WASHINGTON-AP: One lied about his knowledge of Russian-hacked emails, another about a Russian real estate deal, a third about dialogue over sanctions with a Russian ambassador.
A pattern of deception by advisers to President Donald Trump, aimed at covering up Russia-related contacts during the 2016 campaign and transition period, has unravelled bit by bit in criminal cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The lies to the FBI and to Congress, including by Trump’s former fixer and his national security adviser, have raised new questions about Trump’s connections to Russia, revealed key details about the special counsel’s findings and painted a portrait of aides eager to protect the president and the administration by concealing communications they presumably recognized as problematic.
The false statements cut to the heart of Mueller’s mission to untangle ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and to establish whether they colluded to sway the election. They concern some of the central questions of the investigation, including why the incoming Trump administration discouraged Russia from retaliating over sanctions imposed for election hacking; who knew what when about illegally obtained Democratic emails; and how plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow came together and fell apart.
“I think you can draw a conclusion that these false statements generally relate to an effort to protect the president of the United States in connection with his dealings with Russia,” said Washington lawyer Daniel Petalas, a former Justice Department prosecutor. “That’s what makes them material to the investigation that Mueller is pursuing, which is a necessary element of a false statement claim that it has to be material.”
The most recent example came Thursday, when Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about negotiations he had on Trump’s behalf for a real estate deal in Moscow.
Though he told lawmakers the talks were done by January 2016, he admitted they actually lasted as late as June after Trump had secured the Republican nomination and after Russians had penetrated Democratic email accounts for communications later released through WikiLeaks. He also said he had briefed Trump about the project’s progress and members of his family.