I’m going to suggest another, non-exclusive motive. It comes from living in NYC with Trump’s showboating since the late 1970s. We NYers have followed Trump’s trainwreck career for decades. He’s such a media hound that it was impossible not to. I even interviewed for an IT job at Trump Organization in the early 90s and met him briefly in the elevator on the way out. He wore way too much cologne.
Trump will be tough for Mueller to nail on conspiracy because he never has his fingerprints on any of the shady stuff. He has others do the jobs for him while he pleads ignorance. Trump is like a mafia godfather insofar as he has capos and soldiers do his dirty work and report back while he keeps clean hands. That was the role of sleazeballs like Michael Cohen and Felix Sater. They’re the ones who are exposed. It explains why Mueller has leaned so heavily on Cohen, Stone, Manafort, et al. But they’re just the latest in a line of such “fixers”.
During the Trump Tower-to-early Atlantic City days it was John Cody and Daniel Sullivan (Google them), both with strong connections to the Genovese and Gambino crime families through the construction unions. As those old mafia families were dismantled by DOJ, Trump cozied up to the growing Russian mob in NYC. Cohen and Sater were perfectly placed for that through the old El Caribe club, the US headquarters for Simion Mogilevich, the boss of all Russian bosses. Cohen’s family owned that club.
Trump is hysterical because Mueller, and by extension the NY AG, Tish James, have an all-access pass to Trump’s past — 35 years of questionable business dealings, curious partnerships and cash and potential illegal activities that have already cost Trump tens of millions in fines. Most of it is protected by the statute of limitations but a lot of it isn’t, fraud being the main one. Fraud includes money laundering: years and billions in illicit Russian cash flowing through Trump, his company and his holdings. I believe this is where Trump is most vulnerable. For that matter, so does Steve Bannon, who said as much. I also believe that’s why he won’t release his tax returns.
If Mueller can build a case of long-term, organized fraud, guess what? He has a RICO predicate. The evidence doesn’t even have to point at Trump directly… not anymore than it did Fat Tony Salerno of the Genovese family, Tony Ducks Corallo of the Lucchese family and Carmine Persico of the Colombo family, all of whom got in excess of a hundred years each. It just has to show that he profited from it, controlled it and had some knowledge of it.
Trump’s lapdog DOJ director won’t sign off on the RICO predicate? Doesn’t matter. NY state has its own RICO laws that are just as draconian.
IOW, I think Trump is less worried about Russian “collusion”, where he believes he’s provided plenty of denial room for himself, than he is a RICO case targeting Trump Org.
I also think it’s very possible that there was no actual collusion on Trump’s part to influence the 2016 election. It could well be that Putin decided unilaterally to get Trump elected because it was in his best interests and the interests of his oligarch friends to have Trump in the White House to protect the gravy train. It’s curious that Felix Sater’s name never comes up in the course of Mueller’s investigation. He would be the logical point man for any organized money laundering with Russia and the mob. Perhaps he was the first to willingly flip? Another felony conviction would be Strike Three for him and a very long prison sentence. He’s already flipped to the government once before so it’s definitely in his genes.
WASHINGTON — President Trump was involved in discussions to build a skyscraper in Moscow throughout the entire 2016 presidential campaign, his personal lawyer said on Sunday, a longer and more significant role for Mr. Trump than he had previously acknowledged.
The comments by his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani indicated that Mr. Trump’s efforts to complete a business deal in Russia waned only after Americans cast ballots in the presidential election.
The new timetable means that Mr. Trump was seeking a deal
- at the time he was calling for an end to economic sanctions against Russia imposed by the Obama administration. He was seeking a deal when he gave interviews
- questioning the legitimacy of NATO, a favorite talking point of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. And he was seeking a deal when, in July 2016, he
- called on Russia to release hacked Democratic emails that Mr. Putin’s government was rumored at the time to have stolen.
The Trump Tower Moscow discussions were “going on from the day I announced to the day I won,” Mr. Giuliani quoted Mr. Trump as saying during an interview with The New York Times. It was one of a flurry of interviews Mr. Giuliani did on Sunday amid fallout from a disputed report by BuzzFeed News that President Trump had personally directed his former lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, to lie to Congress about the negotiations over the skyscraper.
.. Mr. Giuliani also acknowledged that Mr. Trump might have talked to Mr. Cohen before his congressional testimony but he said his client had never instructed Mr. Cohen to lie. Mr. Trump acknowledged discussing the Moscow project with Mr. Cohen in written responses that the president gave Mr. Mueller’s investigators days before they revealed that Mr. Cohen had pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.
.. “We’re at Cohen’s mercy for the dates,” Mr. Giuliani said, adding that the president “doesn’t remember the dates. He does remember conversations about Moscow. He does remember the letter of intent. He does remember, after that, fleeting conversations.”
Like so many other threads of the Russia saga, the story that the president’s aides have told about the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations has changed repeatedly.
- First, they said that the discussions never moved beyond their infancy, barely involved Mr. Trump, and ended well before the Republican primaries. Then,
- when Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress about the Tower negotiations, the special counsel’s office revealed they extended at least until the middle of 2016.
.. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with the head of a Russian bank under sanctions and asked Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey I. Kislyak, whether Mr. Trump’s aides could use phone lines at the Russian embassy to communicate with Moscow during the presidential transition. Michael T. Flynn, who would become President Trump’s first national security adviser, discussed sanctions with Mr. Kislyak numerous times in December 2016 as President Obama punished Russia for its campaign of election interference.
.. One of the people Mr. Sater contacted was Evgeny Shmykov, a former general in Russian military intelligence who once worked with anti-Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Mr. Sater appears to have seen Mr. Shmykov as a conduit to get Russian government approval for the Trump project.
.. Mr. Sater said that, for diplomatic reasons, the Kremlin could not issue the visas. Instead, he said, a Russian bank could provide the documents as part of “a business meeting not political.”
Rachel Maddow reports on an avalanche of legal news including details in the Paul Manafort case exposed by a lawyer’s poor redactions, an intriguing new indictment, and another development in the mystery Mueller case.
When Donald J. Trump took a run at building a tower in Moscow in the middle of his 2016 presidential campaign, it was the high point of a decades-long effort to plant the “Trump” flag there.
The role his former lawyer Michael D. Cohen played in the endeavor entered the spotlight again on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to misleading Congress. But the effort was led in large part by Felix Sater, a convicted felon and longtime business associate with deep ties to Russia.
.. To get the project off the ground, Mr. Sater dug into his address book and its more than 100 Russian contacts — including entries for President Vladimir V. Putin and a former general in Russian military intelligence. Mr. Sater tapped the general, Evgeny Shmykov, to help arrange visas for Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump to visit Russia
.. For months, the felon, the former Russian intelligence officer and Mr. Trump’s lawyer worked to land the deal, speaking with a Putin aide, Russian bankers and real estate developers. But by July 2016, with Mr. Trump having secured the Republican presidential nomination and accusations of Russian election interference heating up, the project was abandoned, and neither Mr. Cohen nor Mr. Trump traveled to Moscow.
.. His effort in 2016 was only the latest episode in a long, sporadic quest dating to the 1980s. But as the Trump brand became increasingly common, emblazoning hotels and commercial towers around the world, a Russian equivalent never quite came together — even after Mr. Trump secured trademarks in the country and sent emissaries, including his children, to scout for deals... One deal that almost got off the ground in 2005 — a Moscow tower on the site of a former pencil factory — was also pitched by Mr. Sater.. Mr. Sater, who sometimes carried a business card identifying him as a “senior adviser” to Mr. Trump, pursued Russian deals throughout the 2000s. On one visit in which he was accompanied by Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, he arranged for Ms. Trump to sit in Mr. Putin’s chair during a tour of the Kremlin, he said in emails to Mr. Cohen... One of his contacts was Mr. Shmykov, who worked with anti-Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and early 2000s while serving in Russian military intelligence, according to documents and online research. Mr. Shmykov, who is 62, has a profile on a Russian social media site that says he attended the Academy of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, which trains intelligence personnel... Mr. Shmykov declined to answer questions, but directed a reporter to photos of his time in the military, including one in which he appears with Mr. Sater, saying, “In these photographs are answers to all your questions.”.. Mr. Sater had been exchanging emails and phone calls with Mr. Cohen about resurrecting plans for the tower. The two men were friends, and Mr. Sater seemed almost giddy as he explained to Mr. Cohen how he would use his connections to “get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”
what the trial reveals is something very damning, in the ethical if not legal sense: namely, what kind of people Trump surrounds himself with.
There was no secret about Manafort’s record as an influence-peddler on behalf of corrupt dictators and oligarchs when he went to work for Trump. On April 13, 2016, Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake wrote a prescient article headlined: “Trump Just Hired His Next Scandal.” Trump couldn’t have cared less. His whole career, he has surrounded himself with sleazy characters such as the Russian-born mob associate Felix Sater, who served prison time for assault and later pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges, as well as lawyer-cum-fixer Michael Cohen, who is reportedly under investigation for a variety of possible crimes, including tax fraud.
.. These are the kind of people Trump feels comfortable around, because this is the kind of person Trump is. He is, after all, the guy who paid $25 million to settle fraud charges against him from students of Trump University. The guy who arranged for payoffs to a Playboy playmate and a porn star with whom he had affairs. The guy who lies an average of 7.6 times a day.
.. And because everyone knows what kind of person Trump is, he attracts kindred souls. Manafort and Gates are only Exhibits A and B. There is also Exhibit C: Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, is facing federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and false statements as part of an alleged insider-trading scheme. Exhibit D is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has been accused by Forbes magazine, hardly an anti-Trump rag, of bilking business associates out of $120 million.
.. In fairness, not all of Trump’s associates are grifters. Some are simply wealthy dilettantes like Trump himself
.. Among the affluent and unqualified appointees Trump has set loose on the world are his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his former lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, who are somehow supposed to solve an Israeli-Palestinian dispute that has frustrated seasoned diplomats for decades. No surprise: Their vaunted peace plan remains MIA.
.. ProPublica has a mind-boggling scoop about another group of dilettantes — a Palm Beach doctor, an entertainment mogul, and a lawyer — whom Trump tasked as an informal board of directors to oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs. None has any experience in the U.S. military or government; their chief qualification was that they are all members of Trump’s golf club, Mar-a-Lago.
.. Beyond the swindlers and dilettantes, there is a third group of people who have no business working for Trump or any other president: the fanatics. The most prominent of the extremists was Stephen K. Bannon, the notorious “alt-right” leader who was chief executive of Trump’s campaign and a senior White House aide. He may be gone, but others remain. They include Peter Navarro, who may well be the only economist in the world who thinks trade wars are a good thing; Stephen Miller, the nativist who was behind plans to lock immigrant children in cages and bar Muslims from entering the United States, and who is now plotting to reduce legal immigration; and Fred Fleitz, the Islamophobic chief of staff of the National Security Council. They feel at home in the White House because, aside from being a grifter and a dilettante, Trump is also an extremist with a long history of racist, sexist, nativist, protectionist and isolationist utterances
Business deals, affairs, Russia ties—the president’s former fixer knows all.
This marks what promises to be a decisive moment in not only the Trump-Russia scandal but all the Trump scandals (known and unknown), for Cohen appears to have been involved in almost every aspect of Trump’s deeds and misdeeds.
.. With Cohen blowing the whistle, Mueller and other prosecutors will end up with a symphony of leads. After all, he likely has inside information on each of the three rings of the Trump scandal circus:
- the Russia affair,
- the business affairs,
- the affairs affair.
.. Make a Venn diagram of all this, and Cohen is dead center. This ex-consigliere poses a triple threat to the godfather he once ruthlessly served
.. Let’s start with Russia. Cohen intersects with the known narrative in at least two ways. He was there when Trump cut a deal with Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov and his pop-star son Emin to hold the Miss Universe contest in Moscow in 2013. When Trump gathered with the Agalarovs in Las Vegas in June 2013 to formalize their partnership, Cohen accompanied the celebrity businessman and was part of a celebratory dinner at a high-end restaurant. That is, Cohen was present at the creation of the bond forged between Trump and this Putin-friendly oligarch. (Also in attendance was an Agalarov associate who had been linked to Russian money laundering.) This could well be significant for investigators because it was the Trump-Agalarov connection that led to the now notorious Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016—when Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, then the campaign chairman, met with a Russian emissary whom they were told would provide them dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a secret Kremlin plot to help Trump.
.. When the meeting became public in July 2017, Trump Jr. released a statement falsely claiming that the meeting merely had covered Russian adoption policy. Trump’s involvement in the drafting of that inaccurate statement has been a key issue.
.. In January, Trump’s lawyers sent a letter to Mueller noting that Trump had dictated his son’s response. This raised the question of whether Trump Jr. had lied to a Senate committee when he previously said during private congressional testimony that his father had not played a vital role in concocting the statement.
.. But this letter also highlighted other potential problems for Trump: Did he lie when he publicly said he had no prior knowledge of the meeting, and did he direct potential witnesses in the Mueller investigation to stick to a false cover story? Meaning, did the president engage in obstruction of justice?.. Cohen, though, was directly involved in another key interaction between Trump and Russia during the campaign. From September 2015 through January 2016, he handled secret negotiations between Trump and a Russian company to develop a luxury Trump tower in Moscow. The middleman for these talks was Felix Sater, a onetime stock swindler who had done business with Trump in the 2000s and who was a boyhood pal of Cohen. The deal was odd in that the Russian construction company had no previous experience developing such a property. Though the CEO of this company declared he was the sole owner of the firm, the company, as Michael Isikoff and I reported in Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, was actually owned by three off-shore companies, including one controlled by a Cypriot lawyer deeply involved in Russian finance... While Trump was trying to pull off this project, he said nothing in public about the venture and campaigned as an “America First” nationalist candidate. Throughout this stretch, Trump consistently refused to criticize Russian leader Vladimir Putin, without telling voters that he was pursuing a Moscow project that Sater told Cohen would be underwritten by a bank partially owned by the Kremlin... Given that the project would not proceed if the Russian government said nyet, this was a stunning conflict of interest—perhaps one of the most scandalous personal financial conflicts of modern US political history... he certainly is familiar with the details of the hush-money deals set up for porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who each claim they had an affair with Trump. One critical question is whether these payments were made to keep the women quiet because their revelations could harm Trump’s electoral chances... For investigators zeroing in on the keep-quiet payoffs, Cohen is the man... Trump’s reputation as a businessman is not one of probity and prudence. He has long had—and lied about—business connections to organized crime... In 2010, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., opened an investigation into whether Trump, Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump had committed fraud related to the selling of units in Trump SoHo, a 46-story luxury condominium-hotel.In 2012, the probe was dropped. Vance had received campaign donations from Trump’s personal lawyer, but he has claimed that had no bearing on the case... A sketchy deal that Trump began in 2014 to develop a Trump Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act... As a friend of Cohen points out, Cohen “worked in an environment that was total chaos. People were constantly running in and out of Trump’s office. The man had a 30-second attention span. Everyone knows everything. Everyone is talking. And there are no secrets.”.. In the middle of Hurricane Donald, Cohen was as close to the mast as anyone. He may well know of Trump actions deserving of investigation that prosecutors for Mueller and the US attorney in New York have never taken a gander at.If Cohen ends up a cooperative witness, one question will be how far federal prosecutors want to—or are willing to—dig into Trump’s business. A whole new terrain could be wide open for exploration... a lawyer who worked for the Trump Organization told an acquaintance of mine, “My job boils down to doing two things. First there is this: I say, ‘Mr. Trump, you can’t do that. You really can’t do that, Mr. Trump.’ Then I say, ‘Mr. Trump, why did you do that?’” Cohen was not that type of attorney. He was the handyman who came in after one of the regular lawyers had gone through those two steps—a Mr. Fix-it for a rule-bending executive... Cohen has been compared by some to John Dean, the Nixon White House lawyer who eventually testified that Nixon was in on the Watergate cover-up and who became a quasi-hero of that scandal... No doubt, Lanny Davis is advising Cohen on how best to rehabilitate himself and change his image from a sleazy pit bull who was willing to do anything for Trump (even take a bullet!) to a repentant henchman who now is eager to serve the truth.But if Dean was a torpedo that sank Nixon, Cohen is more an aircraft carrier. He probably has ammunition that can strike multiple Trump targets. His cooperation with prosecutors could dramatically reshape and perhaps expand the Trump investigations. He is someone that Trump ought to fear. There likely are bodies buried in Trumpland, and if you want to raise the dead, Cohen is the guy to see.
The Stormy Daniels scandal could be more perilous for Trump than the Russia investigation has been.
.. Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was caught hiding the sources of 1,300 large campaign donations, aggregating to nearly $2 million. The campaign also accepted more than $1.3 million in unlawful donations from contributors who had already given the legal maximum.
.. Under federal law, such campaign-finance violations, if they aggregate to just $25,000 in a calendar year, may be treated as felonies punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment — with offenses involving smaller dollar amounts punishable by incarceration for a year or more
.. Cohen’s law practice, which is the focus of the investigation involving the payment to Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford), is in the SDNY.
.. The SDNY is no longer run by Preet Bharara, whom Trump dismissed along with other Obama appointees after taking office. The acting U.S. attorney is Geoffrey Berman, a Trump appointee named by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to serve on an interim basis while awaiting confirmation.
.. ABC News reports that Berman is recused from the Cohen investigation
.. Cohen’s obvious relevance to Mueller’s investigation — he is accused in the Steele dossier of being a liaison between the Trump campaign and Russia (an apparently uncorroborated claim that Cohen convincingly denies); and he was on the receiving end of emails from Felix Sater, a Russian immigrant and Trump business associate, who boasted that his friend Vladimir Putin would help “get Donald elected.”
.. When one reads the guidelines, one suspects that there must be more to the SDNY’s investigation of Cohen than the Stormy Daniels transaction — a suspicion echoed in the aforementioned Times report, which describes the searches as “related to several topics, including a payment to a pornographic film actress” (emphasis added).
.. If the only matter under investigation were a potential campaign-finance violation that would normally not be grist for criminal prosecution, it would be outrageous to raid a lawyer’s office — especially the president’s lawyer.
Not only must high-level Justice Department approval be obtained before seeking a search warrant for an attorney’s premises; the prosecutors and their superiors must explore whether less intrusive investigative alternatives — such as seeking the desired materials by grand-jury subpoena — would be viable.
.. The issuance of search warrants necessarily means a federal judge found probable cause that evidence of at least one crime would be uncovered in Cohen’s premises. In addition to the potential campaign-finance offense, the feds are reportedly weighing bank-fraud charges — possibly on a theory that steps taken to hide the nature and purpose of the payment to Clifford entailed misrepresentations to a financial institution, although that is just speculation at this point.
.. The clean team determines what files are relevant to the matter under investigation, with any irrelevant files returned to the attorney.
.. the attorney and any affected clients are given an opportunity to claim that the files contain privileged communications and should be returned. Where the parties cannot agree, such privilege claims are decided by a judge.
.. the clean team ensures that the investigation team is not tainted by exposure to privileged communications.
.. As I explained last November, when we learned that Mueller had forced an attorney who had represented Manafort to testify against him, there is a so-called crime-fraud exception to the attorney–client privilege.
.. If a client’s communications with a lawyer are for the purpose of carrying out a fraudulent scheme, they lose any claim to confidentiality. Theoretically, then, Trump and Cohen have a legal as well as a factual problem. Legally, if they conspired to execute a payment in violation of campaign laws in order to silence Clifford, their communications in this regard would not be privileged.
Factually (if implausibly), both Cohen and Trump claim that the former did not tell the latter about the payment to Clifford; and that Cohen made the payment in his personal capacity, not as Trump’s lawyer. How, then, can they now claim attorney–client privilege in connection with the transaction?
.. the porn-star payment undeniably happened. I argued then, and I’m even more convinced now, that “the best argument in Trump’s favor is one that claims mitigation, not innocence.”
.. As for Trump’s fitness for the presidency, the scandal tells us exactly nothing that we didn’t already know about the flawed man that Americans chose to elect.