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Why it matters that the Moscow Trump Tower deal was still in play in June 2016

Michael Cohen walked out of federal court Thursday in New York after pleading guilty to lying to Congress about work he did on an aborted project to build a Trump Tower in Russia.
Michael Cohen walked out of federal court Thursday in New York after pleading guilty to lying to Congress about work he did on an aborted project to build a Trump Tower in Russia.(Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)

Why does the latest bombshell story in the Russia investigation matter? One of the reasons is clear when you look at a timeline of events.

President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen admitted, as he pleaded guilty Thursday, that discussions of a Moscow Trump Tower project had continued until June 2016, five months before the election. Cohen had previously said they ended in January 2016.

That would mean that millions of Americans cast ballots in primaries without knowing that the candidate they favored was secretly pursuing a project in Moscow.

In a criminal information, or charging document, filed with Cohen’s guilty plea, federal prosecutors said Cohen made false statements to Congress to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and [Trump] and . . . give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before ‘the Iowa caucus and . . . the very first primary,’ in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Prosecutors say the Moscow project was discussed multiple times in the company; Cohen discussed it with Trump more than the three times he had previously described; and he briefed Trump family members about the project.

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Trump told reporters Thursday, “Even if he was right, it doesn’t matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign. I was running my business, a lot of different things, during the campaign.”

The revelations come as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia apparently proceeds on multiple fronts, with numerous American and Russian individuals already indicted and some convicted.

Here’s the timeline:

■  Feb. 1, 2016 — The Republican presidential primary campaign begins with the Iowa caucus. Trump ties for second in delegate count with Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Texas Senator Ted Cruz wins the delegate count.

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■  March 1, 2016 — Trump wins seven of 11 Super Tuesday primary elections, establishing him as the clear front-runner.

■  May 3, 2016 — Trump wins the primary in Indiana, making him the presumptive GOP nominee. Cruz drops out of the race.

■  May 4, 2016 — A third-party intermediary, whom the Washington Post identified as Russian-born developer Felix Sater, exchanges e-mails with Cohen about the timing of possible trips by Cohen and Trump to Moscow. Cohen suggests that he travel to Moscow “before Cleveland,” apparently referring to the Republican convention in July, and that Trump travel “once he becomes the nominee,” according to the criminal information.

■  May 5, 2016 — Sater writes Cohen that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary “would like to invite you as his guest to the St. Petersburg Forum which is Russia’s Davos it’s June 16-19. He wants to meet there with you and possibly introduce you to either [the president of Russia] or [the prime minister of Russia], as they are not sure if 1 or both will be there. . . . He said anything you want to discuss including dates and subjects are on the table to discuss.”

■  May 6, 2016 — Sater asks Cohen to confirm whether those dates work for him. “Works for me,” Cohen writes, according to the criminal information.

■  June 7, 2016 — Five states, including California, hold primaries, and Trump wins all five, giving him more than the 1,273 pleaded delegates needed to win the Republican nomination. It’s the last set of Republican primaries.

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■  Around June 9 to June 14, 2016 — The final dates listed in the criminal information of contacts between Cohen and Sater. Sater sends numerous messages about the planned trip, including forms for Cohen to complete. But on June 14, Cohen meets Sater in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York to tell him he will not be taking the trip, according to the criminal information.

■  July 22, 2016 — Trump is named the Republican presidential nominee during the GOP convention in Cleveland.

■July 27, 2016 — Trump says at a news conference, “I have nothing to do with Russia — for anything.”