Nor does it matter that I believe any public report Mueller files about the president should be succinct. Yes, Mueller is merely a prosecutor; he is not counsel to a congressional committee conducting an impeachment investigation. The Justice Department is not supposed to speak publicly about the evidence against uncharged persons — in fact, Comey’s violation of this principle was Rosenstein’s rationale for recommending his dismissal. To my mind, either there is enough evidence to charge a crime, in which case Mueller should ask the Justice Department for permission to indict (and address the standing DOJ guidance against indicting a sitting president), or there is not, in which case Mueller should state that prosecution should be declined owing to insufficiency of the proof.
But again, what I think is beside the point. This has been a highly irregular investigation from the start. There is every reason to suspect that the same politicians who rebuked Comey for publicizing the Clinton evidence will demand full disclosure of the Trump evidence, even if Mueller recommends no criminal charges. And the new Democratic Congress will have a sound rationale for doing so: High crimes and misdemeanors need not be indictable offenses, so even if Mueller has not found prosecutable crimes, he could conceivably have found impeachable offenses.
This brings us to my 2019 caveat: If Mueller’s highly elastic warrant is to probe Trump “collusion” with the Kremlin, why would he stop if the president keeps giving him reasons to continue?
The first cabinet meeting of the new year found the president making the appalling claim that “the reason Russia was in Afghanistan” — i.e., the reason the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 — “was because terrorists were going into Russia.” Trump astonishingly added, “They were right to be there.”
For a guy under investigation for colluding with the Kremlin, the president’s remarks are also noteworthy because they are exactly what Putin would want Trump to say.
.. ‘Collusion’ — the Evidence
Just sticking with what we know (as if Mueller has no other information): Cronies of Putin told Trump-campaign officials that the Russian government wanted Trump to win the election. Trump recruited into his campaign the likes of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, who had close ties and multi-million-dollar business dealings with Putin cronies, including leaders of the Kremlin-backed Ukranian political party that was largely responsible for the strife in Ukraine that has led to civil war and Putin’s annexation of Crimea. Manafort, who became Trump’s campaign chairman, offered briefings on the campaign to Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch so close to Putin that the latter has interceded on Deripaska’s behalf to protest U.S. travel restrictions. The Trump campaign also recruited as a foreign-policy adviser Carter Page, an obscure figure best known for being so sympathetic to the Kremlin, and so financially involved in the Russian energy sector, that Russian intelligence attempted to recruit him as an asset in 2013 (apparently unsuccessfully).
Meantime, top Trump-campaign officials elected to take a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer at which they expected to receive incriminating information on Hillary Clinton that came straight from Russian-government files. The meeting was a bust — the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, appears to have used it as an opportunity to lobby top Trump associates against the Magnitsky Act, a notorious pet peeve of Putin’s. Yet the president’s son, Don Jr., apparently at the president’s urging, attempted to mislead the New York Times about the genesis of the meeting, coming clean only after learning that the Times had, and was about to publish, Trump Jr.’s emails detailing the expected transmission of campaign dirt about Clinton.
BREAKING: Fox News’ Shep Smith and Judge Napolitano just admitted that the Trump campaign did indeed “collude” with the Russians. This is a massive concession and does not bode well for Trump.
“Well I told you, General Flynn obviously was dealing [with Russia]. So that’s one person. But he was dealing, as he should have been. . . . Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.”
— President Trump, in a news conference, on Feb. 16, 2017
Trump announced he was running for president in June 2015. He spent the next several months on the campaign trail in advance of the Iowa caucuses in February 2016.
At the same time, Cohen was working toward a deal that would license Trump’s name to a skyscraper in Moscow. According to court documents, Cohen updated Trump and Trump’s family on the project more than three times between September 2015 and June 2016, but it is not clear exactly when these briefings took place. The timeline below outlines how the campaign and the Moscow project intersected.
.. According to The Washington Post, “an unidentified investor planned to build the project and, under a licensing agreement, put Trump’s name on it.” Sater believed that, with Trump’s publicity from the campaign, it would be perfect timing. He began to contact former contacts in Russia and put together a licensing deal for the Moscow project fairly quickly.
Oct. 28: Trump personally signed the letter of intent for the Moscow project. This was the same day as the third Republican debate.
.. Jan. 14-16, 2016: Cohen emailed Dmitry Peskov, a top aide and spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, to enlist his help “to secure land and permits,” according to documents submitted to Congress.
.. Jan. 20: Cohen heard back from Peskov’s office and spoke with his assistant for 20 minutes. During that call, according to court documents, Cohen outlined the Moscow project and asked for assistance to move it forward. Cohen initially told Congress that he had never heard back from Peskov. Peskov corroborated this false claim in August 2017when he said he had received an email but “left it unanswered.” (After Cohen’s new admission, Peskov displayed the emails to reporters and confirmed that Russian officials contacted Cohen by phone.)
.. “Michael had a lengthy substantive conversation with the personal assistant to a Kremlin official following his outreach in January 2016, engaged in additional communications concerning the project as late as June 2016, and kept [Trump] apprised of these communications,” according to a sentencing memorandum filed by Cohen’s team.
On Feb. 1, Trump finishes second in the Iowa caucuses.
.. Spring 2016: “[Cohen] and [Trump] also discussed possible travel to Russia in the summer of 2016, and Michael took steps to clear dates for such travel,” according to the memorandum filed by Cohen’s team. Cohen also discussed this “potential business travel to Russia” with a senior campaign official, according to court documents.
.. On May 3, Trump becomes the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party after Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Trump’s remaining challengers, withdraw from the contest.
.. May 4-6: Cohen and Sater discuss the possibility of a trip to Russia that would include Trump. They debate whether it would be better for him to visit before or after the Republican National Convention in July. On May 5, Sater relays a message that a Russian official would like to invite Cohen to the “Davos of Russia” in June where he would be introduced to Putin and/or Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Cohen agrees to the trip. According to the sentencing memorandum filed by Cohen’s team, he continued to update Trump through June.
.. May 21: Then-advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos suggest to the campaign that Trump travel to Russia. Papadopoulos forwards a May 4 email exchange to newly minted campaign chairman Paul Manafort, saying, “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss.” Manafort then forwards this email to his deputy, Rick Gates, writing, “We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips.” Gates agreed and passed the exchange along to “the person responding to all mail of non-importance,” aiming to avoid a response from a senior official.
.. June 3: Rob Goldstone, a music publicist, emails Donald Trump Jr., offering “very high level and sensitive information” that could “incriminate Hillary” and is part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Goldstone represents Emin Agalarov, whose father is a major real estate developer close to Putin. Agalarov asks Goldstone to pass this along for his father, who was offered the information by the “Crown prosecutor of Russia.” Trump Jr. promptly responds: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
June 7: Trump promises a “major speech about Hillary Clinton’s crimes.”
June 9: Trump Jr., Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner meet with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others at Trump Tower. At least eight people attend this meeting, including two other Russian associates. Since the meeting was first reported, reports have surfaced that Veselnitskaya may have been working on behalf of the Kremlin at that time.
June 7: Trump promises a “major speech about Hillary Clinton’s crimes.”
June 9-14: Sater tried to contact Cohen to confirm his upcoming trip to Russia. Court documents say Sater sent “multiple messages” to Cohen and “included forms” for him to complete.
On June 14, The Washington Post reveals the Democratic National Committee had been hacked. The following day, the DNC and CrowdStrike, the firm hired by the DNC to investigate the hack, said, “Two separate Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries present in the DNC network in May 2016.”
June 14: Cohen met Sater in the lobby of Trump Tower to inform him that he would not “be traveling at [that] time.” Cohen had initially agreed to a trip to St. Petersburg in June.
June 15: Trump releases a statement: “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader. Too bad the DNC doesn’t hack Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 missing emails.”
On July 21, Trump officially becomes the Republican nominee for president. The next day, WikiLeaks releases nearly 20,000 DNC emails obtained through Russian hacking operations. U.S. officials have said Russian intelligence used intermediaries to give the email cache to WikiLeaks.
.. July 21-27: In several television appearances, tweets and a news conference, Trump and his campaign officials deny any connections to Russia, despite previous and ongoing meetings and communications.
- July 24: “Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?” George Stephanopoulos asked Manafort on ABC News’s “This Week.”“No, there are not,” Manafort says. “It’s absurd, and there’s no basis to it.”
- July 24: In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Jake Tapper asked Trump Jr. about the suggestion that Russians had hacked the DNC network to help Trump and hurt Clinton. Trump Jr. calls the claims “lies.”
- July 25: Trump responds: “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.”
- July 26: Trump tweeted “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”
- July 27: Trump said, “What do I have to do with Russia? You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach.”
.. Sater told BuzzFeed that after Trump’s July 26 tweet, he knew the deal was off.
Oct. 9: During the second debate with Clinton, Trump says: “I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.”
Oct. 26: During a campaign rally in Kinston, N.C., Trump declares: “First of all, I don’t know Putin, have no business whatsoever with Russia, have nothing to do with Russia.”
.. Jan. 11, 2017: Trump tweets: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” In a news conference that day, Trump says: “I tweeted out that I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia because we’ve stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia.”
May 11: In an interview with Lester Holt of NBC News, Trump says: “I am not involved in Russia. No loans. No nothing.”
Aug. 27: The Washington Post reports for the first time that when Trump was running for president, his company pursued a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow.
.. Nov. 29, 2018: After the announcement of Cohen’s guilty plea, Trump tells reporters: “He’s lying about a project that everybody knew about. I mean, we were very open with it. … This deal was a very public deal. Everybody knows about this deal. I wasn’t trying to hide anything.”
That’s false because it was not disclosed until The Washington Post report in August 2017, almost one year after the election.
.. Dec. 2: Reporters from the Associated Press asked Trump about his relationship with Sater. Trump said, “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it. I’m not familiar with him.”
Of all the lies this man tells, this is a whopper and so easily disproved. Sater had an office in Trump tower and traveled with Trump on his private jet to various meetings.
Trump thinks the rest of the world is stupid.
.. 8767dghy.. So Tired of Winning.. msmcdougal.. exlrrp.. msmcdougalMy take is that at the June 6, 2016 trump Tower meeting, the framework of
- how Russia could help,
- how that help would come and
- how the communication of asking for and getting that help would work was laid out.
The actual info trump had hoped for and had hinted at did not come then, but it was not the nothingburger that liars trump, Junior, Manafort, and Jared said it was. And before we forget, Cohen has already said trump was told in advance about that meeting... KTA-France.. GraybeardscientistAs Obama said of Trump to them (as per my imperfect memory, referring to flyover state citizens):
“For years he’s been ignoring you as he flies over your heads in his gold plated jet. What makes you think he’s going to start caring about you now?”.. LifeInBananaRepublicYou missed Kushner’s proposal to Sergey Kislyak to set up a secret and secure back channel to Russia in the Russian embassy.
A new Mueller court filing describes how Michael Cohen negotiated with the Kremlin about a Moscow business deal during the 2016 campaign.
And according to the document, Cohen spoke to Trump about the deal more than three times during that period, and asked both Trump and other senior campaign officials about a Trump trip to Russia in connection with the deal.
Cohen is pleading guilty to lying to Congress by saying these negotiations had ended by January 2016 and by denying that he spoke to Trump about them.
The details that emerge in the document are fascinating and rich.
But the main takeaway is that Cohen and others in the Trump organization were actively doing a Russia deal that linked Trump’s emerging presidential candidacy with his business interest in a Moscow Trump Tower. And Trump knew about it, to a degree yet to be revealed.
Until now, many have speculated that there must be some link between Trump’s business interests in Russia and his campaign conduct. The Cohen plea provides more concrete evidence of such a link.
Starting in September 2015, the Trump Organization was pursuing a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen was working on making the deal happen.
In mid-January of 2016, someone described as “a U.S. citizen third-party intermediary” and identified only as “Individual 2” suggested to Cohen that he contact Putin’s press secretary for “approvals” from the Russian government.
Cohen emailed Putin’s press secretary twice, on Jan. 14 and Jan. 16, 2016.
On Jan. 20, Cohen got a call from the press secretary’s assistant. They spoke for 20 minutes, and Cohen described the deal.
The next day, Jan. 21, Individual 2 wrote to Cohen that he should call them about Putin, because “they called today.”
That began a period of negotiations lasting six months. Apparently, the Russians’ goal was to get Trump to visit Russia and meet Putin. Cohen asked Trump and other campaign officials about Trump traveling to Russia for the meeting. Cohen would go to Russia ahead of time to negotiate the details.
In May, things heated up. Individual 2 emailed Cohen explaining the state of play. “I had a chat with Moscow,” he wrote. “ASSUMING the trip does happen the question is before or after the convention … Obviously the pre-meeting trip (you only) can happen anytime you want but the 2 big guys where [sic] the question. I said I would confirm and revert.”
This email makes clear that there was a close connection between Trump’s status as a candidate and the visit.
Cohen wrote back about “My trip before Cleveland” — where the Republican national convention would be held starting on July 18. Trump would travel to Russia “once he becomes the nominee after the convention.”
Over the next month, Individual 2 sent Cohen the paperwork for a visa, which Cohen seems to have filled out.
The trip looked like it was a go to Cohen, but it was called off around June 14, 2016, when Cohen met Individual 2 at Trump Tower to tell him it wasn’t happening. According to Cohen, the real estate deal was also off at that point.
The document doesn’t say how or why Cohen’s trip was canceled. The most logical possibility is surely that Trump’s campaign advisers told him that he couldn’t go to Moscow after becoming the Republican nominee.
Trump and his supporters will no doubt insist that Cohen and Individual 2 were freelancing, not really representing Trump or the campaign. But the fact that Cohen kept Trump in the loop by asking him about possible travel to Russia strongly suggests that Trump knew that the negotiations over the Moscow Trump Tower were continuing during this period.
Trump supporters might add that it isn’t surprising to discover that Trump didn’t stop his business negotiations with Russia just because he was running for president. Yet it remains significant that those negotiations were happening with Putin’s office directly, not just with real estate developers in Moscow.
Trump supporters can also point out that the deal was canceled. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the deal was killed not because Trump realized it was wrong but because outside advisers told him it would look bad.
Cohen’s latest revelations on their own don’t constitute evidence of a crime or impeachable offense by Trump. However, they do show that Trump was part of a negotiation that linked his status as a candidate to his business interests in Russia. They bring Mueller’s team an important step closer to explaining Trump’s Russia ties during the campaign.