear how witnesses previously close to Mr Trump - Cohen once declared he'd "take a bullet" for the president - have since provided damaging information about him in efforts to come clean to the government and in some cases get reduced prison sentences.

One accused, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, provided so much information to prosecutors that Mr Mueller this week said he shouldn't serve any prison time.

In hours of interviews with prosecutors, witnesses have offered up information about pivotal episodes under examination, including possible collusion with Russia and payments during the campaign to silence an adult film actressand a Playboy model who claimed they had sex with Mr Trump a decade earlier.

In one of the filings, Mr Mueller details how Cohen spoke to a Russian 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 person repeatedly dangled a meeting between Mr Trump and the Russian president, saying such a meeting could have a "phenomenal" impact "not only in political but in a business dimension as well".

That was a reference to a proposed Moscow real estate deal that prosecutors say could have netted Mr Trump's business hundreds of millions of dollars. Cohen admitted last week to lying to Congress by saying discussions about a Trump Tower in Moscow ended in January 2016 when in fact they stretched into that June, well into the US campaign.

Cohen told prosecutors he never followed up on the Putin invitation, although the offer has echoes of a March 2016 proposal presented by Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who broached the idea of a Putin encounter with other advisers.

Prosecutors said probation officials recommended a sentence for Cohen of three-and-a-half years in prison. His lawyers want the 52-year-old attorney to avoid prison time.

In an additional filing on Friday evening, prosecutors said Manafort lied about his contacts with a Russian associate and Trump administration officials, including in 2018.

The court papers say Manafort initially told prosecutors he didn't have contact with any people while they were in the Trump administration. But prosecutors say they recovered "electronic documents" showing contacts with several administration officials not identified in the filings.

Manafort, who has pleaded guilty to several counts, violated his plea agreement by telling "multiple discernible lies" to prosecutors, they said.

He resigned from his job on the Trump campaign as questions swirled about his lobbying work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.

Prosecutors in Cohen's case said that even though he co-operated in their investigation into potential campaign finance violations, he nonetheless deserved prison time. Although he has portrayed himself as co-operative, "his description of those efforts is overstated in some respects and incomplete in others", prosecutors said.

"After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress, and seeking to criminally influence the presidential election, Mr Cohen's decision to plead guilty – rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes – does not make him a hero," they wrote.

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Read more:

Flynn's deep co-operation with prosecutors may spare him jail time

Donald Trump calls for his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen to be jailed

How Donald Trump became 'Individual 1' in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation

Trump’s ex-lawyer pleads guilty to lying over Russia probe to protect president

Paul Manafort lied to FBI and special counsel after striking plea deal

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Cohen, known as Mr Trump's "legal fixer", also described his work in conjunction with millionaire businessman in orchestrating hush money payments to two women — adult actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal — who claimed said they had sex with Mr Trump.

Prosecutors in New York, where Cohen pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance crimes in connection with those payments, said the lawyer "acted in co-ordination and at the direction" of Mr Trump. Though Cohen had previously implicated Mr Trump in the payments, the prosecutors now are linking Mr Trump to the scheme and backing up Cohen's allegations.

Federal law requires that any payments made "for the purposes of influencing" an election must be reported in campaign finance disclosures. The court filing on Friday makes clear that the payments were made to benefit Mr Trump politically.

The president tried to brush off Friday's revelations, claiming wrongly on Twitter that the news "Totally clears the President. Thank you!"

A court filing also reveals that Cohen told prosecutors he and Mr Trump discussed a potential meeting with Mr Putin on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 2015, shortly after Mr Trump announced his candidacy for president. In a footnote Mr Mueller's team writes that Cohen conferred with Mr Trump "about contacting the Russia government before reaching out to gauge Russia's interest in such a meeting". It never took place.