Now we have to ask ourselves, why would Donald Trump’s campaign chairman be passing political polling data to a known Russian intelligence operative during the campaign? Well, the obvious answer is that Donald Trump knew exactly what he was doing when he hired Paul Manafort as his campaign chairman. He knew he was getting a guy who had the political skills to fix the anti-Russian plank in the Republican platform at the convention, and he knew that Manafort had extensive contacts with Ukrainian and Russian intelligence that went back more than a decade, and that Manafort could tap those contacts and pass information back and forth between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
The other thing to notice when you look back at the service Manafort provided to the Trump campaign is the timing of his involvement. He went to work on the campaign during the time Russian GRU intelligence agents were hacking the servers of the Democratic Party and stealing their emails and political secrets. He met with Russian intelligence operatives in Trump Tower in advance of the Russians releasing those stolen emails, and he was running the campaign when the Russians began leaking the emails via WikiLeaks. He was there throughout the convention when Trump got the nomination for president on the Republican ticket, and he wasn’t ousted until Trump was well on his way as a candidate who was on the stump day after day talking about how much “I love WikiLeaks” and taking advantage of the Russian hacking.
The key figure who apparently tipped off Muller’s prosecutors that Manafort was lying to them during his agreement to cooperate was his former partner, Rick Gates. He was the deputy campaign chairman under Manafort and remained with the campaign after Manafort left. He was in constant contact with Manafort during the campaign and was present for the meeting with Kilimnik at the “Havana Room.”
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.
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.
The special counsel is connecting the dots and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the president.a flurry of recent activity this past week all points in the same direction: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will likely implicate the president, his campaign, and his close associates in aiding and abetting a Russian conspiracy against the United States to undermine the 2016 election.First, Mueller has clearly identified collusion in the
- efforts of Trump aides and associates to contact WikiLeaks. In a draft plea agreement provided to conservative operative Jerome Corsi, Mueller details how Roger Stone, who the special counsel notes was in frequent contact with Donald Trump and senior campaign officials, directed Corsi to connect with WikiLeaks about the trove of stolen materials it received from Russia.
- Corsi subsequently communicated WikiLeaks’ release plan back to Stone, and
- the Trump campaign built its final message around the email release. That is collusion.
Third, Mueller has found evidence that Trump was compromised by a hostile foreign power during the election. In his plea deal, Cohen revealed that Trump had repeatedly lied to voters about the then-candidate’s financial ties to Russia. While Trump claimed during the campaign to have no business dealings with Russia, he was negotiating a wildly lucrative business deal not simply with Russian businessmen, but also involving with the Kremlin itself. Trump’s team even reportedly tried to bribe Russian President Vladimir Putin by offering him a $50 million penthouse.
Worse, Russia not only knew that Trump was lying, but when investigators first started looking into this deal, the Kremlin helped Trump cover up what really happened. That made Trump doubly compromised: first, because he was eager to get the financial payout and second because Russia had evidence he was lying to the American people—evidence they could have held over Trump by threatening to reveal at any time.
Since the president’s embarrassing performance at the Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin—when he kowtowed to a foreign adversary rather than stand up for American interests—there has been open speculation about what leverage the Kremlin has over him. Now we know at least part of the picture, raising the specter of what other information Putin has, and how he is using it to influence Trump’s policy decisions.
Fourth, we know that Trump has engaged in an increasingly brazen attempt to cover up his actions: installing a political crony to head the Department of Justice by potentially illegal means in an effort to shut down the investigation; using his former campaign chairman and convicted criminal Paul Manafort to find out information about Mueller’s investigation; and even appearing to offer Manafort a pardon if he helps him obstruct the Russia probe. These may be components of an obstruction of justice case, but they also provide strongly circumstantial data points as to how serious Trump himself views the allegations of collusion being levelled against him.
Investigators alleged that Mr. Manafort made inaccurate statements in interviews with Mr. Mueller’s team about his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, said the people familiar with the matter.
.. Mr. Kilimnik, who Mr. Mueller charged earlier this year along with Mr. Manafort with trying to influence the testimony of two witnesses against Mr. Manafort, had worked for Mr. Manafort’s lobbying firm in Ukraine. Messrs. Manafort and Kilimnik communicated earlier this year about contacting others who worked with them in an alleged effort to coordinate their stories
.. Mr. Mueller has long been interested in the relationship between Messrs. Manafort and Kilimnik.
.. He has questioned witnesses about a boat trip that Mr. Manafort took with Tom Barrack, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump, after Mr. Manafort was ousted from the Trump campaign in August 2016, say people familiar with the matter. Witnesses believed investigators were seeking to determine whether Mr. Manafort ever met with Mr. Kilimnik on that trip.
.. With the Mueller-Manafort dispute breaking into public view, some legal experts believe Mr. Manafort’s best hope for leniency is to obtain a presidential pardon. On Wednesday Mr. Trump told the New York Post a pardon for Mr. Manafort was “not off the table.” Any pardon would likely spark a firestorm among Democrats, who are preparing to take control of the House.
.. Senate Republicans Wednesday blocked an effort to pass legislation protecting Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
For the second time this month, Sens. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz) and Chris Coons (D., Del.) tried to pass by unanimous consent legislation designed to protect Mr. Mueller from being fired. They were blocked by Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) on Wednesday. Two weeks earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) had objected, blocking the bill.
“If it wasn’t for the possibility of a pardon, it would be insane for him not to cut a deal at this point,” said Cotter. “He’s already guaranteed to go to prison for years, he’s got little reasonable chance of winning in D.C., it’s incredibly expensive, and there’s no benefit to him (in going to trial). And he’s in the enviable position that, even after a conviction, if he’s willing to tell the truth, the government is still interested in talking to him. That’s pretty rare.”
.. By pleading, Manafort would also duck the cost of paying his legal team to represent him over a weeks-long trial. For complex white-collar cases like Manafort’s, the tab for such a trial could be $1 million or more.
— The National Enquirer kept a safe containing damaging documents on hush-money payments and other stories that it killed on Trump’s behalf. The AP’s Jeff Horwitz reports: “Several people familiar with the National Enquirer’s parent company … said the safe was a great source of power for [Pecker]. The Trump records were stored alongside similar documents pertaining to other celebrities’ catch-and-kill deals … By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return. But after [Karen McDougal’s catch-and-kill deal was revealed], those assets became a liability. … Fearful that the documents might be used against American Media, Pecker and [Howard] removed them from the safe in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration … It was unclear whether the documents were destroyed or simply were moved to a location known to fewer people.”
.. The Enquirer’s efforts to kill negative Trump stories extended way beyond the 2016 campaign: “Former Enquirer employees who spoke to the AP said that negative stories about Trump were dead on arrival dating back more than a decade when he starred on NBC’s reality show ‘The Apprentice.’ In 2010, at Cohen’s urging, the National Enquirer began promoting a potential Trump presidential candidacy, referring readers to a pro-Trump website Cohen helped create. With Cohen’s involvement, the publication began questioning [Obama’s] birthplace and American citizenship in print.”
.. — The Manhattan district attorney’s office is also weighing possible criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two of its senior officials. The New York Times’s William K. Rashbaum reports: “A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to [Stormy Daniels] … [Two] officials stressed that the office’s review of the matter is in its earliest stages and prosecutors have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed. State charges against the company or its executives could be significant because Mr. Trump has talked about pardoning some of his current or former aides who have faced federal charges. As president, he has no power to pardon people and corporate entities convicted of state crimes.”
.. “Trump’s lawyers counseled the president against the idea of pardoning anyone linked to the investigation … saying Trump should at least wait until [Mueller] has concluded his probe.
.. Asked about a pardon, one senior White House official said: ‘What does it accomplish? You pardon him, it doesn’t get rid of the Mueller probe, it causes you more headaches, he still has another trial, you have more Republicans coming after you.’”
.. “Trump’s consideration of pardons, while he praises associates who don’t cooperate with investigations and help those who praise him, also could have a chilling effect, law enforcement officials said,”
.. ‘The president has not a whit of respect for institutions, whether it’s the DOJ or the Fed or the FBI,’ said one former senior administration official. ‘If you are a threat to him, he is going to try to kill you.’
.. Two powerful members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have been shielding Sessions gave air cover for Trump to fire him after Fox aired the interview. This is significant because a new AG who is not recused from the investigation could oversee Mueller’s work and rein in his probe.
.. — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently golfed with Trump, said it’s “very likely” that the president will oust Sessions but urged him to wait until after the midterms to do so. “The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham said. “Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.” (Graham sung a different tune last July. “If Jeff Sessions is fired,” he said then, “there will be holy hell to pay.”)
.. — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also shifted his position and announced he will now be able to find time to hold a confirmation hearing for a new attorney general this fall after the Supreme Court vacancy is filled. “Grassley said he was not advocating for a change at the Justice Department but simply responding to questions about timing,” Devlin Barrett, John Wagner and Seung Min Kim report. “Asked whether he still has confidence in Sessions, Grassley said: ‘Let’s put it this way, he’s a good friend.’
.. “Part of the disenchantment stems from a growing rift between Grassley and Sessions over Grassley’s legislation to change criminal justice policy. Sessions, whose views on law enforcement are shaped largely by 1980s-era mandatory-minimum sentences and harsh penalties for drug dealers, came out against the measure earlier this year, saying it ‘risks putting the very worst criminals back into our communities.’ Grassley has been willing to work with Democrats on legislation that would reduce prison sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders. He was furious that Sessions opposed his bill, one of his biggest legislative priorities… ‘It’s Grassley’s bill, and when the attorney general said he wouldn’t support it, Grassley said that was disloyal,’ said a person close to Sessions. ‘But … the attorney general isn’t going to be blackmailed.’”