President Donald Trump on Thursday called Michael Cohen a “weak person” after his former personal lawyer reached a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller over lying to congressional investigators about a Russia real estate project.
Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn as he left for the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, Trump also said that Cohen was “not a very smart person” who he accused of lying to get a more lenient sentence and press attention.
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Cohen appeared in court in Manhattan on Thursday morning and admitted to lying to the House and Senate Intelligence committees about the timeline regarding his work on a project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, which took place during the presidential campaign.
Cohen, in his sworn statement to Congress, said that work on the project stopped by January 2016, though prosecutors allege that Cohen worked on the deal, referred to as the “Moscow Project,” until as late as June 2016, at which point Trump was the presumptive Republican nominee for president.
Trump defended the project on Thursday, telling reporters he had ultimately dropped the Trump Tower Moscow project, but had the deal gone through, “it would be nothing wrong. I was running my business while I was campaigning.”
“There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business,” Trump argued. “And why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
He also insisted that the project was public knowledge. “It was a well-known project during the early part of 16 and I guess even before that. It lasted a short period of time,” Trump claimed.
His tone on Thursday was different than mid-2016, shortly after an online breach of the DNC that was eventually attributed to Russian attempts to boost his candidacy. Then, Trump distanced himself from Moscow, tweeting that he had “ZERO” investments in Russia. That tweet was posted about a month after prosecutors allege the Moscow deal fell apart.
Cohen’s latest admission is separate from a plea he entered in August, in which he pleaded guilty to fraud relating to his taxi medallion businesses, bank fraud and campaign finance violations stemming from his work with Trump. Following that plea, Cohen agreed to cooperate with Mueller on his investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
Trump accused Cohen on Thursday of making up lies about the Moscow project in order to shave off time from his eventual sentence.
“So very simply, Michael Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me,” Trump said, though Cohen has also pleaded guilty to doling out hush money to women at Trump’s direction in order to sway the election.