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Robert Mueller May Have Evidence Needed to Charge Donald Trump Jr. (UPDATED)


Is panic setting in at the White House now that Michael Cohen has admitted to lying about how long the Trump Tower Moscow real estate negotiation carried on? This is the same real estate negotiation that would have potentially gotten Russian President Vladimir Putin a penthouse apartment.

It appeared that it was also a real estate deal Donald Trump Jr. gave Congress a wrong year for, but there’s since been some pushback on NPR’s reporting. Nonetheless, Trump Jr. may not be out of the woods.

There was some ambiguity as to what deals were being talked about here. NPR conflated the two deals.

As the Washington Post‘s Philip Bump noted, Trump Jr. was asked in a separate question if it was accurate that in late 2015 or 2016 that the Trump Organization “was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow.”

Trump Jr. said, “yes.”

So here’s where the confusion arose: Congress asked Trump Jr. about a Moscow real estate project in Sept. 2017 and he said explorations of a deal involving the Agalarovs “faded away […] at the end” of 2014.

Q. Did you have any involvement in this potential deal in Moscow?
A. Like I said, I was peripherally aware of it, but most of my knowledge has been gained since as it relates to hearing about it over the last few weeks.
Q. In this same time frame, 2015 or 2016, when Mr. Sater and Mr. Cohen were exploring a possible deal, do you know if anyone else was also exploring a deal simultaneously with the Trump Organization to build in Moscow?
A. I don ‘t believe so.
Q. We’ve discussed the Agalarov family, Emin and his father Aras. Do you know if they were also exploring building a Trump Tower in Moscow?
A. We had looked at it earlier than that, but it sort of faded away I believe at the end of ’14.
Q. But not in 2015 or 2016?
A. Certainly not ’16. There was never a definitive end to it. It just died of deal fatigue.

The ensuing questions were another indication that two deals were being talked about:

Q. How did that deal first come about?
MR. FUTERFAS: Which, just for clarification?
MR. PRIVOR: The Agalarovs in 2014.

This was the explanation NPR added to the article by 4 p.m.:

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this report mischaracterized an answer Donald Trump Jr. gave to Senate investigators in 2017 about the prospective projects his family was negotiating with people in Moscow.

The story reported that Trump Jr.’s response — that negotiations on one project concluded by the end of 2014 – contrasted with the version of events as laid out in the guilty plea by Michael Cohen on Thursday. In fact, Trump Jr. and investigators were alluding to a different set of negotiations — not to a deal that Cohen was reportedly pursuing. Trump Jr. did acknowledge in his testimony that Cohen and another man were exploring a possible deal in Moscow in 2015 or 2016.

Trump Jr. did not address what Cohen has now admitted — that talks about such a deal continued at least into June 2016, longer than previously known and well into the presidential campaign.

NPR has also changed the headline on the story. Old headline: “Trump Jr.’s 2017 Testimony Conflicts with Cohen’s Account of Russian Talks.” New Headline: “Cohen’s Account Of Russia Talks Raises Questions About Trump Jr. 2017 Testimony.” The difference is stark.

Investigators have been focused on statements about the Moscow Project, which was discussed as late as June 2016. Cohen said he lied when he said communications about the project stopped in January 2016.

“I knew at the time in that I asserted that all efforts had ceased in January 2016, [that] in fact they continued until June 2016,” Cohen said. He said that he did this “to be consistent with [Trump’s] political messaging and to be loyal to [Trump].”

Nonetheless, this detail of the NPR story remains true:

On Thursday, Cohen’s guilty plea acknowledged that he had heard back and that other negotiations with other Russians went forward.

Trump Jr. told the Senate committee last year that he was “peripherally aware” of those discussions but that he didn’t know that Cohen had sent an email to the Putin aide, Dmitry Peskov.

Cohen said in his guilty plea that he had briefed Trump’s family members about his talks, although the court documents don’t specify which ones.

As Law&Crime’s Colin Kalmbacher reported Thursday, a pardon from his president father may be Trump Jr.’s only hope, given Trump Jr.’s statements about the Moscow Project. In one instance, Trump Jr. said, he was not aware of Cohen’s contact with Putin aide and knew “very little” about the Moscow Project.

1. Trump Jr. was asked whether he knew who the “counterparty” was in the potential Moscow deal. He replied, “I don’t, no.”

2. Trump Jr. was then pressed as to whether the counter-party was “somebody connected to [former mobster and Trump family business associate] Felix Sater.” He replied, “I don’t know if they’re connected to Felix Sater or they knew Felix. He was involved as a broker. I don’t know if he’s a principal. I wasn’t involved.”

3. Trump Jr. was asked whether he had any involvement in the potential Moscow deal. He replied: “Like I said, I was peripherally aware of it, but most of my knowledge has been gained since as it relates to hearing about it over the last few weeks.”

4. Trump Jr. was asked what he knew–if anything–about the potential Moscow deal. He replied: “Very little.”

5. Trump Jr. was also asked whether he was aware of Cohen’s attempts to contact a Kremlin representative before those attempts were reported on in the media. He replied, “No, I was not.”

So, there are a couple of things to keep in mind here when it comes to potential Trump Jr. legal jeopardy: 1) Mueller has already gotten a number of people to plead guilty to making false statements; 2) Cohen pleaded guilty to violating 18 USC § 1001(a)(2), which makes “any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” a federal crime, regarding statements about this very deal.

If Mueller cared enough about Cohen’s lies to Congress in the context of the Moscow Project, it stands to reason that he would also care about Donald Trump Jr.’s statements. Plus, the Moscow Project is only one area of interest for the special counsel. He may also be closely examining Trump Jr.’s statements about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer.

President Trump immediately reacted to the Cohen plea by calling him a “liar” who was just trying to get a lighter sentence.

The implications of the Cohen story, it has been noted, are that there is now a solid link between Putin and Trump associates up to June 2016, around the same time the 2016 Trump Tower meeting for “dirt” on Hillary Clinton occurred and months before Democratic National Committee documents allegedly hacked by Russian military intelligence were dumped on WikiLeaks.

The Trump Tower meeting was facilitated by Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov and his pop star son Emin. Trump Jr. was asked “if they [the Agalarovs] were also exploring building a Trump Tower in Moscow.”

If Mueller is able to prove, as he has in other cases, that Trump Jr. “knowingly and willfully” falsified or covered up a material fact or made a “materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation,” Trump Jr. is in trouble.

Was Trump Jr. somewhat out of the loop on the Moscow Project as he suggested (“I was peripherally aware of it”) or was he saying something he knew to be untrue as Cohen did?

Editor’s note: The story and headline was updated after publication in light of clarification about NPR’s reporting on Trump Jr.’s statements. We’ve also added NPR’s explanation. 

[Image via Drew Angerer / Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.