Special Counsel Mueller’s office dropped a bombshell on the White House Thursday morning when Michael Cohen pled guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s Moscow Tower project. Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, clearly signalled in federal court in lower Manhattan that he was now fully cooperating now with the special counsel’s probe into the extent to which Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and whether it had the active participation of the Trump team in those efforts.
Previously, Cohen had told Congress, the press and anyone else who asked that Trump had stopped pursuing a Trump Tower deal in Moscow well before the Iowa caucuses in January 2016, so that could not have possibly been a factor in explaining Trump’s “bromance” with Vladimir Putin and apparent inability to say anything critical of Russia, even when it invaded Ukraine and forcibly seized Crimea.
Now we know from Cohen that Trump was still actively seeking the Kremlin’s approval for the Trump Moscow project well into the 2016 Presidential primaries, and that he discussed the status of the project with Trump on at least three occasions and briefed Trump’s family members about it. He also admitted to agreeing to travel to Russia for meetings on the project, and confirmed that the “Individual 1” described in the court documents filed in connection with Cohen’s plea agreement was, in fact, Trump.
The Cohen revelations in open court confirm the growing mountain of evidence that the Mueller team has already gathered from numerous sources, including presumably documents earlier seized during the federal raid on Cohen’s office and hotel suite. This evidence strongly indicates that both Trump’s business and political interests were closely tied to Russia during the entire 2015-2016 period, during which he was simultaneously seeking the approval of Putin and the Kremlin leadership of the Moscow hotel project, as well as assistance from Russia and its intelligence organizations in the 2016 Presidential election.
To accomplish these two closely intertwined goals, it seems increasingly clear Trump acted though a growing circle of close personal associates (such as Michael Cohen and Roger Stone), family members (such as Don Jr. and Jared Kuschner) and campaign operatives (such as Paul Manfort, Rick Gates , George Papadoupolos and Carter Page) to advance his business interests with the Russian leadership while at to the same time securing Russia’s support for his presidential bid.
This was the second shoe to drop on the White House this week. Two days ago, The Guardian reported that Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had met with Julian Assange of Wikileaks inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2013, 2015 and then again in March of 2016, which is when Manafort was catapulted by Trump to the top of his presidential campaign. (Manafort strongly denies the claim, calling it libelous.) Although Wikileaks did not dump most of its hacked emails from the Hillary Clinton Campaign until October 2016, U.S. intelligence sources have publicly confirmed that most likely by March of 2016, and
U.S. Intelligence reports have further confirmed that by April of 2016, Wikileaks was essentially an arm of Russia’s intelligence operations, which included its troll farms and sophisticated hacking operations that were penetrating national Democratic campaign operations and the Clinton campaign. Assange himself publicly confirmed on June 12, 2016, during a BBC interview that he had damning emails relating to Clinton.
So here’s the picture potentially coming into focus: While Cohen was still working on solidifying Trump’s business relationship with the Kremlin’s inner circle, Trump was bringing on Manafort as his campaign chairman based in part on relations with WikiLeaks, Russian oligarch and Kremlin insider Oleg Deripaska and former Russian military intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik, who had run Manafort’s Ukrainian operations in Kiev and was a frequent visitor to Moscow.
Although the special counsel’s relationship with Manafort has soured, Manafort’s second in command – Rick Gates – has been complying with his terms of his cooperation agreement with Team Mueller, and has therefore been able to provide much of the details that should have also been coming from Manafort.
Even without Manafort’s full cooperation, the information from Cohen and other sources as to Trump’s ongoing business and political coordination with Russia during the 2016 Presidential campaign will provide substantial grist for the mill for Congressional investigators as they gear up for what can be expected to be a very busy 2019 investigative season.