Here’s why a new Mueller transcript is so damning for Trump

This is the first time the special counsel has indicated publicly that it thinks a witness or target in the investigation might be angling for a pardon. Many have speculated that the pursuit of a pardon could explain Manafort’s otherwise puzzling behavior.

But since a pardon for federal crimes could only come from the president, the special counsel’s acknowledge of this possible motive is remarkable. It means the special counsel believes Manafort could increase his chances of a pardon by with a criminal lie. This, quite directly, implies that Trump has an interest in one of his former aides engaging in a criminal cover-up — a circumstance that is hard to imagine unless the president himself is at least indirectly implicated in criminal behavior.

While many have long suspected and argued as much, it is still a stunning turn of events to have it confirmed by prosecutors in court.

..This is the first time the special counsel has indicated publicly that it thinks a witness or target in the investigation might be angling for a pardon. Many have speculated that the pursuit of a pardon could explain Manafort’s otherwise puzzling behavior.

The transcript also reveals that Manafort met with Kilimnik at Trump’s January 2017 inauguration, which is reportedly under investigation separately by the Southern District of New York. There, they discussed the promotion of a Ukraine peace plan, prosecutors said, which is believed to favor Russian interests. This shows that, despite Trump’s attempt to distance himself from Manafort after firing him in August of 2016, Manafort at least believed he had the chance to promote a political agenda under the Trump administration.

.. After Manafort had agreed to cooperate, Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, revealed that the ex-campaign chair had stayed in his joint defense agreement with the president, a situation legal experts said was extraordinary and posed the risk that he could innappropriately share sensitive information.

What Did Pope Francis Know?

The Catholic Church needs leaders who can purge corruption even among their own theological allies. The pope is failing that test.

During the Catholic Church’s synod on the family in Rome in 2015, a rough-and-tumble affair in which Pope Francis pushed the assembled bishops to liberalize Catholic teaching on remarriage and divorce, one of the attendees, by the pope’s own invitation, was the retired Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels.

Danneels was a natural pick in one sense: One of the church’s prominent liberals, he had been part of a circle that supported Jorge Bergoglio in the run-up to his election as Francis, and in a synodal fight with conservative bishops, the pope needed all the allies he could get.

.. In another sense, though, Danneels was a wildly inappropriate choice, because at the conclusion of his career he was caught on tape trying to persuade a young victim of sex abuse not to go public with allegations against the victim’s uncle, Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium.

..  hauling a cover-up artist out of retirement for a synod on the family was a statement that ideological loyalties mattered more to him than personal misconduct: Sex abuse might be bad, but what really mattered was being on the correct side of the Catholic civil war.

.. after years of failed American attempts to get Rome to take action, Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, placed the already retired McCarrick under some form of sanctions — moving him out of his residence, restricting contact with seminarians, limiting public appearances. It further claims that despite being told that McCarrick was a sexual predator, Francis removed those sanctions, raised McCarrick’s profile and relied on him for advice about major appointments.

.. noting that McCarrick appeared at many events, including with Benedict himself, in the period when he was supposedly under sanctions.

..  given the distracted and ineffectual way that the last pope ran the church, it’s very easy to imagine a distracted and ineffectual attempt to restrict McCarrick being subverted and ignored by the cardinal and his allies in the hierarchy.

.. In which case it’s also easy to imagine a scenario in which Francis didn’t technically “lift” those sanctions so much as acted in ignorance of them, or of their seriousness. He might have been given some knowledge, by Viganò and others, of the allegations against McCarrick but either assumed they couldn’t be that bad (at this point the cardinal mostly stood accused of imposing himself on seminarians, not teenage minors) or else chose to believe a denial from the accused cardinal himself. Why? In part because of perceived self-interest: Francis needed allies, McCarrick was sympathetic to the pope’s planned liberalizing push, and the pope wanted his help reshaping the ranks of American bishops.

.. In this scenario Francis would be guilty of self-deception and incuriosity but not as nakedly culpable as Viganò implies. And if it’s easy to imagine this scenario because of the Danneels example, it’s also easy to imagine because that’s how things have proceeded consistently in the church since the sex abuse scandals broke: If a given predator or enabler is “on side” for either conservatives or liberals, he will find defenders and protectors for as long as events and revelations permit.

  • That’s a major reason John Paul II refused to investigate Father Marcel Maciel, the wicked founder of the Legionaries of Christ — because the Legionaries were conservative, and apparently a great success, and that was all that mattered.
  • It’s why many conservative Catholics unwisely defended John Paul II-appointed prelates like Boston’s Bernard Law in the early 2000s.
  • It’s why a notorious traditionalist priest, Father Carlos Urrutigoity, could find a welcome from conservative bishops in Pennsylvania and then Paraguay, despite a trail of abuse allegations.

.. Now it’s why certain organs and apostles of liberal Catholicism are running interference for McCarrick’s protectors — because Francis is their pope, the liberalizer they yearned for all through the John Paul and Benedict years, and all’s fair in the Catholic civil war.

.. But the inevitable, even providential irony is that this sort of team thinking never leads to theological victory, but only to exposure, shame, disaster. Indeed, the lesson of these bitter decades is that any faction hoping to lead Roman Catholicism out of crisis should begin with purges within its own ranks, with intolerance for any hint of corruption.

.. Francis, alas for everyone, did the opposite. Elected by cardinals eager for a cleanup at the Vatican, he wanted to be a theological change agent instead — which led him to tolerate the corrupt Roman old guard (whose names fill Viganò’s letter) and to rehabilitate liberal figures like Danneels, McCarrick and Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga of Honduras (a dubious figure with a predator among his underlings and a scandal at his seminary) who deserved the sidelines if not a penitent’s cell.

..  purge the corruption he has tolerated and to supply Catholicism with what it has lacked these many years: a leader willing to be zealous and uncompromising against what Benedict called the “filth” in the church, no matter how many heads must roll on his own side of the Catholic civil war.

Why the question of whether Michael Cohen visited Prague is massively important for Donald Trump

The Steele dossier claimed Cohen went to Prague to meet Russians. He’s said for more than a year that he didn’t.

Did Trump lawyer Michael Cohen secretly visit Prague to meet with Russians in 2016? The future of Donald Trump’s presidency could hinge on whether the answer to that question is yes.

.. since the very first day that dossier was publicly released, Cohen has adamantly denied taking any such trip, and Trump’s team has relied on that denial to dispute the dossier’s accuracy. “I have never been to Prague in my life. #fakenews,” Cohen tweeted on January 10, 2017, hours after the dossier was posted

.. Yet a new report from McClatchy’s Peter Stone and Greg Gordon claims that special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Cohen did, in fact, enter Prague through Germany at the height of the 2016 campaign, in “August or early September.”

.. If the McClatchy report was accurate, it would utterly devastate one of the Trump team’s leading arguments that there was no Trump-Russia collusion. That’s because, to be blunt, there is no reason for Cohen to try to debunk the Steele dossier by lying and saying that he didn’t visit Prague at all if he actually did, unless he was trying to cover up extremely serious wrongdoing that happened during that visit.

.. If Cohen did in fact visit Prague in 2016, but for innocuous reasons that Steele’s sources twisted, he could have just said that at the time. Instead, he vociferously denied that he went to Prague at all. If that was false, there would be no reason for him to take that tack — unless he was trying to cover up something very serious and hoping to get away with it.

.. a Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s lawyer, Michael COHEN, in the ongoing secret liaison relationship between the New York tycoon’s campaign and the Russian leadership. COHEN’s role had grown following the departure of Paul MANNAFORT [sic] as TRUMP’s campaign manager in August 2016. Prior to that MANNAFORT had led for the Trump side.

.. According to the Kremlin insider, COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of TRUMP’s relationship with Russia being exposed. In pursuit of this aim, COHEN had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016. The immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving MANNAFORT’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month. The overall objective had been “to sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connections could be fully established or proven.”

.. Steele gave more specifics. He said Cohen’s “clandestine meeting” with Russian officials was in Prague, and mentioned a Russian NGO, Rossotrudnichestvo, as a potential host for the meeting.

COHEN had been accompanied to Prague by 3 colleagues and the timing of the visit was either in the last week of August or the first week of September. One of their main Russian interlocutors was Oleg SOLODUKHIN operating under Rossotrudnichestvo cover. According to [redacted], the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.

These are, of course, highly inflammatory claims that a Trump Organization executive and lawyer was collaborating closely with Russian government officials regarding paying hackers who had worked against the Clinton campaign in some way. But for 15 months after the dossier’s publication, no evidence emerged that this had actually taken place.

.. Immediately, many observed it was strange that Cohen attempted to debunk the dossier by tweeting a picture of the cover of his passport, rather than its interior. Additionally, since Prague is in the European Union’s Schengen Area, which allows passport-free travel between countries, he could theoretically have gotten an initial entry stamp from any EU country, not just the Czech Republic. It’s also possible for one person to have multiple passports.

.. Most importantly, Cohen deliberately chose to make a denial that he visited Prague his main argument in disputing the dossier.

.. BuzzFeed News asked to see the inside of his passport, so he showed it to Anthony Cormier, a reporter for the site. The provided passport revealed just one trip inside the Schengen Area — to Italy, in July, which doesn’t quite match the timeline laid out in the dossier. Cohen claimed to them that this was his only passport. And for several months afterward, that is where things remained.

.. Now, the new McClatchy report by Stone and Gordon claims Mueller has evidence that Cohen “secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague.” They write that, per their anonymous sources, “investigators have traced evidence that Cohen entered the Czech Republic through Germany, apparently during August or early September of 2016, as the ex-spy reported.”

.. Another possibility, though, is that Cohen’s denial of a Prague visit is in fact technically correct, but misleading in some respect — after all, his denials have been very specific to the city of Prague itself, which would seem to leave open the possibility of a similar meeting to the one alleged that took place in some other nearby city or town.

Finally, it’s also possible that Cohen is on the level here, and both Steele’s dossier and the new McClatchy report are just flat-out wrong. Suffice to say, though, we haven’t heard the last of this topic.