Gregg Jarrett: Cohen guilty plea does absolutely nothing to show wrongdoing by Trump

President Trump’s disgraced former personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s guilty plea to lying to Congress about a possible Trump Organization real estate project in Moscow that never materialized is not worth much – except to Cohen.

Before his newest guilty plea Thursday, Cohen – already a confessed liar and criminal – pleaded guilty in August to violating campaign finance laws, multiple counts of tax evasion and bank fraud dealing with his personal finances.

Cohen’s plea Thursday was an obvious attempt to get favorable treatment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller when it comes time to sentence him for his admitted crimes.

President Trump made the point to reporters after Cohen entered his latest guilty plea in U.S. District Court in New York City.

“Michael Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me,” the president said. “This was a project (in Moscow) that we didn’t do, I didn’t do …. There would be nothing wrong if I did do it.”

As the old saying goes, guilty pleas are like paper currency – some are more valuable than others.

Insofar as proving some amorphous crime of Trump-Russian “collusion” to win the 2016 presidential election, Mueller is getting something about as valuable as a crumpled dollar with Cohen’s newest guilty plea.

The plea is worth just enough to give Democrats and members of the Trump-hating media – who know little about the law – something to howl about. Beyond that, it’s of zero value in proving that the president and/or his campaign somehow conspired, coordinated or, if you prefer, “colluded” with Russia to influence the presidential election two years ago.

And this alleged Trump-Russia collusion is, after all, what Mueller is supposed to be investigating. To date, there is no reason to believe that he has uncovered any incriminating evidence that would support his mandate.

Still, the special counsel seems desperate to find something – anything – to show that his 18 months of probing, costing taxpayers millions of dollars, has not been big a waste of time and money.

Granted, no one should lie to Congress, the FBI or prosecutors. But in the context of the Russia probe, making a false statement is a “process crime.” It has nothing whatsoever to do with establishing that Trump conspired with Russia to win the presidential election.

Indeed, the admitted deception by Cohen in lying to Congress occurred after Trump took office and is only a product of Mueller’s own investigation. As law professor Alan Dershowitz pointed out on Fox News just after the plea was announced, the special counsel is “creating crimes or creating opportunities for crimes to be committed.” 

Thus, there are legitimate reasons to question the substance of the recent actions by the special counsel and whether they implicate, even tangentially, President Trump in any wrongdoing.

The short answer is that they do not. The longer answer is more involved, but it’s worth exploring. Let’s look at two key figures Mueller is going after – Cohen and Jerome Corsi.

Michael Cohen

In Cohen’s guilty plea Thursday, he said he made false statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017. At the time, he told the committee that negotiations for the possible construction of a Trump-branded tower in Moscow ended in January of 2016 when, in fact, the date the talks ended was five months later, in June 2016.

In his congressional testimony, Cohen also stated that his travel to Russia and discussions with Trump were limited when, in fact, they were more extensive. Whether Cohen deliberately misled Congress or got his dates wrong is a moot point, given his plea. At the very least, he should have been more forthcoming about the extent of his discussions.

Because Cohen is an admitted liar and tax cheat, we have to be skeptical about how honest he is being now. We can’t rule out the possibility that in exchange for lenient sentencing, Cohen may be lying about his lies.

It is impossible to know from what’s on the public record, but Cohen clearly has every motivation to agree to whatever prosecutors want him to say. If they command that he trash President Trump to avoid serious prison time, Cohen is the kind of person who would surely do it. This makes whatever he says utterly devoid of credibility.

No one, including prosecutors, can trust that what comes out of Cohen’s mouth bears any resemblance to the truth. In front of a jury, he’d be worthless. And that is the dilemma whenever the government gets in bed with crooks and liars.

Amid the media hysteria over Cohen’s latest guilty plea, many journalists seem to have overlooked one important and immutable fact: absolutely nothing that he now says about the never-finalized Moscow real estate venture establishes an election conspiracy.

Because Cohen is an admitted liar and tax cheat, we have to be skeptical about how honest he is being now. We can’t rule out the possibility that in exchange for lenient sentencing, Cohen may be lying about his lies.

As has been widely reported for two years, the Trump Organization scrapped its proposal to build a tower in Moscow and the deal never materialized. A failed deal hardly constitutes a quid pro quo for Russian help to win the presidency.

It is not a crime to develop real estate in Russia, which makes it all the more mystifying why Cohen would lie about it. If some nefarious election “collusion” was involved, Cohen would certainly have been charged. This is how normal prosecutions unfold.

Ask yourself a commonsense question: If Russia was trying to get leverage over Trump, why didn’t Russian officials sign a lucrative sweetheart deal that would earn the Trump Organization millions of dollars – and then threaten to expose the deal to embarrass the president if he didn’t give them favorable treatment?

And ask yourself another question: Why didn’t the Russians agree to a deal that would provide the Trump Organization with a steady stream of revenue that Trump would not want to see disappear by angering them?

Now answer this: How would Russia gain favor or leverage over Trump with a deal that never came to fruition? The answer is obvious: doing so would be impossible.    

What about Cohen’s earlier guilty plea to two campaign finance violations involving payments to two women for nondisclosure payments regarding their unproven allegations of affairs with Trump – allegations he has denied?

Do those payments mean Trump committed a federal crime if he directed Cohen to make the payments? Absolutely not.

Just because one person pleads guilty does not mean that another person is automatically guilty. Indeed, in agreeing to the prosecutors’ demands, Cohen actually pleaded guilty to a non-crime. Why would he do such a thing? Again, the answer is leniency. Sadly, it happens rather frequently.

Why are the payments to the women a non-crime – in other words, perfectly legal? First, Trump did not utilize campaign funds for the payments. Second, under law, he is allowed to spend an unlimited amount of his own money on his campaign.

As former Federal Election Commission Chairman Bradley Smith explained: “Not everything that might benefit a candidate is a campaign expense.” If Trump had other reasons for making payments – personal or commercial – he did not violate campaign finance laws.

Moreover, the vast majority of campaign violations are civil cases with penalties. A campaign finance law violation can only be a crime if there’s a showing that the person “knowingly and willfully violated” the law.

In other words, there must be specific intent and knowledge that the law is being breached. Campaign laws are exceedingly complex. Few candidates understand them sufficiently to knowingly break them.

This brings us back to the central question: Is there anything about Cohen’s numerous guilty pleas that implicates President Trump in crimes involving Russia and/or the election?

No. Absolutely nothing.

Jerome Corsi

In the twisted world of Special Counsel Mueller, a person can be charged with a crime for forgetting about three emails sent two years ago. You’ll be accused of lying because you’re human. And then, under threat of imprisonment, you’ll be forced to confess that your imperfect recollection was an intentional deception, even though it wasn’t.

In other words, you’ll be told to lie about the truth.

But your real underlying offense is that you supported Donald Trump when he ran for president. This means that Mueller and his band of anti-Trump partisans will come after you with a vengeance. You’ll be subjected to all manner of coercion, intimidation and legal bullying.

If you or I did this, we’d be charged with extortion and bribery. When the government does it, it is perfectly permissible. It’s wrong and corrupt, but legal.

This is what has happened to several individuals with Trump connections – former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and low-level presidential campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

Flynn told the truth, according to the FBI agents who interviewed him. Mueller didn’t care and charged the retired three-star general with making a false statement during his short tenure in the Trump administration.

Papadopoulos, a young volunteer on a Trump campaign foreign policy advisory panel, gave agents an incorrect date and was charged with the same offense. Both men threw in the towel under relentless pressure and pleaded guilty.

The latest target of the special counsel is Jerome Corsi, a conservative author. He says Mueller’s team threatened him with serious criminal charges unless he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of making a false or misleading statement.

Corsi provided me with the documents that Mueller presented to him. In the main charging document, Corsi is supposed to admit that he made false statements to the special counsel “willfully and knowingly,” which is what the statute (18 U.S.C. 1001) requires.

Embracing the principle of honesty, Corsi refused to sign the document because it was plainly untrue. He stood firm, despite threats of further prosecution. He insists that he never intentionally deceived anyone, including Mueller.

Corsi’s recollection may have been less than perfect, but he maintains that the human condition that affects us all – sometimes forgetting things – is not a crime under law. He is quite correct.

The backstory is important. On June 12, 2016, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, announced that he would publish leaked emails of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

At the time, the FBI was investigating whether Clinton committed crimes when she used her private, unsecure and unauthorized computer server for all of her business as secretary of state, thereby jeopardizing national security.

Immediately, journalists (including me) began trying to get more information from Assange – looking for more details about what might be revealed in Clinton’s emails. Efforts were made to pry additional specifics out of both WikiLeaks and Assange, who had taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden over accusations of sexual assault.

On July 4, 2016 WikiLeaks provided some content on the Clinton emails that had been originally released by the State Department months earlier. On July 22 the group published leaked or hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee. The release was timed to cause damage to the Clinton campaign during the Democratic National Convention.

Days later, beginning on July 25, Roger Stone – a longtime Donald Trump associate – exchanged at least three emails with Corsi asking that Corsi get in touch with Assange to find out more information about the forthcoming Clinton emails.

Corsi attempted to do so, with no apparent success. He did, however, predict in one message dated Aug. 2 that Assange would time the release of Clinton’s emails close to the November 2016 presidential election.

According to the draft court filings prepared by Mueller, Corsi thought that at least one document dump of Clinton-related emails would occur in October, preceding the election. It was a logical, if not prescient, forecast, given Assange’s track record.

The term “October surprise” – referring to a last-minute action to generate news coverage and influence the outcome of an election in November – has been in use for many decades and refers to a very old tactic.

Sure enough, on Oct. 7 WikiLeaks released over 2,000 emails to and from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

Fast forward two years. Mueller subpoenaed Corsi to testify in the special counsel’s investigation into so-called “Russian collusion.” Corsi voluntarily appeared on Sept.6 this year, handed over his computers, and answered questions to the best of his recollection, he says.

Corsi says he did not recall the three emails he had exchanged years earlier with Stone. Thereafter, Corsi regained access to his computers, searched for messages with Stone and discovered the emails that are now at the center of Mueller’s assertion that Corsi lied under oath. To correct the record – and with Mueller’s consent – Corsi testified yet again and amended his earlier statements.

When Mueller demanded that Corsi plead guilty to “willfully and knowingly” lying, Corsi’s lawyer sent a letter to the special counsel, stating in part:

“He (Corsi) had not had the benefit of reviewing all of his emails prior to the interview and you graciously allowed him to review his emails and amend his statements – which he did. Now, after various amendments to his statements, Dr. Corsi is being asked to affirmatively state that he lied to FBI agents.

“The issue is that the statements that Dr. Corsi made were, in fact, the best he could recall at the time. From the beginning, Dr. Corsi immediately provided all of his computers, emails, phones, social media accounts, etc., and his intent was always to tell you the truth to the best of his recollection, which he admitted to you, was not very good as these events took place years ago.”       

Amending testimony under oath is not an uncommon practice. It normally avoids charges of perjury or false statements. Just ask former FBI Director James Comey and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Both Comey and Clapper delivered demonstrably false testimony before Congress. When their misstatements were subsequently exposed, they were allowed to correct and amend their testimony. Neither was criminally charged. But Corsi received no such allowance.

The double standard should be obvious to all. If you’re a government official without ties to Donald Trump, you can lie, make mistakes or fail to remember things correctly and face no legal consequences. But if you’re a private citizen – especially if you’re connected to Trump – you’ll be threatened with prosecution and the prospect of spending time behind bars.

Corsi has stated openly that the special counsel wanted him to support a Trump-Russia “collusion” narrative devised by Mueller’s team, even if it meant that Corsi must lie to accomplish it. Corsi refuses to do so.

It appears Mueller is using the same tactic to squeeze Paul Manafort, Trump’s former presidential campaign chairman, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud for business activities unrelated to his work for Trump. Like Corsi, Manafort is refusing to capitulate.

Mueller represents what all Americans should be afraid of in their government – an unscrupulous zealot armed with virtually unlimited power, who can destroy any person who gets in his way.

Mueller and his assembled team of partisans are exactly what our Founding Fathers feared when they crafted a Constitution designed to limit the corrupt and corrosive power of a singular and unaccountable authority.

As I noted in my book, “The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump,” this is precisely what Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis warned about more than a century later.

“The greatest dangers to liberty,” Brandies wrote, “lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal.”