It was easy to tell how rattled President Trump was by Robert Mueller’s most recent and devastating court filings. In a tweet-storm, the president (referred to as Individual 1 in the court documents) kept insisting the filings were good news for him.
This is a typical Trump ploy going back decades to his earliest days in the real estate business. After having to settle a case in which the family real estate empire was turning away black tenants in the 1970s, the young mogul rushed to the microphones to claim victory.
The new documents filed for Michael Cohen’s sentencing were clearly terrible news for the president. We already knew from Cohen’s earlier guilty plea that Individual 1 (AKA Trump) was up to his eyeballs in the plan to pay hush money to two women who said they had sex with him. The prosecutors’ court filings on Friday were important because they show Cohen told them that it was Donald Trump himself who directed him to make the payments, which were illegal because campaign money was used. So, the president’s direct involvement in a felony violation of US campaign laws could place him in greater legal jeopardy.
The president’s reaction to the filings came, naturally, in a tweet: “Totally clears the president. Thank you!” That day, he had also said: “On the Mueller situation, we’re very happy with what we are reading because there was no collusion whatsoever. The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign. You should ask Hillary Clinton about Russia.” Of course, the opposite is true.
The new court documents show still more suspicious contacts between top Trump campaign advisers and Russians with close government connections. These contacts are added proof of the Russian meddling in the 2016 election that Mueller has been investigating for almost two years. The pieces of a collusion case are beginning to fit together.
Mueller revealed that Cohen, the Trump fixer, told prosecutors about a previously unknown November 2015 contact with an unnamed Russian national who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation. The Russian was offering Cohen help on winning approval for a Trump Tower in Moscow that the Trump Organization had been pursuing for years. During his campaign Trump repeatedly denied doing any business in Russia, another epic lie.
But Cohen’s unnamed Russian contact was offering more than help on a business deal. He was also suggesting political help, calling it “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level”, according to the new filings. Cohen said this person also offered to arrange a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin, promising that such a meeting would have a “phenomenal” impact, “not only in political but in a business dimension as well”. Apparently, Cohen did not follow up with his unnamed Russian contact, but the offer of political help points to a collusion case, since it is illegal for foreign countries to meddle in US elections.
Another new document focused on Paul Manafort’s lying about his contacts with a suspected Russian spy named Konstantin Kilimnik. Although much of the material about Kilimnik is heavily redacted, Mueller has said he has ties to the same Russian intelligence unit that was involved in the hacking of Democratic party emails, which formed the basis of an earlier Mueller indictment of Russian intelligence officials. This filing, too, enlarges the number of Russian contacts Trump campaign officials are known to have had.
Cohen is scheduled to be sentenced next week in New York City. Manafort’s sentencing has been scheduled for 5 March.
Also due to be sentenced is Michael Flynn, the short-lived national security adviser. He had already pleaded guilty to lying about calls with Russia’s ambassador about sanctions imposed on Russia by President Obama and a United Nations vote on Israel. Mueller recommended no jail time for Flynn because he’s given “substantial” help to the investigation. Flynn had 19 interviews with Mueller’s team and offered firsthand knowledge of “interactions between individuals in the presidential transition team and Russia” following the 2016 election.
With the flurry of recent activity, it looks like Mueller’s investigation may be wrapping up and that he may have a strong collusion case. We have not yet seen the fruits of Mueller’s other area of interest: whether the president obstructed justice to hide these Russian contacts.
Axios has compiled a comprehensive list of the Russian contacts with Trump officials known so far. They include his eldest son, his son-in-law, his lawyer and his campaign manager. The contacts started earlier (in Cohen’s case in 2015) and continued into the transition. The list shows how substantial Mueller’s case has grown and has to be deeply disturbing to the president.
Of course, according to the president, he has been vindicated. In coming days, he will be tweeting and repeatedly reminding us that Mueller has found “no collusion”. The only person the president says should be investigated for Russian collusion is, naturally, Hillary Clinton.