President Donald Trump was watching television Friday evening when he reached for his phone after a subdued trip to Kansas City. Though federal court documents did not name him, he felt the need to declare his innocence.
“Totally clears the President. Thank you!” Trump wrote.
Totally clears the President. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
On Saturday, he cited Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera, who called the investigation a “collusion illusion.”
“This is collusion illusion, there is no smoking gun here. At this late date, after all that we have gone through, after millions have been spent, we have no Russian Collusion. There is nothing impeachable here.” @GeraldoRivera Time for the Witch Hunt to END!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2018
But Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III and federal prosecutors in New York indicated they believe otherwise, making clear they have determined evidence shows Trump was the maestro of illegal payments to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence their accounts of extramarital affairs and had knowledge of efforts by his former “fixer” to discuss “political synergy” and potentially conflict-creating business dealings with Russia.
What’s more, Michael Cohen told federal investigators he had conversations with officials close to the president after Trump entered the White House, a new revelation that puts Mueller and his team inside the West Wing.
Friday might have been the most-revealing day of the Mueller investigation. Here are three takeaways as House Democrats, with their coming investigative and subpoena power, analyze pages of federal court documents and what it means for the president.
Cohen admitted to lying to investigators to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1.” That is a reference to his attempts to line up approval in Russia for a Trump Tower in Moscow, and just how informed of it he kept his then-client, businessman and presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Mueller filed court documents with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that state Cohen, despite initially saying he stopped working on the Moscow project in June 2016, “continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign.” The special counsel also told the court Cohen’s work on the Moscow tower proposal “occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.”
There also is a telling footnote from Mueller, which states Cohen, after initially lying, “admitted … that he had in fact conferred with Individual 1 about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting.”
Much of the media coverage after Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York released their filing documents, related to the sentencing of Cohen and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, focused on possible campaign finance crimes by Cohen and Trump related to payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford) and Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Trump has repeatedly claimed there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Moscow. But Mueller revealed previously under wraps details about Cohen’s contacts with Russians that could spell trouble for Trump — especially with Democrats taking control of the House come January.
“In or around November 2015, Cohen received the contact information for, and spoke with, a Russian national who claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level.’”
That passage sheds new light on Russian officials’ attempts to establish a relationship with the Trump campaign — but the special counsel held back on whether he has evidence the president was directly involved or orchestrating those contacts.
But the former FBI director did disclose Cohen’s communications with a Russian contact who told him a meeting between Individual 1 and Russian President Vladimir Putin would have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well.”
The latter is a reference to the Moscow project and it could mean Trump’s decades-long interest in building a tower in or near Moscow left him pliable to Putin and other Russian officials as he was seeking the White House.
Trump said during the 2016 campaign that he had no business dealings with Russia, but the Mueller filing document suggests otherwise. The president is heavily involved in many aspects of his administration and federal investigators spelled out in court documents released Friday and over the last year that the same is true of his businesses.
The president and his legal team now have to convince lawmakers and the public that Cohen was freelancing and not keeping his boss in the loop. Trump appears spooked by the latest developments. His speech to a law enforcement conference in Missouri on Friday was relatively flat and featured little ad-libbing. And as he left the White House in the morning, he gave only brief remarks to reporters and ignored their shouted questions.
Trump, in the past, has taken questions over the roar of Marine One’s engines for nearly a half hour. But on Friday, he made a beeline for the executive helicopter as reporters asked about Mueller and Cohen.
Trump returned to the White House late Friday afternoon to more shouted questions from reporters. He just waved and walked into the mansion without saying a word.
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