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Special counsel memo reveals information on Michael Cohen's Russia contacts

Feds recommend jail time for Cohen
"Michael Cohen lost his gamble," says former assistant attorney general 06:43

Reporting by Grace Segers and Clare Hymes

In a filing submitted Friday, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York is recommending a "substantial term of imprisonment" for Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. The special counsel's office, which also filed its sentencing memo on the same day, did "not take a position with respect to a particular sentence to be imposed." 

While the special counsel recommended that the gravity of Cohen's crimes be considered, it recommended the government give due recognition to his "substantial and significant efforts to remediate his misconduct, accept responsibility for his actions, and assist the [special counsel's] investigation."

The special counsel's memo also revealed new information about Cohen's attempts to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow, going back to November 2015. According to the special counsel's memo, Cohen had a conversation with a Russian national who offered help to Mr. Trump in political and business affairs.

"In or around November 2015, Cohen received the contact information for, and spoke with, a Russian national 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 filing said. Cohen recalled that the individual "repeatedly proposed a meeting between Individual 1 (Donald Trump) and the President of Russia." 

The Russian national suggested that such a meeting could have "'phenomenal" impact' not only in political but in a business dimension as well." This was a reference to the Moscow Project, the special counsel said, "because there is 'no bigger warranty in any project than consent of [the President of Russia].'" However, Cohen never followed up on the invitation.

The memo also discussed Cohen's lies to Congress about the extent of the Trump Tower negotiations, which the special counsel described as a "lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government."

"The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election," the filing said.

The special counsel added that Cohen's cooperation was useful in part because he provided "discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact" with executives in the Trump organization.

The special counsel's filing said that Cohen has "gone to significant lengths to assist the Special Counsel's investigation. He has met with the [special counsel's office] on seven occasions, voluntarily provided the SCO with information about his own conduct and that of others on core topics under investigation by the SCO, and committed to continuing to assist the SCO's investigation."

Read the special counsel's memo here:

However, the U.S. attorney's office took a dimmer view of Cohen's cooperation than the special counsel did. According to the U.S. attorney's filing, for the crimes committed by Cohen, 51 to 63 months is within the sentencing guideline. It referred to Cohen's crimes as reflecting "extensive, deliberate, and serious criminal conduct." 

His actions, the filing said, "suggest that Cohen relished the status of ultimate fixer – a role that he embraced as recently as May 2018."

The offenses committed by Cohen, the U.S. attorney said, "reveal a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy."

The filing found that Cohen deserved a substantial sentence not only for his actions during the Trump campaign and for lying to Congress, but for personal criminal actions such as engaging in tax fraud. The U.S. attorney further claimed in the filing that though Cohen had met with their office twice, he did not offer his full cooperation.

"Within the confines of the SCO investigation itself, the Office does not dispute that Cohen's assistance to the SCO was significant. But because Cohen elected not to pursue more fulsome cooperation with this Office, including on other subjects and on his own history, the Office cannot assess the overall level of Cohen's cooperation to be significant," the filing said about why a more lenient sentence in exchange for cooperation was being offered.

During the campaign, Cohen made hush money payments to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Mr. Trump. He admitted in a Manhattan federal court in August that he had done so at the direction of Mr. Trump. The filing said that Cohen's actions during the campaign were counter to American values of "transparency," and that he "deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election."

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

In a tweet appearing to refer to the various memos released Friday night, Mr. Trump wrote, "Totally clears the President. Thank you!"

In a statement, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that the "government's filings in Mr. Cohen's case tell us nothing of value that wasn't already known."

"Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero," she said.

Read the U.S. attorney's memo here:

Lawyers for Cohen argued in court papers filed in New York last week that the 52-year-old former personal lawyer for Mr. Trump should not have to serve time in prison for his crimes, citing extensive cooperation with the special counsel and New York investigators. 

They pointed out that he has met with Mueller's team seven times for interviews -- even before he pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance and fraud charges -- all the way through November. 

Cohen entered another guilty plea last week, admitting that he lied to Congress about developing a Trump Tower project in Moscow. He had initially said that the project died in January 2016, before admitting last week that he had continued to pursue it through June 2016. At that point, Mr. Trump had clinched the Republican nomination for the presidency.

Cohen has asked that his sentencing take place as scheduled on Dec. 12, so that he can return to providing for his family.

This is a developing story and will be updated

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