The Department of Justice reaffirmed on Friday that the President of the United States is an unindicted co-conspirator who coordinated with and directed Michael Flynn to commit criminal felonies on his behalf as his proxy. The Special Counsel also gave a glimpse, without disclosing all his cards, that he has evidence of “political synergy” (collusion) between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Americans elected a Russian asset and a criminal to the White House. It’s time to come to terms with this stark reality.
The path forward is clear: impeachment is coming.
Federal prosecutors filed new court papers Friday directly implicating President Trump in plans to buy women’s silence as far back as 2014 and offering new evidence of Russian efforts to forge a political alliance with Trump before he became president — disclosures that show the deepening political and legal morass enveloping the administration.
The separate filings came from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III Mueller Cohen Sentencing Memo (.pdf), and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York SDNY Cohen Sentencing Memo (.pdf) ahead of Wednesday’s sentencing of Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Taken together, the documents suggest that the president’s legal woes are far from over and reveal a previously unreported contact from a Russian to Trump’s inner circle during the campaign. But the documents do not answer the central question at the heart of Mueller’s work — whether the president or those around him conspired with the Kremlin.
The documents offer a scathing portrait of his former lawyer as a criminal who deserves little sympathy or mercy because he held back from telling the FBI everything he knew. For that reason, prosecutors said, he should be sentenced to “substantial” prison time, suggesting possibly 3½ years.
The special counsel’s office said Cohen had provided “useful information” about its ongoing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as “relevant information” about his contacts with people connected to the White House between 2017 and 2018.
Mueller revealed that Cohen told prosecutors about what seemed to be a previously unknown November 2015 contact with a Russian national, who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation offering the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.”
Cohen told investigators that the person, who was not identified, repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact, “not only in political but in a business dimension as well,” the special counsel’s office wrote.
Cohen, though, did not follow up on the invitation, because he was already working on a Trump project in Moscow through a different person he believed to have Russian government connections, the special counsel’s office wrote.
Prosecutors also singled out Trump as being directly involved in efforts to buy the silence of women who might level public allegations against him.
The memo from New York prosecutors identifies three people at an August 2014 meeting: Cohen, “Individual 1” and “Chairman 1.” The document elsewhere identifies Individual 1 as Trump, and people familiar with the case said Chairman 1 is David Pecker of the National Enquirer.
“In August 2014, Chairman-1 had met with Cohen and Individual-1, and had offered to help deal with negative stories about Individual-1’s relationships with women by identifying such stories so that they could be purchased and ‘killed,’ ” the prosecutors’ memorandum says.
Cohen pleaded guilty in August to violating campaign finance law when he arranged payments to an adult-film star during the 2016 election. At the same time, he pleaded guilty to a handful of other crimes, including making a false statement to a bank. In recent weeks, he pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about efforts during the presidential campaign to get a Trump-branded tower built in Moscow.
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New York prosecutors were far harsher in their assessment of Cohen’s character, saying he should get only a modest reduction in an expected prison sentence of about five years. In their 38-page filing, they suggest he should receive about 3½ years in prison.
“He seeks extraordinary leniency — a sentence of no jail time — based principally on his rose-colored view of the seriousness of the crimes; his claims to a sympathetic personal history; and his provision of certain information to law enforcement,” prosecutors wrote in their filing. “But the crimes committed by Cohen were more serious than his submission allows and were marked by a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.”
The filing also suggests that Cohen’s cooperation with law enforcement was not so significant to the investigations swirling around the president.
“To be clear: Cohen does not have a cooperation agreement and is not . . . properly described as a ‘cooperating witness,’ as that term is commonly used in this District,” the prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors also accused Cohen of holding back some of what he knew.
“This Office understands that the information provided by Cohen to [Mueller’s office] was ultimately credible and useful to its ongoing investigation,” prosecutors wrote, but said they would not give him a legal letter detailing his cooperation because “Cohen repeatedly declined to provide full information about the scope of any additional criminal conduct in which he may have engaged or had knowledge.”
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Prosecutors repeatedly highlighted what they suggested was minimal information provided by Cohen, noting that while he also met with New York state investigators and tax authorities, that cooperation “warrants little to no consideration as a mitigating factor” because Cohen told them nothing of value beyond what they would probably have gotten without his help.
The Mueller memo says that Cohen “repeated many of his prior false statements” when he met with the special counsel’s office in August, and it was only in a second meeting on Sept. 12 — after he pleaded guilty to the campaign finance charges — that he admitted “his prior statements about the Moscow Project had been deliberately false and misleading.”
The special counsel’s office wrote that Cohen’s lies to Congress “obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government,” and that, if completed, the Trump Organization could have received “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues.” They noted, as Cohen had already admitted, that he and Trump discussed the project “well into the campaign.”
The special counsel’s office added, though, that Cohen “has gone to significant lengths to assist the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
The office wrote that Cohen had “explained financial aspects of the deal that would have made it highly lucrative,” and, without prompting, he had corrected other statements he made about his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign.
In the other filing on Friday, the Special Counsel outlined former Trump campaign manager Paul Mananfort’s lies and additional crimes committed while feigning to be a cooperating witness but acting as a “mole” for Team Trump.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III said Friday that Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, told “multiple discernible lies” during interviews with prosecutors, including about his contacts with an employee who is alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence.
In a [heavily redacted] document filed in federal court Friday, Manafort Sentencing Memo (.pdf), Mueller also said Manafort lied about his contacts with Trump administration officials after Trump took office. Manafort had told investigators that he had had no direct or indirect contact with White House officials since Trump’s inauguration, but Manafort had been in touch with officials as recently as the spring, according to the filing.
Manafort told a colleague in February — four months after he was indicted — that he was in contact with a senior administration official through that time. And in a text message, he authorized another person to speak with a White House official on May 26.
The text message came two days after Trump received significant publicity for issuing a posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson. Trump has publicly mulled the possibility of pardoning Manafort, which legal experts have said could be influencing Manafort to withhold his full assistance from Mueller.
Key points in the document filed Friday were redacted from public view, making it difficult to gain a full picture of what Manafort was asked in hours of interviews with investigators since September.
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Prosecutors from Mueller’s team informed the judge last week that they believed Manafort had breached the agreement by lying to them repeatedly. Manafort’s lawyers have said that Manafort did not believe he lied or violated the deal.
In the new filing, prosecutors offered to lay out at a future hearing additional documentary evidence to explain how they know Manafort is lying. For now, they explained that Manafort had lied “in numerous ways,” conduct they said should be held against him when he is sentenced in March.
The prosecutors said Manafort has met with special counsel investigators 12 times. At four of those meetings, prosecutors from outside the special counsel’s office attended — a sign that he was questioned in connection with investigations separate from Mueller’s probe. He also testified twice before Mueller’s grand jury.
Prosecutors said Friday that Manafort had told numerous lies in five different aspects of the investigation, including about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian employee of Manafort’s political consulting firm who prosecutors have said has Russian intelligence ties.
Manafort met twice during the campaign with Kilimnik, including in August 2016 in New York City. Kilimnik has told The Washington Post that the two discussed the presidential campaign at the New York meeting.
Much of a section of the filing dealing with Kilimnik was redacted, but prosecutors indicated that they have obtained electronic records, travel documents and other evidence that demonstrate Manafort “lied repeatedly” about his interactions with the Russian aide.
Manafort hired Kilimnik in 2005 to serve as a translator and office manager for the Kiev office of his political consulting business. Kilimnik was a key liaison for Manafort to politicians in Ukraine and to Russian businessmen, notably Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate who had partnered with Manafort on a business deal.
Kilimnik, who is believed to be in Russia, has been charged by Mueller’s office with conspiring with Manafort to obstruct the investigation into Manafort’s work in Ukraine. According to the new filing, Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiring with Kilimnik in an effort to compel witnesses in Mueller’s probe to give false testimony, only to deny it in a post-plea interview, before reversing himself again and conceding that his plea was truthful.
The special counsel also accused Manafort of lying about a $125,000 wire transfer. It is unclear how that transaction relates to the conspiracies detailed in Manafort’s plea agreement, but prosecutors said Manafort lied repeatedly about details of the transaction.
In addition, Manafort has been interviewed in connection with an investigation separate from the one being conducted by the special counsel’s office, according to the court filing. Prosecutors said he has lied in connection with that case as well.
The always delusional Twitter-troll-in-chief tweeted that the filings from federal prosecutors “Totally clears the President. Thank you!” (More “alternate reality” for his cult followers at FAUX Nation).
The legal experts at Lawfare Blog beg to differ. ‘Totally Clears the President’? What Those Cohen and Manafort Filings Really Say (excerpt):
As to the substance of the government’s memos in the Cohen cases, they provide little basis for the president’s cries of exoneration. The majority of the information about “Individual-1” presented in the U.S. attorney’s filing is not new. Cohen himself acknowledged it in court and in his original plea documents in August. His own sentencing memo also contains much of the same material.
What makes this document extraordinary is the government’s restatement of the most striking portion of Cohen’s August admissions in its own voice: Cohen indicated that he committed campaign finance violations at the direction of the candidate who conducted an “ultimately successful” campaign for president. The government now echoes this testimony and alleges[.]
In short, the Department of Justice, speaking through the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is alleging that the president of the United States coordinated and directed a surrogate to commit a campaign finance violation punishable with time in prison. While the filing does not specify that the president “knowingly and willfully” violated the law, as is required by the statute, this is the first time that the government has alleged in its own voice that President Trump is personally involved in what it considers to be federal offenses.
And it does not hold back in describing the magnitude of those offenses. The memo states that Cohen’s actions, “struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows.” His sentence “should reflect the seriousness of Cohen’s brazen violations of the election laws and attempt to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.”
One struggles to see how a document that alleges that such conduct took place at the direction of Individual-1 “totally clears the president.”
In contrast to the SDNY memo, Mueller’s memo contains a fair bit of new information—none of it explosive, but all of it useful in fleshing out the story of L’Affaire Russe. … Mueller states that Cohen has provided information on a handful of Russia-related issues: his own contacts with “Russian interests” during the 2016 presidential campaign; his discussions with others regarding those contacts; other outreach by Russians to the campaign; and, most ambiguously, “certain discrete Russia-related matters core to [the special counsel’s] investigation,” which Mueller writes that Cohen “obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives [Trump’s children] during the campaign.” (NPR writes that the company in question, a “Manhattan-based real estate company” of which the memo identifies Cohen as an executive vice president, appears to be the Trump Organization.)
In terms of outreach to and from Russians, the memo contains two new data points. First, it states that Cohen “conferred with Individual-1 about contacting the Russian government” about the Trump Tower Moscow project before he actually made contact. From context, the timing of this conversation with Trump appears to have been in the fall of 2015, just when negotiations over Trump Tower Moscow were getting off the ground, though that’s not entirely clear; the memo frames the revelation in relation to a September 2015 radio interview in which Cohen suggested that Trump and Putin might meet during Putin’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly.
Second, it describes a conversation between Cohen and a Russian national “in or around November 2015” in which the Russian “repeatedly proposed a meeting between Individual 1 and the President of Russia” and promised “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.” The Russian national—who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the country—also told Cohen that, “such a meeting could have a ‘phenomenal’ impact ‘not only in political but in a business dimension as well,’ referring to the Moscow Project, because there is ‘no bigger warranty in any project than consent of [the President of Russia].’” Cohen never followed up with the individual in question, because, as flagged in a footnote, “he was working on the Moscow Project with a different individual who Cohen understood to have his own connections to the Russian government.”
BuzzFeed News reporter Anthony Cormier suggested on Twitter that the Russian man offering “synergy” was likely Russian athlete Dmitry Klokov, whose contacts with the Trump organization Cormier and his colleagues reported in June 2018. Earlier reporting from Cormier and Jason Leopold at BuzzFeed News suggests that the man with whom Cohen was already working on Trump Tower Moscow at the time of the November 2015 phone call was likely Felix Sater: Cormier and Leopold report that Sater began work on the project with Cohen in September 2015.
Perhaps most importantly, the special counsel’s office writes that Cohen provided “relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 period.” It’s not clear what these contacts were about and who they were with. But notably, Trump stated in June of 2018 that he had not “spoken to Michael [Cohen] in a long time.”
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What should one make of all of this? It has long been clear that the Russian side of L’Affaire Russe involved a long-running, systematic effort to reach out to members of the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign. Mueller’s account of Cohen’s November 2015 conversation about “political synergy” is just one more thread in that pattern. What is less certain is whether and how that Russian effort was reciprocated by those surrounding the president. Friday’s court filings don’t substantially clarify that issue, but they do add more detail and texture to an already troubling picture.
Mueller is still not ready to show his hand on the key substantive questions. But President Trump should probably go easy on the cries of vindication. They may age badly, and they may do so quickly.