DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We're following some breaking news this morning from a federal court in New York City. Michael Cohen, the longtime attorney and fixer for Donald Trump, has entered a new guilty plea according to reports. And this was a surprise. Cohen has already offered a guilty plea in a separate case, one in which he implicated President Trump in payments to two women before the 2016 presidential election. But now there is another plea. And to talk about what we know at this point is NPR's Ryan Lucas, who covers the Justice Department. Good morning, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So what exactly do we know about what transpired in this courthouse this morning?
LUCAS: Well, what I will say is that in the last couple of minutes, Cohen actually exited the courthouse in Lower Manhattan. He came out, and he was greeted by a phalanx of journalists, photographers, reporters. He did not answer any of the questions. His attorney, however, said that Michael Cohen has cooperated, that Michael Cohen will continue to cooperate. And then they got into a car and sped away. But as for what transpired in the courtroom...
LUCAS: Cohen has pleaded guilty in this case. What he said, from what we understand at this point - again, this was a surprise - is that he admitted that he lied to Congress when he testified in 2017. At the time, he told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that his negotiations about building a Trump Tower in Moscow had ended in January of 2016. What he's now saying is that that was not true. He says that that was a lie. Now, we were not in the courtroom today because, as I've said again, this was a surprise.
GREENE: This came out of nowhere. Yeah.
LUCAS: Exactly. But they said that Cohen has told the court that the talks continued through the summer of 2016. We're still learning more, of course. But that's one of the main points that has emerged at this point.
GREENE: OK. The president's lawyer saying that he lied about when negotiations about a Trump Tower in Moscow ended and that they went into 2016 - why would that be important?
LUCAS: Well, if the negotiations ended in January of 2016, that would have been very early in the campaign. Now, if they continued through the summer of 2016, that means that the Trump business was negotiating with Russians well into this presidential campaign. That undercuts, of course, the president's denials that he didn't have anything to do with Russia, that there was no business going on, no talks. Trump, of course, appeared on track to secure the GOP nomination in May of 2016. He was formally nominated in July. But all of that was going on as his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, from what we learned now, was actually carrying out negotiations to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital.
GREENE: And place this in the whole timeline of the Russian investigation, if you can - June of 2016. What else do we know was happening around then?
LUCAS: Well, there was a rather infamous meeting at this point that took place in Trump Tower in New York in that month of 2016...
GREENE: Oh, that was the same time. OK.
LUCAS: ...June of 2016, when Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, as well as campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump's son, Donald Jr., met with the Russian lawyer, of course, who was offering dirt on Trump's opponent in the race, Hillary Clinton. That meeting has become a point of keen interest for, of course, the public. But as well, it's a point of interest for special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators who are looking into Russian interference, of course, in that 2016 election.
GREENE: Given how well Cohen knows President Trump and worked so closely with him as a fixer and a lawyer, I mean, this feels like this could be an important turn. What happens next year?
LUCAS: Well, as Cohen's lawyer said on the steps of the courthouse today, he has cooperated. And he is going to continue to cooperate. He has been talking with the special counsel's investigators. We know for sure at this point that there is a sentencing date in his previous guilty plea. And that sentencing is supposed to take place at this point on December 12.
GREENE: NPR's Ryan Lucas, who covers the Justice Department. Ryan, thanks a lot.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.