Michael Cohen says Trump used 'code' language to coach him to lie to Congress

Tom McCarthy


Donald Trump used “code” language to coach his former top aide, Michael Cohen, on how to lie to Congress about Trump projects in Moscow, Cohen told lawmakers in a public letter on Friday.

The letter recapped testimony Cohen had made to the special counsel Robert Mueller and two congressional committees, according to Cohen’s lawyers. They called the letter the first detailed accounting of Cohen’s sworn testimony about alleged crimes committed by Trump.

“Trump and his [White House] advisors encouraged Cohen to lie and say all Moscow Tower project contacts ended as of January 31, 2017,” when in fact the projects were alive at least six months later, the letter said.

Sign up for the US morning briefing

“Trump did so using ‘code’ language – telling Cohen during various conversations that there was ‘no collusion, no Russian contacts, nothing about Russia’ after the start of the campaign,” it added.

Trump has declared himself vindicated of all charges of wrongdoing since the release last month by the attorney general, William Barr, of a letter summarizing the findings of Mueller’s investigation of Russian election tampering and potential obstruction of justice by Trump.

But since then each day seems to bring further signs that Barr’s four-page letter did not tell the whole story of the Mueller report – or even come close to it.

Sources close to members of Mueller’s team have told reporters in recent days that Barr’s summary was incomplete or misleading. One source told the Washington Post that investigators had built an obstruction-of-justice case against Trump that “was much more acute than Barr suggested”.

Trump’s allegedly directing Cohen to make false statements to Congress, a crime Cohen admitted to in a guilty plea last November, could itself amount to criminal conduct. But what Mueller made of the charge will remain unclear so long as his report is sealed.

Related: Trump says Cohen lied ‘95% instead of 100%’ in testimony to Congress

Barr, a Trump appointee who had previously written that Mueller’s investigation of Trump for alleged obstruction of justice was “fatally misconceived”, wrote in his summary of the Mueller report that “the evidence developed during the special counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

But Cohen’s memo released on Friday seemed likely to feed doubts about that decision. According to a description of Cohen’s sworn testimony released by his lawyers, “Cohen testified that he and Trump both knew that Cohen’s contacts with Russia continued for months” later than a date provided by Cohen to Congress.

“Cohen also testified in 2019 that he was given that false ‘party line’ by Mr. Trump and his advisors,” the memo says.

The memo also paints behind-the-scenes moments that portray Trump as fully aware of efforts by Donald Trump Jr to meet with Russian operatives to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and other Russia contacts.

“Early in June 2016, Cohen testified that he was in Trump’s office,” the memo reads. “He saw Don Jr. walk around the desk (unusual to do so) to lean over to tell his father quietly: ‘the meeting is on.’ Trump did not ask, ‘what meeting?’ Cohen heard Trump say, ‘That’s good … let me know.’”

Trump publicly denied foreknowledge of a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump Jr and Kremlin-linked Russian nationals.

However, having admitted to lying under oath to Congress, Cohen and his credibility have been compromised. The spat between him and Trump, whom Cohen served as a loyal lieutenant for a decade, has taken on a personal edge.

Trump has said that efforts to reveal the Mueller report, the release of which Congress supported by unanimous resolution, amounted to a “witch-hunt”.

“According to polling, few people seem to care about the Russian Collusion Hoax, but some Democrats are fighting hard to keep the Witch Hunt alive,” Trump tweeted on Thursday. “They should focus on legislation or, even better, an investigation of how the ridiculous Collusion Delusion got started – so illegal!”