Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, told congressional lawmakers earlier this year that Jay Sekulow, another lawyer working for the president, instructed him to lie about the timeline surrounding negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Cohen made the claims during closed-door hearings with the House Intelligence Committee in February and March. In his testimony, he said Sekulow instructed him to say in a 2017 statement to Congress that conversations on a project to erect a Trump skyscraper in Russia ended in January 2016, when, in fact, those negotiations continued into June of that year.
Sekulow pushed the January date, Cohen claimed to lawmakers, because it was a “good time” for the Moscow project to have ended, just as the caucus and primary voting in the ’16 presidential race was about to begin. The battle for the GOP nomination was up for grabs at that point, whereas Trump had emerged as the race’s clear winner by June.
Asked during his Intelligence Committee appearance about Sekulow’s rationale for using the January date, Cohen said that period “was before the Iowa caucus.” Sekulow argued that, in Cohen’s words, “since the deal didn’t take place, what would have been the harm” of giving the wrong date and “let’s just keep it that way.”
House lawmakers voted to release Cohen’s full testimony on Monday.
Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence for a bevy of crimes that came to light as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s dealings with Kremlin officials. Cohen pleaded guilty to charges related to hush money payments made to women who claimed to have affairs with Trump, as well as lying to Congress about the Moscow project.
Sekulow’s attorney’s rejected Cohen’s assertions in a statement to The Washington Post on Monday, telling the outlet that the remarks “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 the Intelligence Committee of any congressional panel “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,” the lawyers, Jane Serene Raskin and Patrick Strawbridge, said.
Sekulow didn’t begin working for Trump until after the 2016 election, but Cohen told lawmakers he believed the attorney knew that the Trump Tower negotiations continued into June.
Cohen also said he believed Trump himself had read the false testimony he made to Congress and said it was “good.”
“Mr. Sekulow expressed that to me,” Cohen said when asked by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) if Trump knew of his remarks. “Mr. Sekulow said that he spoke to the client and that, you know, the client likes it and that it’s good.”
Cohen worked for Trump for more than a decade, earning a reputation as his “pit bull” and fixer who could handle any issue. That relationship frayed in 2018 and culminated in public testimony in which Cohen called Trump a “con man” and “a cheat.”