President Trump on Thursday called Michael Cohen a “weak person” after his former personal attorney and longtime fixer reached a plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller.
“He’s a weak person,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn before departing for the G-20 summit in Argentina. “Unlike other people you watch,” Trump said, all Cohen is “trying to do is get a reduced sentence, so he’s lying.”
Asked by a reporter why Trump had employed Cohen for so many years if he doesn’t trust him, Trump said Cohen had done a “favor” for him “a long time ago.”
In a surprise appearance in federal court in New York earlier Thursday, Cohen had pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress in testimony about his contacts with Russia on behalf of Trump’s real estate business during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Entering his plea agreement, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Cohen said he lied to congressional investigators about the timing of a Trump-branded real estate project in Moscow “out of loyalty to Trump” and “to be consistent with the president’s political messaging.”
“It’s no surprise that Cohen lied to Congress,” Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, said in a separate statement. “He’s a proven liar who is doing everything he can to get out of a long-term prison sentence for serious crimes of bank and tax fraud that had nothing to do with the Trump Organization.”
“This was a project that we didn’t do — I didn’t do,” Trump said. “There would be nothing wrong if I did do it.”
The president said that even if Cohen was telling the truth about the Moscow project, it wouldn’t matter “because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign.”
During and after his campaign, Trump insisted that he had no “deals” involving Russia. He said Thursday that he had pursued the Moscow project, but dropped it to concentrate on his presidential run. But the question of precisely when he gave up on it has figured in Mueller’s probe. Yahoo News reported earlier this year that investigators had found evidence the project was still alive as late as May 2016, around the time Trump clinched the nomination.
The president told the New York Post on Wednesday that he would consider a pardon for Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, whose plea deal with the special counsel was rescinded after prosecutors said he lied to federal agents and government lawyers during interviews. (Manafort’s attorneys dispute the allegations.)
“It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table,” Trumps said about a pardon for Manafort. “Why would I take it off the table?”
Earlier this year, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felony counts related to his personal finances, including charges of tax evasion and bank fraud. But he also directly implicated the president in two campaign finance-related schemes during the 2016 general election, in connection with payoffs to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.
ABC News reported that since that earlier plea deal, Cohen has spent more than 70 hours in interviews with Mueller’s team.
“The questioning has focused on contacts with Russians by Trump associates during the campaign, Trump’s business ties to Russia, obstruction of justice and talk of possible pardons,” ABC News said.
Cohen, who once said that he would “take a bullet” for the president, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. His attorney, Guy Petrillo, said his client “has cooperated” and “will continue to cooperate.”
Cohen is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 12.
Read the full charging document filed by Mueller: