Why you should care
Because this investigation is getting deeper into the president’s business.
Having pounded his opponents into submission for years, President Donald Trump is struggling to land a blow against Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And while they danced for some time around the nature of their standoff, it is now abundantly clear where the lines are drawn. The president is identified as “Individual 1” in Mueller’s criminal complaint against his former lawyer Michael Cohen, while Trump has no compunction about directly attacking Mueller on Twitter.
Last week, their battle heated up again after a lull for the midterm elections and for Trump to complete a written questionnaire for Mueller. The “when will this investigation end?” speculation continues to be pointless — the end of the special counsel probe has been incorrectly forecast too many times to count — as each passing indictment and court filing seems to raise a new question even as it answers many others and confirms a few suspicions.
What did we learn last week?
- Trump Organization figures worked on securing Trump Tower Moscow well into the presidential campaign, including after he became the Republican presidential nominee, according to criminal charges against Cohen.
- Jerome Corsi, a conservative conspiracy theorist, and Trump dirty trickster Roger Stone discussed Wikileaks’ forthcoming release of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails more than two months before it happened, per a leaked draft plea agreement. Stone told Corsi to meet with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange about the emails, which we now know were stolen by Russian hackers. Corsi says he never met with Assange, but he shared some details about the stolen emails with Stone.
- The special prosecutor does not take lying lightly. Cohen is being prosecuted for lying to Congress, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort faces a new trial after investigators determined he breached their plea agreement by lying.
- In a juicy side note, Buzzfeed — which has been on top of this story for months — reports that Trump Organization officials discussed giving Vladimir Putin the friendly gesture of a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow.
As former interim CIA director and OZY columnist John McLaughlin points out, Trump’s repeated denials of business dealings with Russia at the time mean the Kremlin likely had leverage over him.
One of the most notable things learned today is that Russia knew all along when Trump was lying during the campaign in denying financial or other dealings with Moscow. The seeds of blackmail. More to wonder about re what was said during that private meeting w/Putin in Helsinki.— john mclaughlin (@jmclaughlinSAIS) November 30, 2018
But new questions continue to arise:
- What did Manafort lie about, and who is he trying to protect?
- Does any of Mueller’s newly released evidence contradict Trump’s recently delivered sworn statements?
- How did the ongoing Trump Tower Moscow discussions relate to contemporary 2016 campaign events? Those include changes to the official Republican Party platform to make it more Russia-friendly and the infamous Trump Tower meeting featuring Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian attorney offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
- Given that Mueller is getting deeper into Trump Organization dealings — and has extensive phone records and emails from his targets — does he have hard evidence of money laundering for Russians or others?
On Thursday, Trump told reporters there was nothing wrong with exploring Moscow deals in mid- to late 2016. “There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
As for the big kahuna, we have a lot of attempted collusion with Russia to meddle in the election — from Stone and Wikileaks to Don Jr.’s thirst for Clinton dirt from the Russian lawyer … to Trump publicly asking Russia to hack Clinton’s emails. But we are still waiting for confirmation of a consummation. Instead, just as Bill Clinton’s special counsel started with real estate deals and ended with a White House intern, the Trump Organization could be headed for a bigger reckoning than the Trump campaign. Either way, “Individual 1” is in the hot seat.
The president called off a scheduled meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit shortly after Cohen’s plea revealing the Trump Tower Moscow details — with the White House saying it was because of Russia’s recent aggression in Ukraine, not the “witch hunt.” But the two leaders still managed to confer briefly in Buenos Aires. Nonetheless, Putin can probably forget about that penthouse.