Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation just heated up. While appearing in federal court on Thursday, President Donald Trump's former attorney pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his contact with Russians. Michael Cohen's guilty plea could spell trouble for Trump as Mueller's probe into the president's 2016 campaign moves forward.
The FBI has interviewed Cohen for more than 70 hours since the attorney pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions in August, ABC News reports. That guilty plea was part of a deal Cohen made with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York in order to avoid going to trial. Although that deal didn't explicitly implicate Trump in Cohen's crimes, something he said in court implied his involvement: Cohen claimed a "candidate for federal office" directed him to make the illegal contribution.
His second guilty plea looks just as bad for POTUS. On top of highlighting that Cohen continues to cooperate with Mueller's investigation, Thursday's plea claims he did, in fact, lie about contacts in Russia.
"It cannot be determined if Cohen’s cooperation will lead to other criminal allegations," Kendall Coffey, a former United States Attorney in Florida, told ABC. "But for most high-powered business people with complex business interests, having one’s personal attorney become a star witness for the prosecution is the worst possible legal nightmare."
During Thursday's court appearance, Cohen admitted to making false statements to a Senate intelligence committee in 2017. He said he lied about the timing of negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow that took place during the 2016 campaign and other details in order to be consistent with Trump’s "political message," per the Associated Press.
That Moscow real estate deal has been a focus of the FBI's probe into whether Trump's 2016 campaign conspired with Russia, as The New York Times notes. Cohen's admission that he lied about the negotiations raises further questions about whether or not he was asked to lie about the deal. If Trump directed Cohen to lie, federal prosecutors could come to the conclusion that the president attempted to obstruct justice.
Trump has continued to call Mueller's FBI probe a "witch hunt," tweeting earlier this month that "the inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess." He added that Mueller's team has "gone absolutely nuts" and doesn't care how many lives are "ruined."
The president similarly lashed out when Cohen pleaded guilty to different charges earlier this year — also on Twitter, as he's wont to do. "If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!" Trump posted in August. Thursday wasn't much different, as Trump claimed Cohen was lying about the real estate project to get a reduced sentence, Reuters' Jeff Mason reports.
Cohen is scheduled to be back in court in two weeks to receive a sentence for the August guilty plea, according to The Times. While it's not known what impact both pleas will have on the president, one thing remains clear: Mueller's investigation isn't over yet.