Recent developments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe have rocked the White House — and what comes next could have far reaching consequences.
President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, surprised the political world early Thursday with the announcement that he was pleading guilty to lying to Congress.
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Cohen made a surprise appearance in a New York courtroom around 9 a.m. and began entering the plea. According to reports, Cohen admitted to making false statements in 2017 to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow because he wanted to be consistent with Trump’s “political message.”
In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to other federal charges involving his taxi businesses and bank fraud. However, none of those were related to Trump. His guilty plea Thursday is unique, as it is directly related to a plea deal with Mueller’s team.
Trump has regularly called Mueller’s investigation an unfair political “witch hunt.” In a press conference before leaving for the G20 conference, Trump accused Cohen of lying to protect his own skin.
“There may be a non-Russian conspiracy [explanation] for the lies [Cohen] told,” Judge Andrew Napolitano said on Fox News. Napolitano explained it could be as simple as a business deal early in the campaign that went bad, and Cohen was concerned about the political optics when he lied to Congress.
Cohen’s statement to Congress regarding the real estate deal was as follows —
AP reports that Cohen will plead guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Moscow real estate deal. This is what Cohen told Congress about that proposal in his opening statement: https://t.co/MIeSeTkAx6 pic.twitter.com/A1SNEzWxk2
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) November 29, 2018
The twist comes just hours after Trump said a pardon for former campaign manager Paul Manafort is “not off the table.” His statement was fiercely attacked by media critics, who fear the president will use his legal authority to bring an end to the two-year-long probe into Russian election meddling.
The statement was made in an interview Wednesday with The New York Post, and was in response to Mueller’s accusation that Manafort violated his plea deal by lying to investigators. Manafort has repeatedly denied that he lied.
Trump claims Mueller’s team are using dirty tactics to ruin people’s lives and is accusing investigators of pressuring cooperating witnesses to lie.
Earlier Thursday, Trump likened the Russia probe to Sen. Joe McCarthy’s so-called “Red Scare” pursuit of communists in the 1950s.
When will this illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt, one that has shattered so many innocent lives, ever end-or will it just go on forever? After wasting more than $40,000,000 (is that possible?), it has proven only one thing-there was NO Collusion with Russia. So Ridiculous!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2018
When asked about a pardon for Manafort, Trump said, “It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?”
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Trump only has the power to pardon for federal charges. A pardon would not shield Manafort from prosecution for state charges, though he is not currently facing any.
Trump also praised two other supporters who have been aggressively targeted by Mueller’s team — conservative author Jerome Corsi and longtime Trump associate Roger Stone. He said they were “very brave” for resisting the increasing pressure from Mueller’s team.
Both men have been heavily critical of the investigation, and Corsi this week said he had rejected a plea offer from Mueller’s team.
Draft plea documents show Mueller accusing Corsi of lying to investigators — an allegation he denies — about emails he exchanged with Stone regarding alleged contacts with WikiLeaks.
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A federal judge set a hearing for Friday in which she will hear from both Mueller and Manafort about the next steps in the case. That could offer the next glimpse on what comes next in Mueller’s probe.
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The Associated Press contributed to this article