Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

Articles by

Ahead of his mid-December sentencing, Michael Cohen’s attorneys filed a memo Friday arguing that their client should avoid jail time in exchange for the “unique” extent of his cooperation with law enforcement.

The document lays out the details of Cohen’s cooperation with multiple state and federal investigations involving President Trump’s campaign, private foundation, and real estate company. It also provides fresh information about Trump’s own alleged role in orchestrating or being kept up to speed on some of Cohen’s criminal activities.

“The facts and circumstances surrounding this case are unique and unprecedented, involving, among other things, the former personal attorney to the sitting president, campaign finance violations centered on extramarital affairs of a presidential candidate, and congressional testimony in an exceptionally heated political environment,” Cohen’s attorneys wrote.

Here are some key takeaways from the filing.

Cohen wants to be sentenced now

Prosecutors and defendants typically agree to prolong sentencing until a defendant has exhausted his or her cooperation to ensure that the individual doesn’t stop cooperating once they’ve been sentenced. Not so in Cohen’s case.

Cohen’s attorneys say he fully expects to cooperate further with any law enforcement body that requests information from him, but that he wants to be sentenced on Dec. 12, as scheduled, so he can move on with his life.

“Nearly every professional and commercial relationship that he enjoyed, and a number of long-standing friendships, have vanished,” they wrote. “Thus, the necessity, at age 52, to begin his life virtually anew, including developing new means to support his family, convinced Michael to seek an early sentence date.”

As proof of his commitment to assist the government, Cohen’s attorneys note that he offered to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller on Aug 7., before he was even charged with financial crimes by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office. Cohen also did so knowing that Trump and his allies would continue to launch a “raw, full-bore attack” on the investigation and on himself personally, they said.

Cohen is assisting with a web of investigations

Cohen hasn’t just been meeting with Mueller. He’s also been offering cooperation to various New York state entities investigating misdeeds in Trumpworld and other unspecified cases.

Per Cohen’s attorneys, Cohen has “voluntarily met twice with representatives” of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and “responded to questions concerning an ongoing investigation.” He plans to continue to do so “as and when needed.”

Following Cohen’s August guilty plea, various publications reported that the office was investigating whether Trump Organization executives violated campaign finance law by helping structure hush money payments to Trump’s alleged former lovers.

He’s also “met voluntarily” with the New York Attorney General’s office as part of their lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation, the president, and his three eldest children for violating state charity laws. Cohen has “also provided the NYAG with documents concerning a separate open inquiry,” which is not described in further detail.

That line may refer to the attorney general’s investigation into Cohen’s state tax law violations. Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office sought a criminal referral from the state Department of Taxation and Finance to open that criminal probe.

Per Cohen’s attorney’s, their client “waived subpoena and met on an expedited basis” with the tax department and has “cooperated personally and through counsel and tax professionals with requests for information” from them.

The lawyers say that both the special counsel, with whom Cohen met seven times so far, and Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office will file letters to the court urging them to consider Cohen’s cooperation when recommending a sentence.

Trump is central to Cohen’s wrongdoing

Cohen’s team puts the blame for their client’s crimes squarely on Trump.

“In each case, the conduct was intended to benefit Client-1, in accordance with Client-1’s directive,” the attorneys wrote. “Michael regrets that his vigor in promoting
Client-1’s interests in the heat of political battle led him to abandon good judgment and cross legal lines.”

The memo confirms Cohen’s August claim in open court that he worked to coordinate and make payoffs to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels “at the direction” of Trump. Cohen “participated in planning discussions” with Trump and “the Chairman and CEO” of the Trump Organization to convince McDougal to sell her story to the National Enquirer, which then refused to run it. Cohen also paid Daniels’ attorney “in coordination with and at the direction of Client-1, and others within the Company”; the plans to reimburse Cohen for his services via “legal fees” were coordinated “with the approval of Client-1,” per the memo.

As Lawfare noted, the tone shifts when the memo describes Cohen’s work on a project to develop a Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty last week to lying to Congress about his work on the project, which lasted until June of that year.

Cohen’s attorneys don’t claim that Trump ordered him to lie. Instead, they say, his false testimony to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees stemmed from his effort “to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging.”

Trump’s displeasure at being so central to the sentencing memo was evident on Monday morning, when he tweeted that Cohen’s crimes were “unrelated to Trump.”

“He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself, and get his wife and father-in-law (who has the money?) off Scott Free,” the President wrote. “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”

Cohen was in touch with Trump team last year

Cohen coordinated his responses to the various Russia investigations with the White House, the memo reveals.

It notes that Cohen was still serving as Trump’s personal attorney last fall when he was summoned to appear before the congressional intelligence committees, and that he was following “daily the political messages that both Client-1 and his staff and supporters repeatedly and forcefully broadcast.”

Notably, “in the weeks during which his then-counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1.”

Cohen’s attorneys say he crafted his responses in order to align with Trump’s disavowal of the Russia probe and of allegations he had any business interests in Russia.

More shoes will drop over next few weeks

The next few weeks will bring more key developments in the various Cohen investigations. Prosecutors will file their own sentencing memo presumably outlining Cohen’s cooperation, which may contain new revelations.

Cohen’s team has asked that he receive a sentence of time served and restitution to the IRS, saying the “gargantuan cost to Michael” renders imprisonment an unnecessary additional punishment or deterrent. They note he’s likely to lose his law license, has to pay restitution, “will be named in a parallel tax case brought by New York State,” lost all business at his consulting firm, had bank and insurance agreements canceled, and faced intense media scrutiny, hate mail, and threats.

Cohen is set to be scheduled at federal court in lower Manhattan on Wednesday Dec. 12 at 11 a.m. ET. TPM will be in attendance.

Read More →

It’s all coming back to Michael Cohen. In a surprise Thursday news break, Cohen pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with Russia during the 2016 campaign as part of a new deal with special counsel Robert Mueller. The development put the Trump family squarely back in the spotlight of the Russia investigation.

Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his months-long effort, carried out with mob-linked Trump associate Felix Sater, to develop a Trump Tower Moscow. Contrary to Cohen’s testimony, that project was under consideration until June 2016 — after Trump had become the presumptive GOP nominee. Despite Trump’s insistence he had “zero” business interests in Russia, Cohen also admitted he was briefing Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump about the deal, and even asked Trump to go to Moscow in person during the campaign.

Cohen also lied about his repeated contacts with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman about the project. Per Buzzfeed, he and Sater even discussed giving Putin the penthouse apartment to encourage other deep-pocketed Russians to invest in the building.

Cohen has reportedly sat for 70 hours of interviews with Mueller’s team.

Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and defenders of the president say all the new deal shows is that Cohen is a liar.

The effects of the news were immediate. After telling reporters he still planned to meet with Putin at the G-20 summit in Argentina, Trump reversed course an hour later, citing Russia’s seizure of a Ukrainian ship last week. Russia wasn’t buying it, saying Trump’s decision was caused by a “domestic political situation” and the two leaders still planned to meet. Nuh-uh, said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, insisting that “the reason for our canceled meeting is Ukraine.”

In other major Mueller news, Paul Manafort’s plea deal is off. The special counsel said in a court filing this week that the former Trump campaign chairman breached the agreement by repeatedly lying to investigators during their conversations. While Manafort’s lawyers insist their client “believes” he was being truthful, former federal prosecutors told TPM that Mueller wouldn’t have taken this dramatic step without ironclad proof that Manfort had lied about something major.

At a Friday hearing, Mueller’s team was given one week to file a report on Manafort’s breach and said they may file additional charges against him.

As it turns out, Manafort’s lawyer was in touch with Trump’s team even after Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller — highly unusual discussions that reportedly strained Manafort’s relations with the special counsel’s office.

The Guardian reported that Manafort met with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange three times, including once in 2016, but no other news outlet has been able to confirm that report.

Conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi is telling anyone who will listen that he just guessed the order of how WikiLeaks would release the Clinton campaign’s hacked emails, despite emails that indicate he was told they were coming.

Former FBI Director Jim Comey is fighting a subpoena from House Republicans in federal court, arguing that the lawmakers will only allow him to appear behind closed doors because they want to selectively leak his testimony for political gain.

And George Papadopolous is in a Wisconsin prison, carrying out his 14-day sentence for lying to the FBI.

Read More →

At an unscheduled Thursday appearance in a Manhattan courtroom, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress as part of a new plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Cohen repeatedly lied to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about his efforts to develop a Trump-branded property in Moscow while the 2016 presidential campaign was underway, according to the new criminal information filed against Cohen. According to the special counsel, Cohen falsely told Congress that efforts to develop the property ended in January 2016 and were not discussed with others in the company.

In fact, Cohen repeatedly “discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1,” who is identifiable in court documents as President Trump.

Cohen also “briefed family members of Individual 1 within the Company about the project” and “took steps in contemplation of Individual 1’s possible travel to Russia,” per the information.

CNN reported that Cohen said in court that he made the false statements “to be consistent with Individual-1’s political messaging and to be loyal to Individual-1,” Cohen said in court.

Trump has repeatedly denied having any financial or business ties to Russia. On Thursday, both the President and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, downplayed Cohen’s new plea deal, calling him a “weak person” and a “proven liar,” respectively.

Departing court on Thursday morning, Cohen’s attorney, Guy Petrillo, told a crush of reporters: “Mr. Cohen has cooperated, Mr. Cohen will continue to cooperate.”

Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, pleaded guilty in August to federal tax and campaign finance violations in a separate case brought by Manhattan federal prosecutors. Cohen has publicly offered his enthusiastic cooperation to state and federal law enforcement agencies, saying he had to “put family and country” ahead of his loyalty to his former boss.

These are the first charges Mueller has brought against Cohen.

Per the information, Cohen allegedly worked closely with former Trump Organization associate Felix Sater—identified as “Individual 2” in court documents—through June 2016 to develop the Moscow project. The pair “discussed on multiple occasions traveling to Russia to pursue” the building, and Cohen claimed that he asked Trump himself about making the trip, according to the filing.

Cohen has also lied to Congress about his repeated contact with President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, throughout the first six months of 2016, including a 20-minute January phone call with his assistant about the Moscow project. That May, Sater allegedly informed Cohen that Peskov wanted Cohen to attend a forum in St. Petersburg in June where he could be introduced “to either [the President of Russia] or [the Prime Minister of Russia],” the filing read.

ABC News reported that Cohen has spent over 70 hours in interviews with Mueller’s investigators, fielding questions about contacts between Trump associates and Russia, Trump’s business ties to Russia, obstruction of justice, and possible pardons Trump has offered to others caught up in the probe.

Sources told ABC that Cohen’s cooperation has been “crucial” to Mueller’s investigation.

The former Trump ally’s deal with Mueller comes two weeks before Cohen was set to be sentenced in the separate federal probe into his financial dealings. Cohen faces a possible sentence of 46 to 63 months in prison and a fine of up to $1 million in that case—consequences that could be reduced if he provides substantial information to Mueller’s investigation.

As part of the New York case, Cohen told the court that President Trump directed him to make hush money payments to women during the 2016 campaign “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”

Read the new criminal information against Cohen and plea deal below.

This post has been updated.

Read More →

A decision handed down by a New York judge over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend bolstered most of the key arguments in the state attorney general’s lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

Judge Saliann Scarpulla rejected the Trump Foundation’s motion to dismiss the suit in a Friday ruling. She affirmed that a sitting U.S. president can be sued for activities unrelated to his conduct in office. And she wrote that New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s allegations that President Trump used his personal charity to settle personal financial affairs and further his political career were “very serious.”

Scarpulla’s ruling was a green light allowing the case to proceed, exposing Trump to millions of dollars in potential penalties. Trump’s legal team must file a response within 45 days of her decision.

Here’s what you need to know about Scarpulla’s assessment of the case.

Yes, you can sue the U.S. President

Citing the landmark Clinton v. Jones Supreme Court ruling and the more recent decision in a former Apprentice star’s defamation suit against Trump, Scarpulla confirmed that sitting U.S. presidents can be sued.

Scarpulla quoted from New York Supreme Court Judge Schecter’s ruling in the Trump v. Zervos case: “There is absolutely no authority for dismissing or staying a civil action related purely to unofficial conduct because defendant is the President of the United States.”

“I find that I have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump,” Scarpulla wrote.

She dismissed as “meritless” the Trump team’s claims that a federal court would be better suited to handle the matter, given that the entire case hinges on New York state charity laws.

Scarpulla noted that Trump’s attorneys have appealed the Schecter ruling in the Zervos case, and that she will dismiss the petition against Trump if the appeals court reverses it. The other respondents—Trump Foundation board members Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, and Donald Trump Jr.—could still face penalties if Underwood re-files the petition, Scarpulla said,

Claims of political bias are not going to fly

Trump and his team have made much of the notion that disgraced former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who initiated the investigation of the Foundation, was  unfairly biased against the President.

But Scarpulla agreed with Underwood’s office’s counter-argument: that investigating potential charitable fraud is well within the purview of the attorney general’s office, and that their findings were legitimate.

“Given the very serious allegations set forth in the petition, I find that there is no basis for finding that animus and bias were the sole motivating factors for initiating the investigation and pursuing this proceeding,” Scarpulla wrote.

She had hinted in court that she was uninterested in getting sucked into any partisan bickering related to the Republican president and ousted Democratic attorney general.

The Iowa fundraiser substantially benefited Trump

Scarpulla determined that a January 2016 Iowa fundraiser Trump held to raise money for veterans appeared to provide him with free publicity that boosted his presidential bid.

The attorney general’s office “sufficiently alleges that Mr. Trump’s interest in the alleged acts of self-dealing were financial in nature and were substantial,” she wrote.

Trump held the event just days ahead of the Iowa caucuses in lieu of attending a GOP primary debate, asking wealthy friends to donate millions to veterans’ groups and directly to the foundation. His campaign built the website that managed the funds and dictated which organizations received them, and Trump disbursed the money at a series of campaign rallies across the state.

Scarpulla rejected the Trump’s team’s claims that he was merely a “passive recipient” of the funds.

Trump’s conduct appears “willful and intentional”

Under New York state law, “willful and intentional” misconduct by a charitable organization allows the attorney general to seek “an amount up to double the amount of any benefit improperly obtained.”

Trump’s attorneys have said Underwood’s office can’t prove he knew that what he was doing was improper. But Scarpulla said that the evidence they offered sufficed to move forward with the case. That included Trump signing foundation checks for veterans and then presenting them at rallies, and using his campaign to disburse those funds.

“These allegations sufficiently support a claim that Mr. Trump intentionally used Foundation assets for his private interests knowing that it may not be in the Foundation’s best interest,” Scarpulla said.

The foundation blurred the lines between charity and political organization

Trump’s attorneys have insisted that he was acting in his “individual capacity” when he appeared at campaign events carrying foundation checks, and therefore was not violating a ban on charities engaging in political activity.

But to make that legal argument, Trump would have had to avoid making “partisan statements” at these public appearances. Instead, he appeared at a MAGA-festooned podium, boasted about how the events could boost his political performance, and mocked his Republican primary opponents.

As Scarpulla wrote, Trump’s quotes from the fundraiser and subsequent rallies “show that Mr. Trump was acting in both of his capacities as campaign candidate and president of the Foundation.”

“Moreover, considering the allegations of coordination between the Campaign and Foundation, as well as the control and authority that Mr. Trump and the Campaign allegedly wielded over the Foundation, the petition adequately alleges that the political acts by Mr. Trump and the Campaign are attributable to the Foundation,” Scarpulla added.

Read More →

After months of foot-dragging and goalpost-shifting, attorneys for President Trump have finally turned over answers to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s written questions about Trump’s knowledge of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

What happens next is not quite clear. The questions did not focus on Trump’s actions post-inauguration, and Mueller wants more information as part of his investigation into Trump’s possible obstruction of justice. So the special counsel could either drop the matter, relying instead on other information he’s already obtained, or move forward with a subpoena against the President.

If Mueller does go the subpoena route, the independence of acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and the increasingly conservative leanings of the Supreme Court come into play, as Politico reported. Questions have continued to swirl about Whitaker’s appointment, with even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) admitting that Whitaker’s past criticism of the special counsel probe would be “problematic” to his Senate confirmation.

The former hot tub marketer’s work history would also likely be a source of concern during the confirmation process. New financial disclosure forms, which Whitaker had to revise five times, show that he earned $904,000 for his work at a conservative think tank that targeted Hillary Clinton.

A handful of Graham’s Democratic colleagues — Sens. Mazie Hirono (HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Richard Blumenthal (CT) — have filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Whitaker’s appointment was unconstitutional precisely because he was not Senate-confirmed for the post.

Trump claimed he was unaware of Whitaker’s skepticism of the Mueller probe when he chose him to lead the Department of Justice, but, of course, doesn’t mind that his new AG is “right.”

Mueller, for his part, said in court filings this week that Whitaker’s ascension neither “alters the Special Counsel’s authority to represent the United States nor raises any jurisdictional issue.”

Jerome Corsi, a conspiracy theorist and Roger Stone associate, is not always the most reliable source, but he says he is negotiating a plea deal with Mueller’s team — a statement that comes after months of indications that Mueller is closing in on him. A Corsi deal would bring Mueller quite a bit closer to investigating Stone’s claims of a relationship with Wikileaks during the 2016 election.

Mueller is also going after George Papadopoulos, slapping down the former Trump campaign aide’s bid to not serve the jail time he agreed to as part of a plea agreement. As the special counsel noted, Papadopoulos expressed remorse for lying to the FBI at his sentencing hearing, then launched a publicity tour claiming he’d been entrapped and regretted pleading guilty.

New York comic and Roger Stone ally Randy Credico has another meeting with Mueller’s team after Thanksgiving. That detail adds more fodder to predictions that Stone and/or some of his associates could be indicted for possibly coordinating with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign.

Read More →