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House Investigating Cohen Claim that Trump Lawyer Jay Sekulow Told Him to Lie to Congress About Moscow Project
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21 May 2019 01:16 PM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Jay Sekulow (Image source: Mark Taylor via Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

While last week we learned that the House Intelligence Committee is investigating whether Donald Trump's attorneys or his adult children told his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, thereby obstructing the special counsel investigation, transcripts from Cohen's more recent testimony indicate the investigation could be zeroing in on Trump's attorney Jay Sekulow. 

This centers around a business deal Trump was working on in 2015 and 2016, a proposed Trump Tower project for Moscow. Talks began in 2015, and Cohen testified to Congress in 2017 that the talks ended in January 2016.

 

However, after accepting a plea deal for financial crimes and campaign finance violations, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. He said they did not stop talking to Moscow about the project in January and that talks lasted until at least June 2016. 

Earlier this year the disbarred attorney testified before the House in a closed-door hearing and indicated that two of Trump's adult children knew about the Trump project extending into 2016 and that his earlier testimony before Congress had been scripted and that Trump's attorneys had made edits.

 

He lied to Congress with the knowledge it was helping Trump. In February 2016 Trump had said on the campaign trail that he had no business whatsoever with Russia, so he needed the month they stopped talking about the Moscow project to be January 2016. 

Last week it was learned that the House Intelligence Committee was investigating Trump's attorneys and his family for possible obstruction with regard to Cohen's testimony past and present, who knew, and who told him to lie. Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) asked four attorneys to turn over documents and appear for testimony, but this request has been ignored.

 

Transcripts of his closed-door congressional hearings a few months back show that he said Sekulow had encouraged him to tell Congress that negotiations ended in January 2016. He again said they continued into June, after the time it was already known that Trump would be the eventual Republican presidential nominee.  

"As Mr. Sekulow had explained, just let's keep it to that date, which is prior to the Iowa caucus," Cohen said in the closed-door testimony regarding the January 2016 date.

 

He said he spoke with Sekulow 20 or more times regarding his 2017 testimony to Congress. What he remembered about the conversations was, "Stay on message. Minimum contact. No Russia. No collusion. Nothing here." 

When he told Sekulow that his statement said the Moscow deal discussions ended in January 2016, Sekulow replied, "Good. Good. Let's just stay on message. Keep this thing short."

 

When asked if Sekulow was aware that the date in the original testimony was false, Cohen replied, "Yes, sir." 

Cohen also said he discussed a potential pardon for himself with Sekulow "quite a few" times "before and after" his testimony before Congress. It wasn't promised, but he was told, "There's always the possibility of a pardon." The reason that was being considered was "to shut down the inquiries and to shut the investigation down."

 

With Cohen now doing three years in prison for his part in Trump's alleged crimes, House Democrats are now trying to determine whether this is true about Sekulow. Cohen said he lied to help bury Trump's business transactions. He had millions of dollars at stake in this project in Russia while he was still running for president. 

"We're trying to find out whether anyone participated in the false testimony that Cohen gave to this committee," said Schiff.

 

Sekulow's attorneys, Jane Serene Raskin and Patrick Strawbridge, announced in a statement that "Cohen's alleged statements are more of the same from him and confirm the observations of prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that Cohen's 'instinct to blame others is strong.' " 

"That this or any committee would rely on the word of Michael Cohen for any purpose — much less to try and pierce the attorney-client privilege and discover confidential communications of four respected lawyers — defies logic, well-established law, and common sense," added the attorneys.

 

Any knowledge that Sekulow would have regarding the Moscow project would be after the fact. He didn't join Trump's legal team until after he was elected. 

Also joining the legal team after the election is Rudy Giuliani, who joined in April 2018.

 

He tweeted Monday. Night, "Jay Sekulow is one of the very most ethical lawyers and honest men I have ever known. Michael Cohen is a serial liar. Cohen should be prosecuted for his blatant perjury before the House committee. Jay should receive the most effective and ethical lawyer of the year award." 

With regard to the project, Cohen said it would have been more profitable for Trump than his other development deals because he would be receiving a higher licensing fee than the others and would also get a $4 million upfront fee.

 

"If it is accurate that one of the president's personal attorneys encouraged him or edited his testimony to give Congress a false date, it's further evidence that the president had some reason for not wanting the American people, or the Senate Intelligence Committee, to know the truth about his dealings with Russia as a candidate," said ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner (D-VA), in a statement. 

Cohen's recent version of events was shared with Special counsel Robert Mueller. He tried to bring one of Trump's attorneys in to speak with him about conversations with Cohen about the 2017 testimony, "but counsel declined, citing potential privilege concerns."

 

"Cohen himself stood little to gain by lying to our committee," Schiff told The Washington Post. 

"Donald Trump and others around him stood far more to gain from that being concealed from our investigation. So it obviously begs the question of whether this was something he did on his own ... or were there others who participated in the falsehood before our committee."

 

He also doesn't necessarily buy the privilege claim. "The privilege doesn't apply if it's being used to conceal a crime or a fraud," he explained. 

"And if the attorneys were conferring amongst themselves and Mr. Cohen about a false statement they were going to make to our committee, there's no privilege that protects that kind of conduct."

 

The four Trump lawyers responded to Schiff's concerns by stating, "We find the Committee's outright, blanket refusal to recognize the attorney-client privilege — a bedrock principle of common law dating back centuries — to be stunning, unwise, and unwarranted." 

They believe the investigation is "an attempt to pursue a law-enforcement investigation which is outside the constitutional authority of the legislative branch."

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