WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s personal attorney confirmed on Sunday that discussions about Trump Tower Moscow went on months longer than has been previously acknowledged — up until Trump was elected in November 2016.
Rudy Giuliani, appearing on two Sunday morning political shows, also admitted that Trump might have talked with Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer and fixer, about his congressional testimony before Cohen spoke to investigators on Capitol Hill.
Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about when discussions about the Moscow deal ended in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project concluded in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”
On the campaign trail, Trump vehemently denied having any business interests in Russia. But BuzzFeed News reported on Thursday that he in fact received at least 10 updates about the plans, and then directed Cohen to lie to Congress about when those negotiations ended in order to obscure his own involvement.
Mueller’s office issued a statement Friday disputing elements of that report relating to the ongoing investigation. “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” it said.
BuzzFeed News stands by its story and the two law enforcement sources who informed it.
Cohen’s lawyers have said in court filings that he acted out of “fierce loyalty” to Trump. “[T]he conduct was intended to benefit Client-1, in accordance with Client-1’s directives,” they wrote.
Giuliani, appearing on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, insisted that Trump hadn’t instructed Cohen to lie to Congress, but said he was unsure whether Trump had discussed Cohen’s congressional testimony with him beforehand.
“As far as I know, President Trump did not have discussions with him, certainly had no discussions with him in which he told him or counseled him to lie,” Giuliani told host Jake Tapper. “If he had any discussions with him, they'd be about the version of the events that Michael Cohen gave them, which they all believed was true.”
But pressed by Tapper, Giuliani admitted it was a possibility. “So what if he talked to him about it?” Giuliani asked.
Giuliani also appeared on NBC News’ Meet the Press with Chuck Todd on Sunday, where he revealed that conversations about the Trump Moscow project “lasted throughout parts of 2016” and characterized the project as “an active proposal” at that time. Giuliani said the discussions could have gone “up to as far as October, November” and that Trump’s legal team told Mueller about the timeline in written responses to questions from the special counsel.
“It's our understanding that it — that they went on throughout 2016,” Giuliani said. “Weren't a lot of them, but there were conversations. Can't be sure of the exact date. But the president can remember having conversations with him about it.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Giuliani went further, saying that Trump remembers discussing the project with Cohen up until November 2016, when Trump was elected president. “It was all going from the day I announced to the day I won,” Trump said, according to Giuliani.
Giuliani also said Sunday that it’s possible Cohen decided to tell Congress the Trump Moscow talks ended in January 2016, before the Iowa caucuses, in consultation with the president’s lawyers.
“Now, that could be true also,” Giuliani told NBC. “John Dowd, Jay Sekulow, Ty Cobb were the lawyers then. And it would be not uncommon, since there was a joint defense agreement that— I don't know if they pretty much— I don’t know if they participated in the preparation, but they'd certainly be told about it, just like he would be told about what other people were doing. That's what a joint defense agreement's all about.”
On Monday, Giuliani attempted to backtrack on some of his previous comments, telling the New York Daily News that Trump "never spoke with Cohen about the congressional testimony." Giuliani also reportedly claimed that Trump "doesn’t remember whether" discussions about the Trump Moscow project continued until the election, noting that Trump, in written answers to questions from Mueller, said the talks could have gone on that long. “We answered the question from the special counsel that way because it leaves him protected,” Giuliani reportedly said.
The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has led the congressional investigations into Russian election interference, told NBC that Sunday's revelation about the timeline of the Trump Tower Moscow is “big news.”
“Why, two years after the fact, are we just learning this fact now, when there's been this much inquiry?” asked Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat whose committee Cohen has admitted lying to. “If those negotiations were ongoing while...up 'til the election, I think that's a relevant fact for voters to know. And I think it's remarkable that we're two years after the fact and just discovering it today.”
BuzzFeed News first reported in November that the Trump Organization had planned to give Russian President Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse in the Moscow tower.
Cohen is set to testify publicly before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 7.
This story has been updated with new comments from Rudy Giuliani.