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Why Michael Cohen's new guilty plea is so important

For the first time, Trump's private business dealings in Moscow are a documented part of Mueller's investigation into Russia's ties to the Trump campaign.
US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen(C) leaves the US Courthouse in New York on April 26, 2018....

As part of a flurry of desperate tweets this morning, Donald Trump wrote, in reference to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe, "Did you ever see an investigation more in search of a crime?"

The president's timing could've been better. Just a few hours after Trump published his missive, his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former longtime personal attorney and fixer, pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday to making false statements to Congress about the project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.Cohen's plea marked the first time that Trump and his private business dealings in Moscow were named in open court as part of Mueller's investigation into Russia's ties to the Trump campaign.

The president has repeatedly insisted that he's had no business dealing with Russia, but that's never been altogether true. As regular readers may recall, a member of Trump's inner circle tried to complete a major real-estate deal in Moscow during the Republican's presidential campaign. What's more, as Rachel has explained on the show, the financing for the proposed deal was coming by way of a bank owned and controlled by Putin's government in Russia.

This isn't a situation in which a Trump lieutenant tackled a business venture on his own: as the Washington Post  reported last year, Cohen "said that he discussed the deal three times with Trump and that Trump signed a letter of intent with the company on Oct. 28, 2015." That's several months after Trump launched his campaign. (He even participated in a Republican primary debate that evening.)

This is the same business deal in which Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer and Trump associate, said in an email that completing the agreement would help put Trump in the White House.

"Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," Sater wrote in an email obtained by the New York Times. "I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process."

And now we know that Michael Cohen, while under Trump's employ, found it necessary to lie to Congress about the deal.

In fact, NBC News' report emphasized the fact that Cohen said in his new plea that Trump's Russian business interests "were not severed and in fact continued into Trump's presidency in 2017."

Note, Cohen had already pleaded guilty over the summer to campaign finance and bank fraud charges. It was at that point that Cohen said he committed a felony "in coordination with and at the direction of" Donald Trump.

This morning's guilty plea is separate -- and for Trump World, it's a development that may be even more serious.

I have a strong hunch Rachel will have more on this story on tonight's show.