Cohen told lawmakers that Trump attorneyJay Sekulow encouraged him to give false information to Congress

Cohen, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in February, said he was repeatedly instructed to "stay on message...there's no Russia."
Image: Michael Cohen Leaves Manhattan Apartment For Three-Year Prison Sentence
Michael Cohen departs his apartment for prison on May 6, 2019 in New York City.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

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By Dartunorro Clark

President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen told lawmakers behind closed doors that Jay Sekulow, one of the president's attorneys, encouraged him to give untrue information to lawmakers about the Trump Tower project in Moscow, according to transcripts released Monday.

Cohen testified to the House Intelligence Committee earlier this year that Sekulow told him to say in 2017 that discussions about the project had ended in January 2016, when, in fact, they had continued for months after that, the transcripts show.

Cohen said in February testimony that his conversations with Sekulow regarding what he would tell Congress about the Moscow deal in 2017 involved "staying on message."

"And the message was always was whether I was — when I was with Mr. Trump or during these conversations, it was always about to stay on message, which is there's no Russia, there's no collusion, there's no business deals. And that was the message that we were staying on. And that was the message that I was going to put into the statement," Cohen told congressional investigators, according to the transcripts.

In one February exchange, congressional investigators asked Cohen, "So, did Jay Sekulow tell you then why he wanted you to lie about pursuing a deal in Moscow during the campaign?"

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"Not that I recall, no. This was the message," Cohen responded. "And we were preparing the statement and stay on message, and there's nothing going — that this whole thing is going to be over. There's no — 'The investigation is going to come to an end in like 6 weeks. Don't worry; it's all good. The boss loves you.' Actually, he would refer to him as the client, you know, or say to me: 'I just left with the client, and he loves you. Don't worry. He's sorry about this, or he's sorry about that, that you have to go through this.' And everybody looked at this document. It got sent around. And this became the final statement as with the other document."

"The public should judge for themselves both the evidence released today in conjunction with Cohen’s testimony related to Trump, his troubling relationship with Russia, and the efforts by Trump and those close to him to hide the relationship and potential business deals," Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. "The public also deserves the chance to judge Cohen’s credibility for themselves, including by examining some of the evidence he provided to the Committee."

Sekulow responded Monday through his attorneys, saying that Cohen, who is serving a three-year prison term, should not be believed.

"That this or any Committee would rely on the word of Michael Cohen for any purpose — much less to try and pierce the attorney-client privilege and discover confidential communications of four respected lawyers — defies logic, well-established law and common sense," Sekulow's attorneys, Jane Serene Raskin and Patrick Strawbridge, said in a statement.

Cohen, 52, also told lawmakers publicly in January that Sekulow was among Trump's personal lawyers who reviewed and edited his 2017 statement to Congress regarding negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

"There were changes made, additions, Jay Sekulow, for one," Cohen told the House Oversight Committee, when asked which lawyers for Trump may have reviewed or edited his 2017 statement.

Sekulow denied Cohen's allegation at the time, calling it "completely false."

Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the president's business dealings with Russia,as well as other criminal conduct, including making secret payments to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump and failing to report millions of dollars in income. He is now serving three years in federal prison.

He admitted to making several significant false statements to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2017 about Trump's Moscow project, including testimony that the project had ended in January 2016 because of "business reasons.”

Cohen told the House Oversight Committee during his January testimony that he made the false statement because at the time, he was extremely loyal to Trump. He also said that Trump "did not directly tell me to lie to Congress" but added that in Trump's his way "he was telling me to lie."

"To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win the election," Cohen told the oversight committee. "He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project."

Alex Moe contributed.