President Trump and his legal team fired back early Friday at suggestions the latest twists in Robert Mueller’s probe mean the bell is tolling for his administration, downplaying the implications of ex-confidant Michael Cohen’s guilty plea and testimony about a Moscow real estate project – as the special counsel makes clear he’s focusing closely on the president.
Trump was identified as “Individual 1” in court documents filed in connection with Cohen’s guilty plea, for lying to Congress about a since-abandoned Russia development project. Such projects also were the subject of a written question Mueller put to Trump, though the president’s legal team insists there was no “contradiction” with Trump’s answers on the matter.
This, combined with other developments this week, signaled Mueller’s intensifying focus on the president’s actions and statements.
But Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani described the coverage of Cohen’s plea as “hysterical,” stressing that Mueller’s probe has largely bagged guilty pleas for false statements without uncovering evidence of collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign.
“It misses point that, once again like Corsi leaked documents demonstrate, Mueller’s crew has no evidence of collusion. Along the way, however, he is keeping America safe from false statement makers or people with faulty memories or both,” Giuliani snarked on Twitter.
Trump, too, tweeted a barbed rejoinder as he prepared to attend the G20 summit in Argentina:
“Oh, I get it! I am a very good developer, happily living my life, when I see our Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly). Against all odds, I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail … Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project. Witch Hunt!”
The extent of Trump’s legal exposure remains unclear.
Cohen’s has proved to be an eager witness for Mueller, reportedly spending hours in interviews with his team. His longstanding close relationship with Trump has fueled speculation that he, far more than other investigation targets, could hold damaging information on the commander-in-chief.
Cohen delivered blunt remarks in court Thursday, as he admitted making false statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017 about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
The statements allegedly gave the false impression the Moscow project ended before the 2016 Iowa caucuses.
“I continued to follow the political messaging of Individual 1 and his advisors. I was aware that Individual 1 said he was not tied to Russia, attacks were politically motivated, and all interactions were terminated by the time of the Iowa Caucuses,” Cohen said in court. Cohen added that before the Senate committee, “I asserted all efforts ceased in January 2016 when they kept going until June 2016.”
The plea agreement makes clear that as part of the deal, Cohen is cooperating with Mueller's team on "any and all matters" deemed relevant.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, underscored the seriousness of Thursday’s developments.
“This is yet another example of the President's closest allies lying about their contacts with Russia. With each indictment and each guilty plea, we learn more about the President’s connections to Russia in the midst of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election,” he said in a statement. “Special Counsel Mueller's investigation must continue — free from political interference by the President — until the truth is out, and Congress should pass legislation immediately to make sure that happens.”
But Trump blasted Cohen as he departed the White House Thursday for the G20 summit.
"He is a weak person and not a very smart person," Trump said. "It's very simple. He's got himself a big prison sentence and he's trying to get a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story. And here's the thing, even if he's right, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign."
Trump said the "primary reason" he decided not to go forth with the Moscow Project was because of his presidential run.
"Everybody knew about it. It was written about in newspapers. It was a well-known project," Trump said. "If I did do it, there would have been nothing wrong."
In August, Cohen pleaded guilty in a separate case to violating federal campaign finance laws by arranging hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal in the weeks leading up to the election “at the direction” of then-candidate Trump.
Fox News’ Brooke Singman contributed to this report.