In a Manhattan federal court on Thursday, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timing of his negotiations to build a Trump Tower Moscow in 2016, and about how often he discussed the deal with Trump during the campaign. The guilty plea is the first Mueller has secured that is related directly to Trump’s business dealings—and may be just the tip of the iceberg in the ongoing investigation of business deals involving the Trump Organization and Russian financiers, inside and outside the Kremlin.
With Trump now at war with someone who for years was his most loyal lieutenant and fixer, Cohen’s court appearance underscored the peril he presents for the president, who is unsettled by dramatic Democratic gains in the midterms and facing the prospect of unending offshoot probes by newly emboldened Democratic committee chairmen.
The plea includes evidence, for the first time, that could show how Trump was compromised by Russia while Russian President Vladimir Putin was waging a direct attack on the 2016 election. The formal agreement also incentivizes Cohen, the former executive vice president of the Trump Organization and Trump’s right-hand man for more than a decade, to tell Mueller everything he knows—and sets Cohen up as a more credible witness should Mueller ask him to testify in the future. Significantly, the guilty plea was finalized after Trump submitted his written answers to Mueller, who reportedly asked Trump specifically about the Moscow deal. (Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said on Thursday that Trump’s written answers matched the story that Cohen had told Mueller.)