New York: You can bully porn stars but don’t try doing that with special counsel Robert Mueller. Donald Trump’s incoherent meltdown soon after his former fixer and personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to US Congress about a Trump real estate project in Moscow in order to be “consistent” with Trump’s “political message” proves how dangerous Michael Cohen has always been in Donald Trump’s mental landscape. The greatest peril to Trump come from damning documents and information Cohen may possess – which is a lot. Now that Cohen’s guilty plea comes after Trump’s written answers to Mueller have been locked in, the White House is living in real fear of contradictions between the Cohen and Trump versions that go well beyond Russia and hit closer home on Trump’s front porch. A lot of the dots lining up in the Mueller probe pertain to the summer of 2016, just weeks before Donald Trump became the Republican candidate. Throughout the campaign, Trump kept saying “I have nothing to do with Russia” while Cohen’s guilty plea says that’s not true. Trump has repeatedly said Russia is a nothing burger so why is he raging at Cohen? Because Cohen has too much dirt on the US president, because Cohen is a metaphor for the Trump era, he knows where the bodies are buried and Trump’s wild theatrics today showed even he couldn’t figure out how to deal with the Cohen stunner.
Thursday morning surprise
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, made a surprise appearance before a federal judge in New York on Thursday and pleaded guilty to lying to Congress to cover up that he was negotiating a real estate deal in Moscow on Trump’s behalf during the heat of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.Thursday’s charge was brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump called Cohen a “weak person” who is lying to get a lighter sentence.
A Mueller masterstroke
The timing of Michael Cohen’s 9 page plea deal dated 29 November is a Mueller masterstroke in the wider arc of the sprawling Russia investigation. It shows Mueller waited until the very last moment, ensured Trump’s answers to him were locked in before Cohen turned up for this guilty plea. What we don’t know now but will soon know is whether any of the answers that Trump gave Mueller contradict what Cohen has told Mueller as part of his plea deal.
Who is “Individual 1”?
Sample this grim description of Cohen, the defendant, and his former employer, “Individual 1” now chief occupant of the White House, as described in the special counsel’s charges: “From in or around 2007 through in or around January 2017, MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, was an attorney and employee of a Manhattan-based real estate company (the “Company”). COHEN held the title of “Executive Vice President” and “Special Counsel” to the owner of the Company (“Individual 1”).
The “Moscow Project”
The key takeaways from Cohen’s guilty plea today speak to one of the central ideas behind the Russia probe: What made Russia feel that they had a safe haven in Individual 1’s campaign? Cohen now makes it clear that his contacts with the “Moscow Project” went way beyond January 2016 and well into the thick of election campaign season that year and his contacts extended right into the Putin palace.
“In truth and in fact, and as COHEN well knew, COHEN’s representations about the Moscow Project he made to SSCI and HPSCI were false and misleading. COHEN made the false statementsto (1) minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1 and (2) give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before “the Iowa caucus and . . . the very first primary,” in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations”, reads a crucial paragraph in the 9 pages of charges. SSCI and HPSCI refer to US Senate and House intelligence committees.
Robert Mueller says Michael Cohen is telling the truth, Donald Trump is saying Micheal Cohen is a liar. Trump, in effect, is saying he has surrounded himself with liars since he was the one who appointed Cohen as his personal attorney. Adding to the dark circus, Trump’s current lawyer Rudy Giuliani today said Cohen is a liar and he lied to Congress, in effect saying Trump’s lawyer lied to the Congress while representing Trump.
The raid that changed the game
The Cohen guilty plea began in what must have been a terrifying moment for the White House from earlier this year when Cohen was raided. The Southern District of New York, acting on a referral from Robert Mueller, was granted sweeping powers for search warrants. That was one of the most chilling moments for the edifice that Trump has built around his persona and his closest personal relationships, not just his presidency. There’s every chance that from that night on, Mueller and the FBI have been in possession of pure dynamite.
Lawyer? Deal guy is more like it
Yes, Michael Cohen was Donald Trump’s lawyer but not the way it is commonly understood – Cohen was the deal guy for the Trump empire, the knockoff version, the US president’s keeper of secrets and second in that department only to the Trump brood of children from various marriages.
Robert Mueller has met Michael Cohen several times over the last few months, their latest meeting came on 20 November. Cohen has spent more than 70 hours briefing Mueller’s investigators. For someone who said he’d “take a bullet for Donald Trump”, Cohen has turned the gun on the US president.
Jeffrey Toobin writes in The New Yorker late this evening: “It’s true that Trump had the right to do business in Russia during the time when he was a candidate, but the public also had a right to know where his true financial interests lay. It would have been highly relevant to the public to learn that Trump was negotiating a business deal with Russia at the same time that he was proposing to change American policy toward that country. Not only was the public deprived of this information but Cohen’s guilty plea indicates that voters were actively misled about Trump’s interests. That is what is so important about Thursday morning’s news—it says that while Trump was running for President, he was doing his private business, not the public’s business. Trump may believe that his interest is the national interest, but it wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now.”
“I want to see if there was corrupt intent”
Bob Woodward writes in his bestseller Fear how Mueller’s team dictated 49 questions to Trump’s legal A team one Spring morning. “Nearly all concerned Trump’s attitude, decision making or conclusions about major players such as Flynn, Comey and Sessions. Some inquired about Donald Jr. and the famous meeting at Trump Tower and the offer from a Russian lawyer to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton. Others concerned real estate development in Russia.” Woodward writes that Trump’s lawyer thought these were nothing more than “second year law school questions” and told Mueller “there’s no case here”. To which Mueller replies: “I need the president’s testimony…I want to see if there was corrupt intent”.
“Dowd remained convinced that Mueller never had a Russian case or an obstruction case. He was looking for a perjury trap”, writes Woodward.
Trump told Woodward that “real power – I don’t even want to use the word- is fear.” Going by Trump’s flailing, that four letter word has come full circle.
Next up on Friday, 30 November, Mueller’s team will unload on Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort who reneged on a plea agreement with Mueller.