Michael Cohen reportedly says he heard President Trump talking about and approving that fateful Trump Tower meeting — despite Trump and his team’s denials that Trump knew anything about it at the time. Cohen also reportedly says that this is known to other people — other people who could conceivably corroborate it to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
If they do, it would be merely the latest Trump denial from the Russia and Cohen cases that falls apart and the second this week, both thanks to Cohen. But it would also probably be the most serious cover-up yet.
Let’s recap the worst of the worst, with Cohen’s latest allegation tentatively included (Cohen is not on the record and reportedly doesn’t have a tape or documentation, and the Trump team maintains he’s lying):
1. Trump didn’t know about the Trump Tower meeting
“No,” Trump told Reuters in July 2017 about the June 2016 meeting. “That I didn’t know until a couple of days ago — when I heard about this. No, I didn’t know about that.”
He also told the New York Times: “No, I didn’t know anything about the meeting.”
Donald Trump Jr. also denied it — under oath. “He wasn’t aware of it,” Trump Jr. said. “And, frankly, by the time anyone was aware of it, which was summer of this year, as I stated earlier, I wouldn’t have wanted to get him involved in it, because it had nothing to do with him.”
The truth (?)
Again, Cohen’s version is secondhand and unconfirmed, but he’s apparently willing to testify to it. And if other people know about it, we can bet they’ll be forced to testify to that effect, too.
Were this denial to fall apart, it would be perhaps the most serious false denial, given the Trump Tower meeting’s centrality to the Russia investigation and the fact that it could open Trump Jr. to potential perjury allegations. It would also be among the most incontrovertibly false denials on this list.
2. Trump wasn’t involved in the response to the Trump Tower meeting
“I wasn’t involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the president,” said Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow on July 12, 2017.
Sekulow added on a separate program that day: “The president didn’t sign off on anything. He was coming back from the [Group of 20 summit]. The statement that was released on Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr., I’m sure in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn’t involved in that.”
The Washington Post soon reported that Trump had dictated Trump Jr.’s initial, misleading statement on the meeting.
And last month, in court filings, Trump’s legal team for the first time admitted that on the record. “You have received all of the notes, communications and testimony indicating that the President dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr.,” his lawyers wrote. “His son then followed up by making a full public disclosure regarding the meeting, including his public testimony that there was nothing to the meeting and certainly no evidence of collusion.”
3. The Trump team didn’t talk to Russians
“It never happened,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in November 2016. “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”
Added now-Vice President Pence: “Of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?”
We now know about the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer tied to Vladimir Putin (and other Russians), of course. We also know about various contacts between now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russian ambassador. We also know about Erik Prince meeting in Seychelles with a Russian close to Putin, possibly to set up a back channel of communication.
The Post’s Philip Bump details all the connections here.
4. The Trump team didn’t know about the National Enquirer/Karen McDougal payment
“We have no knowledge of any of this,” Hicks said when the Wall Street Journal first reported late in the 2016 campaign that the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., had purchased the rights to Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of an alleged affair with Trump.
Trump had spoken with Cohen about buying the rights to the story on a September 2016 tape that Cohen released publicly this week. It is not clear how many details of the situation Trump himself knew — apart from the purchase price and apparently that he was buying something from AMI head David Pecker — but he clearly knew enough for Hicks not to offer such an absolute denial. And Cohen clearly knew a lot.
5. Trump didn’t stay overnight in Moscow in 2013
The reported denials
Former FBI director James B. Comey has said Trump denied to him on two occasions that he stayed overnight in Moscow during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant there, when an allegation in the Steele dossier suggests that Russia may have obtained compromising video of him.
Comey said Trump told him at a private dinner that he “had spoken to people who had been on . . . the trip with him and they had reminded him that he didn’t stay overnight in Russia for that.”
Flight records indicated that Trump’s plane was in Moscow from Friday to Sunday morning — meaning he had to have stayed over at least one night.
Faced with this evidence, Trump denied that he had ever told Comey that he didn’t stay overnight in Moscow. “He said I didn’t stay there a night. Of course I stayed there,” Trump told Fox News. “I stayed there a very short period of time, but of course I stayed. Well, his memo said I left immediately. I never said that. I never said I left immediately.”
6. Trump didn’t know about the Stormy Daniels payment
The denials from Trump personally were somewhat less ironclad. He mostly denied knowledge of the Daniels arrangement — without specifically denying that he might have somehow paid Cohen back:
Q: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
TRUMP: No. No. What else?
. . .
Q: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
TRUMP: No, I don’t know. No.
Rudolph W. Giuliani eventually spilled the beans, saying Cohen “funneled it through a law firm, and the president repaid it.” Trump later confirmed Cohen was placed on a retainer.