Unmasking the blocked cell phone number that Trump Jr. called while working on plans to meet with Russian agents
With Democrats in the House of Representatives set to get subpoena power in January, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) tells USA Today that one of the first avenues that his party could pursue is unmasking the blocked cell phone number that Donald Trump Jr. called while working on plans to meet with Russian agents during the 2016 presidential campaign.
.. If it turns out that Trump Jr. called his father while he was arranging meetings with Russian officials, it could mean that he lied under oath when he told Congress that he never mentioned the meetings with his father.
As part of the plea, he agreed to coöperate with the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Manafort will lose several properties, the money in several bank accounts, and a life-insurance policy, which appear to have value well in excess of ten million dollars. In exchange, Manafort was assured that he will spend no more than a decade in prison for the two charges, so long as he fully coöperates with Mueller.
.. The plea agreement specifically requires Manafort to disclose to the government “his participation in and knowledge of all criminal activities.”
.. But, even if Manafort had very little helpful to offer, he said, “this is a good deal for Mueller.” Mueller gets another guilty plea and avoids a potential loss at trial, which serves to undercut Trump’s repeated argument that the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt.” Even if Mueller already knows everything that Manafort has to offer, it would be helpful to have another voice confirming details at some future criminal trial for some other defendant.
.. Among the Trump team, Manafort would be, by far, the most experienced in dealing with emissaries from Russia and its allies, and the one most likely to understand the various agendas of those present. He surely knows what he told Trump, Jr., Trump himself, Kushner, and others about the significance of the meeting.
.. Manafort can also potentially shed light on several key people and a number of events that the public still knows too little about. Was Manafort’s employee Konstantin Kilimnik a Russian intelligence asset? And did he serve as a channel between the Trump campaign and Moscow? When Manafort pondered giving Oleg Deripaska—a Russian oligarch close to Putin—insider access to the Trump campaign, what did he mean? What, if anything, did he end up offering Deripaska?
.. Rather than merely informing on others, this theory holds that he would be able to lay out the full story of collusion (if, indeed, there was any).
.. However, this plea agreement is not overly generous. It strips Manafort of much of his wealth and means that the man, who is sixty-nine years old, will likely spend a decade in prison.
.. This could be because Manafort doesn’t know as much as we might imagine, or, more likely, that Mueller already knows most of what Manafort could tell him.
.. the Mueller investigation will likely come down to one central question: Did senior members of the Trump campaign, with the explicit knowledge of Trump himself, actively work with Russian government actors to help sway the election so that Trump would win? If the answer is yes, then Trump will almost certainly be impeached and removed from office.
If Manafort were in a position to definitively answer that question, it seems unlikely he would have accepted this plea agreement. He would have been in a position to hold out for something far better.
A transcript of “that” meeting with the Russians surfaces — and a controversy is settled.
Manafort: O.K., shall we begin?
Natalia: We have very good dirt, as you say, on Clinton. You win election with this.
Manafort: Hold it, hold it. Wait a second. First off, that would be illegal. That would be conspiring with an enemy to commit election fraud.
Rinat: I thought that was what meeting about.
Natalia: Me too.
Don Jr.: What? Who told you that?
Rinat: What did you think it was about?
Don Jr.: I thought it was about adoption!
Manafort: Yes, adoption. We want you to rescind the ban. It’s taking a tremendous toll.
The Russians: (in unison) Ohh … well, this is big misunderstanding …
President Trump is a lawyer’s client from hell. He lacks self-control, cannot tell the truth and will not absorb legal advice he doesn’t like. Most clients don’t incriminate themselves in public. Again and again. Trump does, however.
.. he is worried that Trump Jr. may have unintentionally stumbled into legal jeopardy and is embroiled in [special counsel Robert S.] Mueller’s investigation largely because of his connection to the president.
.. That’s worse than acknowledging to NBC’s Lester Holt that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he fired then-FBI Director James B. Comey. It’s worse than his nonstop attempts to obstruct the prosecutors — who are investigating an obstruction-of-justice case. (You cannot make this stuff up.)
.. Most important, Trump confirmed that the meeting with Russians was designed to obtain something valuable — previously undisclosed dirt on Hillary Clinton. That arguably would violate federal law prohibiting a candidate from asking for or receiving something of value from a foreign national. Put it this way: The most powerful evidence that Donald Trump Jr. violated campaign law comes from Donald Trump Jr.’s own email (“I love it” in anticipation of the Trump Tower dirt-finding meeting) and his own father’s tweet. Like father, like son.
.. Trump Sr.’s insistence that he did not know about the meeting in advance might, to an outside observer, suggest he knows it would be a problem if he did. But then again, he knew about the meeting after the fact and drafted a false statement, so it’s not as though prior knowledge is essential to the prosecutors’ obstruction case.
.. Trump fails to understand that the very meeting he is acknowledging is collusion — or conspiracy, if you will — to break campaign-finance laws. Insisting that it is legal to get dirt from a foreign national is politically and morally offensive (Trump was picked by the Kremlin) and contradicts his claim the Russians didn’t want him to win (another lie in the coverup). He knows they did — they had a meeting to help his campaign.
.. The email also suggests that Trump Jr. (allegedly with drafting help from his father) tried to conceal the true purpose of the meeting with a false cover story (it was all about adoption, you see.)
.. Trump Jr. may also have lied to Congress by suggesting his father was not intimately involved in drafting the false written statement.
.. Trump’s insistence that the meeting was perfectly legal and perfectly normal is wrong on both counts. No presidential campaign has gone to a hostile foreign power for help in winning an election. It’s a invitation for a foreign power to help pick our elected leaders, a constitutional abomination and a repudiation of the very concept of democracy (i.e., we pick our own leaders).
.. The political implications of Trump’s latest confession are quite stunning. Will the rest of the GOP go along with the position that it was perfectly fine for Russia to help Trump? That would sure be a change from “No collusion” (to “Collusion, so what?!”).
.. I don’t know how a major political party can maintain the view that hostile powers have carte blanche to influence our elections. Every Republican in elected office or on the ballot should be asked his or her view on the matter.
The notion that collusion with a hostile power is no big deal is so preposterous and unpalatable, you would think Republicans would not dare try to defend Trump on this point. But this crowd? They might just try it.
While “collusion” is not mentioned in U.S. criminal statutes, Mueller is investigating whether anyone associated with Trump coordinated with the Russians, which could result in criminal charges if they entered into a conspiracy to break the law, including through cyberhacking or interfering with the election.
.. He concluded by further distancing himself from the meeting his son arranged, writing, “I did not know about it!”
.. On Sunday, one of the president’s attorneys defended the 2016 meeting as something that would not have been illegal under any federal statute.
“The question is: How would it be illegal?” Jay Sekulow asked on ABC News’s “This Week,” suggesting that there are no laws prohibiting campaign operatives from meeting and working with foreign agents. “Nobody’s pointed to one.”
.. The president’s attorneys at first denied Trump’s involvement in drafting the response to the Times, but months later, in a letter intended to explain why Mueller should not interview Trump, they agreed that the president had, in fact, been the author of the statement.
.. They described the statement, which had not mentioned that the Russian lawyer was expected to bring damaging information about Clinton, as “short but accurate.”
And they said Trump Jr., Kushner and White House staffers had made a “full disclosure” about that session to Mueller and Congress.
President Trump said on Sunday that a Trump Tower meeting between top campaign aides and a Kremlin-connected lawyer was designed to “get information on an opponent” — the starkest acknowledgment yet that a statement he dictated last year about the encounter was misleading.
Mr. Trump made the comment in a tweet on Sunday morning that was intended to be a defense of the June 2016 meeting and the role his son Donald Trump Jr. played in hosting it. The president claimed that it was “totally legal” and of the sort “done all the time in politics.”
But the tweet also served as an admission that the Trump team had not been forthright when Donald Trump Jr. issued a statement in July 2017 saying that the meeting had been primarily about the adoption of Russian children.
.. It is illegal for a campaign to accept help from a foreign individual or government. The president and his son have maintained that the campaign did not ultimately receive any damaging materials about Mrs. Clinton as a result of the meeting. But some legal experts contend that by simply sitting for the meeting, Donald Trump Jr. broke the law.
.. After the meeting was revealed, Mr. Trump posted a tweet similar to the one he wrote on Sunday morning: “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!” But his administration at the time was sticking to the adoption story line, with his press secretary, Sean Spicer, saying later that day that there was no evidence that anything but that topic had been discussed during the meeting.
.. Numerous White House aides and lawyers for the president aggressively denied at the time that the president had been involved in drafting the misleading statement. Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, said in 2017 that “the president was not involved in the drafting of that statement.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the current press secretary, insisted that the president “certainly didn’t dictate” the statement.
.. But The Post reported in July 2017 that Mr. Trump had in fact done so. And earlier this year, Mr. Trump’s lawyers acknowledged in a memo to Mr. Mueller that the president had dictated the statement.
On Sunday, Mr. Sekulow admitted that his earlier statement had been erroneous, saying on ABC News’s “This Week” that “I had bad information at that time and made a mistake in my statement.”
.. Mr. Mueller’s investigators have told Mr. Trump’s lawyers that they want to ask him what he knew about the Trump Tower meeting at the time. The president believes that by answering the investigators’ questions, he can explain to Mr. Mueller that he and his campaign did nothing wrong, and bring an end to the investigation.
.. Mr. Sekulow echoed the president in the interview on Sunday. Asked about the Trump Tower meeting, he repeatedly steered his answers back to attacks on Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
“Let’s be honest with the American people, there are irregularities in this investigation the likes of which we have not seen,” Mr. Sekulow said, mimicking one of the president’s favorite phrases.
there’s a great value to Giuliani’s appearances. They tell us what the president is thinking about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into the Russia scandal — and what he’s afraid of.
.. Four months, they’re not going to be colluding about Russians, which I’m not even [sure] if that’s a crime, colluding about Russians. You start analyzing the crime, the hacking is the crime, the hacking is the crime. Well, the president didn’t hack! He didn’t pay them for hacking!
.. I’ve been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find “collusion” as a crime. Collusion is not a crime.
.. In a very strict sense, Giuliani is right that there isn’t a particular crime called “collusion.” But that’s kind of like saying that if you walked into an Apple Store, stuffed an iPhone in your pants and walked out, you’re innocent because the criminal code makes no specific reference to “stuffing an iPhone in your pants.”
.. Now it’s possible that Trump himself, or someone on the Trump campaign, could have “colluded” with Russia to commit an act that is not illegal and, therefore, they wouldn’t be guilty of any crime. For instance, they could have colluded to find the best taco truck in Manhattan. They could even have discussed some kind of policy initiative that they would cooperatively pursue if Trump became president. But the real problem with the “collusion is not a crime” argument is that if they cooperated to do almost anything that helped Trump in his election campaign, then it would have been illegal.
.. there are multiple crimes under which any cooperation between the Russian government and the Trump campaign could potentially fall. If the campaign sought and/or received damaging information on its opponent from sources connected to the Russian government, it would almost certainly be in violation of this statute, which prohibits “a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution” from a foreign national for the purpose of a political campaign. A contribution could be money, but it could also be any other “thing of value,” and dirt on your opponent would seem to qualify. In addition to the crime of accepting the contribution, they could also be charged with conspiracy to violate election laws, or with aiding and abetting another person’s crime.
.. the Trump defense on Russia has gone through numerous iterations, ranging from outright lies to laughable assertions.
- First they said nobody on the campaign ever talked to any Russians.
- Then they said they may have talked to Russians but didn’t have any planned meetings.
- Then they said that they had a planned meeting with Russians but didn’t collude with Russians.
- And now they’re saying that even if they did collude with Russians, that’s okay because collusion isn’t a crime.
.. let’s remember that two days before the meeting with the Russians, which would be June 7, 2016, is also when Trump told a crowd, “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.” After the Russian meeting was a bust, his “major speech” laying out Clinton dirt never took place.
.. It’s possible on one hand that nothing happened at the June 7 meeting or, on the other hand, that the participants all agreed that Trump was being kept up to date about the whole thing. If Rick Gates (Paul Manafort’s deputy) was there, we could find out, because he’s now cooperating with the Mueller investigation.