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Cohen's guilty plea on Thursday may signal his hope for a lighter sentence in exchange for continuing his cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump colluded with Moscow.

Who to believe is becoming a major element of what we know about special counsel Robert Mueller's methodical Russian Federation investigation, which Trump for months has attacked as a witch hunt out to get him.

Cohen said he lied to be consistent with Trump's "political message".

Schiff said the guilty plea raises more concern about other Trump associates: "We believe other witnesses were also untruthful before our committee", he added.

Cohen, 52, wearing a blue tie and dark suit, was noticeably relaxed throughout the appearance in a packed Manhattan courtroom, unlike his irritable and emotional demeanour when he entered a guilty plea during the summer. After his former campaign chairman struck a deal with prosecutors in September, Trump said he was not anxious about Manafort cooperating.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia said in a tweet that the president's pardon power is not a "personal tool" that Trump can use to protect "himself and his friends".

Cohen, who initially told Congress the discussions ended in January 2016, admitted today during a surprise court appearance in NY that those talks continued until June of that year.

Cohen also told lawmakers he had had limited contact with Mr Trump about the project, when in fact it had been "more extensive".

Court documents made public on Thursday said Cohen discussed the Trump Tower Moscow plan with the president and his family multiple times.

When asked why he would hire Cohen if he's an untrustworthy and weak person, Trump said "a long time ago, he did me a favor".

President Donald Trump on Thursday described Michael Cohen as a "weak person" and accused him of lying in court to get a reduced sentence, lashing out at his former lawyer after Cohen offered bombshell revelations in court.

Nothing said in court, or in associated court filings, addressed whether Trump or his aides had directed Cohen to mislead Congress.

On Thursday, Cohen confessed that he lied to Congress about a real estate project in Russian Federation he had been involved with on behalf of Trump. Cohen is to be sentenced December 12.

Cohen declined to comment as he left the courtroom.

Cohen made a surprise court appearance Thursday in NY.

Outside the courthouse on Thursday (Friday NZT), Guy Petrillo, a lawyer for Cohen said, "Mr Cohen has cooperated". However, the letter makes clear that Cohen is not receiving the kind of "5K1.1" letter written on behalf of formal government co-operators. Prosecutor say Cohen is cooperating with Mueller and has met with his team at least seven times. "That's why we put people under oath".

In January 2016, Cohen also reached out to Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson about the project. After Trump took office, Cohen left the company and became a personal attorney to the president, while taking on consulting clients, including AT&T, Novartis and a NY firm that manages assets for a Russian billionaire.

The plea documents demonstrate that Cohen lied to two separate congressional intelligence committees over the length of the project to "minimize links between the Moscow project and individual 1 [Donald Trump] and..."

The discussions about the potential development began after Trump had declared his candidacy.

The document goes on to say Cohen made those statements attempting to hide or minimise a number of facts, including that the project "was discussed multiple times within the company and did not end in January 2016", but rather Cohen and "Individual 2" discussed the efforts as late as June 2016.

It was a potentially lucrative deal for Trump's company, handing it $4 million in upfront fees plus possibly millions more from a cut on everything from food and banquet fees to spa charges.