STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We've been reading a remarkable 10-page document today. It is a list of lies - lies that federal prosecutors say President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen told to protect him, lies about business dealings in Russia. Today, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, and the document details those statements, as well as what prosecutors describe as the truth. It is not Cohen's first guilty plea.
NPR's Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department, has been covering this story. Hey there, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK, so what happened this morning?
LUCAS: Well, Cohen made a surprise appearance at a federal court in Lower Manhattan. Turned up, pleaded guilty to one count, as you said, of lying to Congress about negotiations with Russians to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
What he told Congress was that those negotiations ended in January of 2016. He now says that that was a lie. Those talks actually continued through, at least, June of 2016.
INSKEEP: And there's a list of other lies here involving someone who is identified in the document only as Individual One. What does it say about Individual One? Who is he?
LUCAS: Well, Individual One is the owner of the company that Michael Cohen worked for.
INSKEEP: A Manhattan-based real estate company.
LUCAS: A Manhattan-based real estate company. As you said, this individual is referenced as Individual One, but that, of course, appears to be Donald Trump.
INSKEEP: It's someone who happened to have a campaign of some sort in 2016 who was talking about - his aides were talking about him traveling to Russia around the time of the convention where he was the nominee. Anyway, go on.
LUCAS: Right. There are a lot of new details - a lot of meat on the bone of what we knew before about these talks about a Trump Tower in Moscow. And one of the things that the court papers say that were filed by the special counsel's office - they say that Cohen discussed the status and project of the Moscow project with Trump on more than three occasions. He also kept his family members abreast of those negotiations.
The papers also say that Cohen and Trump discussed traveling to Moscow for the project. There was talk about Trump traveling to Moscow for it. Cohen was trying to figure out whether he, as in Cohen, should travel before or after the Republican Convention. When it came to Trump, the idea would be for him to go after the convention. Trump, of course, never traveled to Moscow for this.
There are also very interesting details about Cohen's conversation with an individual from the Office of the Russian President's press secretary. It came out earlier that Cohen had emailed - sent an email to the press secretary's office, never heard back. It turns out that that was not true. What happened is Cohen actually spoke with an assistant from the press secretary's office. They spoke for about 20 minutes on the phone. Cohen asked for help moving the Trump Tower Moscow project forward, help with securing land and financing. The court papers say that the Russian assistant took notes on this and said that she would follow up.
INSKEEP: I just want to remember what's happening in 2016. Emails are being stolen. Stories are being spread. Russia is attempting to influence the election. U.S. intelligence agencies have found Russia was trying to influence the election in favor of now-President Trump.
And we now have Michael Cohen acknowledging that he lied about the extent of his efforts and other people's efforts to get President Trump involved in some large real estate deal in Moscow, and the Russian government was contacted as part of this.
LUCAS: That is correct. And what court papers say is that Cohen was making these false statements to Congress about the Moscow project, and he was doing it for two reasons - one, it says, to minimize links between the Moscow deal and Trump, and, two, to give the false impression that the project for a Trump Tower in Moscow ended before the Iowa caucus. And the first primary in the 2016 presidential elections began in hopes of limiting the Russia investigation.
INSKEEP: What is President Trump saying about all this?
LUCAS: President Trump spoke today to reporters before heading out to the G-20 summit. Here's a little bit of what he had to say.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He's a weak person, and what he's trying to do is get a reduced sentence, so he's lying about a project that everybody knew about.
LUCAS: Now, a couple of things to note here. One, it's not exactly true that everybody knew about this project. It was a big deal when it came out in 2017 that there were negotiations, even up into early 2016, about a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Now, in terms of Trump's attack on Cohen, this has been a line that we have heard from the president and his allies repeatedly in the past several months. They are accusing Cohen of being a liar. They are trying to undermine anything that he might say to the special counsel's office and what the public might learn about Trump's business dealings, as well as, you know, what he has to say about the broader Russia investigation.
INSKEEP: But just to note that before Michael Cohen flipped, President Trump spoke of him as a much stronger individual and predicted he would not flip. Ryan, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
LUCAS: My pleasure.
INSKEEP: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.