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Cohen deal signals Mueller probe's intensifying focus on Trump: ‘In search of a crime?’

FOX News logo FOX News 11/29/2018 Brooke Singman

A Moscow real estate deal that Michael Cohen on Thursday admitted lying about when he was President Trump's lawyer was also the subject of a question Robert Mueller put to the president under oath, raising speculation the special counsel is intensifying his focus on the commander-in-chief as his probe enters its final phase.

Cohen's guilty plea was just the latest twist that speaks to Mueller's scrutiny of Trump. Other developments show the special counsel homing in on everything from Trump's awareness of a highly scrutinized meeting with Trump campaign associates and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016 to a last-minute party platform change regarding Ukraine to Trump's late-night phone calls with political operative Roger Stone.

But the Cohen guilty plea underscored another area of interest: a since-abandoned Trump real estate deal in Russia, which Cohen said he lied about to Congress.

Significantly, Mueller's questions to Trump included a specific inquiry about any "interaction and communication" Trump may have had with Cohen and others, "including foreign nationals, regarding real estate developments in Russia" during the campaign.

But Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told The New York Times that Trump's recollection about the project aligned with Cohen's.

Trump, in response to Thursday's plea deal, called Cohen a "weak person" and accused him of lying to get out of trouble.

a man looking at the camera: Media fault his denunciation of Mueller. © Media fault his denunciation of Mueller. The plea deal involves cooperation with Mueller's team, leaving unclear what else Cohen, who already pleaded guilty to fraud and other charges in a separate case, is telling them. One report said Cohen has given 70 hours of interviews.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported that Mueller’s team was investigating whether Stone acted as a bridge between Trump and WikiLeaks—the secretive organization that published hundreds of emails from Clinton campaign officials.

The Post reported that Trump and Stone’s late-night phone calls have come under scrutiny by federal investigators, though Stone said he never discussed WikiLeaks with then-candidate Trump. Mueller reportedly obtained the phone records from the Trump Organization, which reveal multiple calls between the two, according to The Post.

Stone told The Post the records of their phone calls had little importance unless the special counsel had recordings of the actual conversations.

Ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort also has been repeatedly pressed for details about Trump. Specifically, top prosecutor Andrew Weissmann has been pumping Manafort for information, with a focus on the highly scrutinized meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and whether Trump knew about it in advance.

Mueller's team this week accused Manafort of violating his plea deal by lying to investigators, amid reports his cooperation agreement was not panning out how prosecutors had hoped.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera © Provided by Fox News Network LLC The Trump Tower meeting was initially offered to Donald Trump Jr. by music promoter Rob Goldstone, who billed the conversation as one to discuss “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr., Manafort, and the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner attended the meeting with Veselnitskaya, where they ultimately discussed Russian adoption and the potential repeal of the Magnitsky Act—a law that slaps sanctions on Russian oligarchs.

The meeting caused headaches for the White House when it was first revealed in the summer of 2017, and continues to as the special counsel’s team further presses Trump associates for information.

The president has repeatedly denied having prior knowledge of the arranged meeting.

Goldstone voluntarily appeared before Mueller investigators in March and has not been contacted by the special counsel’s office since.

Veselnitskaya did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment regarding Mueller’s investigation, but told Fox News last year that she was never “looking for a meeting” specifically with Trump or his team, and said that she would have contacted “Hillary Clinton or anybody from her environment” should they have been able to help to repeal the Magnitsky Act.

According to an ABC News report, Mueller’s team also questioned Trump in writing over the Republican National Committee's last-minute decision to change the party platform to include the U.S. providing arms to Ukraine. The RNC’s move happened once the GOP convention in Cleveland, Ohio, began in July 2016 and was viewed as a concession to the Russian government.

The platform change occurred only after Manafort became campaign chairman, after initially being brought on the Trump team as campaign convention manager. Manafort was convicted in August on multiple counts of financial fraud in connection with work he completed in Ukraine as a political consultant.

The president has denied having any knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting before it occurred, WikiLeaks plans to hack the DNC, and has said he was “not involved” in the RNC platform change.

So far, Mueller’s team has not charged anyone connected to the president with collusion-related crimes. Aside from Manafort’s conviction for financial crimes, the special counsel’s office has charged Trump campaign associates like former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn with making false statements to investigators.

But as the years-long investigation enters a critical phase, the president’s hostility toward the probe has reached an all-time high.

“Did you ever see an investigation more in search of a crime? At the same time Mueller and the Angry Democrats aren’t even looking at the atrocious, and perhaps subversive, crimes that were committed by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. A total disgrace!” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.

He added: “When will this illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt, one that has shattered so many innocent lives, ever end- or will it just go on forever? After wasting more than $40,000,000 (is that possible?), it has proven only one thing-there was NO Collusion with Russia. So Ridiculous!”

Fox News' John Roberts contributed to this report. 


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