Friday Reads: Smoking CanonsPosted: January 18, 2019
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
This promises to be another of those weeks where we breach the outer limits of Republican tolerance of presidential criminality. We have yet more evidence and smoking guns combined with the cunning of a very wise Amy Klobucher who got the incoming AG to admit that a president that suborns perjury is a president that commits high crimes and misdemeanors. But then we knew that. It is exactly what finally got Nixon out of the Oval Office way back when I was busy graduating from high school.
Not only do we know that Michael Cohen can testify to these acts but it’s corraborated by hard evidence. He admitted to his complicity after he was shown hard evidence. This Buzz Feed article that dropped late last night may be the signal of the end of the Trump Family Crime Syndicate.
Here’s the Headline and lede: “President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project. Trump received 10 personal updates from Michael Cohen and encouraged a planned meeting with Vladimir Putin.”
And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.
Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”
Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.
The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.
This revelation is not the first evidence to suggest the president may have attempted to obstruct the FBI and special counsel investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
But Cohen’s testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.
On the campaign trail, Trump vehemently denied having any business interests in Russia. But behind the scenes, he was pushing the Moscow project, which he hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million. The two law enforcement sources said he had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign.
As Jonathan Chait writes at NY Mag, “Trump Ordered Michael Cohen to Perjure Himself. It’s Even Worse Than It Sounds.” Remember Senator Amy Klobucher’s questions for William Barr? Yup, she trapped him into going on record on this very behavior.
1. Attorney General William Barr has already defined this behavior as obstruction of justice. In the secret memo Barr wrote to the Department of Justice questioning Robert Mueller’s obstruction inquiry, Barr allowed that of course it was possible the president could obstruct justice if he did something incredibly obvious, such as instruct people to lie in sworn testimony:
At his Senate confirmation hearings, Barr reiterated that suborning perjury would obviously constitute obstruction.
So whatever legal shield Trump believes he is getting in Barr will not help him escape this allegation.
Yes, all those folks saying Senator Klobuchar was a little relaxed with her questions can now go eat shit. She was laying a nice little trap there and he walked straight into it. It makes me wonder if it was women’s intution, the skill of a seasoned prosecutor or student of political history, or a bit of the old insider information. Any which way, it was a brilliant snap of a trap!
Adam Sewer–writing for The Atlantic–believes this is a “straightforwardly impeachable offense”. If only the Republicans will act. It is probably a matter of getting the insane base off of their Fox News habit. Fox News lies are the addiction that is killing our democracy and rule of law.
While evidence that the Trump campaign sought to assist the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 election, and that the president then sought to hamper the federal investigation into that effort, has been in public view for some time, evidence that the president directed Cohen to lie to Congress would be something different entirely, a claim that the president conspired to commit a crime in pursuit of personal financial gain. Republicans have tried their best to set expectations so that only the clearest and most shocking of acts would qualify as criminal—and Trump’s reported actions not only meet but exceed them.
The report, if verified, provides a potentially simple narrative for a story that has often seemed complicated: Trump sought to profit from a real-estate deal in Moscow, and so defended Russia against accusations of interference, and then directed his personal attorney to commit perjury to cover up what he had done.
Obstruction of justice and perjury are crimes that turn on state of mind, but the details in the BuzzFeed News report would leave Trump with few defenses. “If President Trump instructed Michael Cohen to testify to Congress, giving an account of the Russia project that Trump knew to be false, that’s obstruction of justice,” said Bruce Green, a law professor at Fordham and a former associate counsel in the Iran-Contra investigation. “It’s hard to imagine that Trump would have had an innocent ‘state of mind.’ The only viable legal defense would be ‘It didn’t happen.’”
During the 2016 election, U.S. intelligence agencies have said, the Russian government ordered a campaign of disinformation and hacking designed to hamper the candidacy of Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and to help put Trump in the White House. The theft and release of emails from the Democratic National Committee and from the Clinton adviser John Podesta were major factors in the election—damaging Clinton’s reputation and altering the news cycle during periods in which the Trump campaign was dealing with negative coverage, and ultimately affecting what turned out to be a startlingly close election in which Trump failed to win the popular vote. Throughout the election, and even his presidency, Trump has used his influence to dismiss the conclusion of American intelligence agencies that the Russian government was responsible for the hacking.
Shortly after becoming president, Trump pressured then–FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into Trump’s former campaign surrogate and national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, who had lied to federal investigators about his contacts with Russian officials. Comey refused and was later fired by Trump. Although the Trump administration initially said Comey was fired for improperly disclosing information about the federal investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified emails, he later told Russian officials in the Oval Office and an NBC reporter in a televised interview that he had done so because of the Russia investigation. Trump publicly fumed that his choice for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had recused himself from that investigation after misleading Congress about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, rather than protecting Trump.
Republicans have been deaf dumb and blind to the orange pinball. Congressional Democrats are preparing an investigation (via AP).
The Democratic chairmen of two House committees pledged Friday to investigate a report that President Donald Trump directed his personal attorney to lie to Congress about negotiations over a real estate project in Moscow during the 2016 election.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said “we will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.” He said the allegation that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie in his 2017 testimony to Congress “in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date.”
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, said directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime.
“The @HouseJudiciary Committee’s job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work,” Nadler tweeted.
It will be interesting to watch the minority members response as the committee hearings unfold.
Susan Glasser’s thought piece in The New Yorker Is worth a read. “Are We Really Where We Are?”: Trump, Putin, and Washington’s Unbelievable New Normal. Regardless of whether Trump ends up making a speech on Capitol Hill on January 29th, the state of the union is not strong, and everyone knows it.”
Sunday will mark the second anniversary of Donald Trump’s Presidency. The U.S. government has been partially shut down for weeks, with no end in sight. The White House is on its third chief of staff, nearly a half-dozen Cabinet seats are empty, and the First Daughter Ivanka, previously known for her fashionable yet affordable line of high heels, appears to be in charge of picking the new head of the World Bank. Since the Defense Secretary quit, in protest over Trump’s withdrawal from Syria, the President has been reported to be unilaterally considering pulling out of Afghanistan and the nato alliance, as well. Congressional Democrats, days into their new House majority, are talking about impeachment, and their leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, effectively disinvited Trump from giving the annual State of the Union address, citing the shutdown. This past Friday, we learned, via the Times, that the F.B.I. opened a counterintelligence investigation of Trump to determine whether he was a Russian intelligence asset.
On Monday, which marked a year and three hundred and fifty-nine days since his Inauguration, President Trump had his “I am not a crook” moment. All weekend, he had avoided giving even a simple denial of what, for any other American President, would have been an unimaginable revelation. Now, on the snow-covered White House drive, after discoursing on the fast-food hamburgers he planned to serve the Clemson University football team that night, Trump told reporters, “I never worked for Russia.” He added, “Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it’s a disgrace that you even asked that question because it’s a whole big fat hoax.”
Regardless of whether Trump ends up making his speech on Capitol Hill, which is scheduled for January 29th, the state of the union is not strong, and everyone knows it. Almost every day since Trump was elected, someone, somewhere, has asked if this is the constitutional crisis we have been waiting for. Was his firing of the F.B.I. director, James Comey, in what seemed to be an effort to stop the investigation into his campaign, the constitutional crisis? Or his continual talk of firing the special counsel, or his actual firing of the attorney general? Days before the midterm elections, when Trump deployed thousands of U.S. troops to the border, to combat a nonexistent “invasion” by a caravan of poor Central American migrants, I thought that might finally be the crisis. But, of course, every day of the last two years has brought something that would have previously been unthinkable. When will we finally learn that just because it is unthinkable doesn’t mean it can’t happen?
It’s really difficult to believe there isn’t enough evidence out there to end all of this and it’s really difficult to quietly sit and wait for a Mueller report that may or may not come depending on the whims of an Trump appointed AG. However, it appears Trump’s due diligence on finding his own Roy Cohn may not have given him peace this time out. From CNN: “Trump startled by cozy Barr-Mueller relationship”.
President Donald Trump was startled Tuesday as he watched television coverage of his nominee for attorney general describing a warm relationship with the special counsel Robert Mueller in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to three people familiar with the matter.
During the first day of his confirmation hearing, William Barr described telling the President the first time he met him in June 2017 that he was friends with Mueller, referring to him on a first name basis.
“I told him how well I knew Bob Mueller and that the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this was all over,” Barr said. “Bob is a straight-shooter and should be dealt with as such.”
While Barr said during his hearing that Trump “was interested” in hearing about the friendship, the details that emerged this week caught the President off guard, the three sources said. He bristled at Barr’s description of the close relationship, complaining to aides he didn’t realize how much their work overlapped or that they were so close.
There is no indication Trump’s surprise will jeopardize the nomination, however.
Later, Trump privately rationalized the relationship between Barr and Mueller as stemming from both having worked in the Washington legal establishment for years, according to one of the people.
“I have known Bob Mueller for 30 years,” Barr said Tuesday. “We worked closely together throughout my previous tenure at the Department of Justice under President Bush. We’ve been friends since. And I have the utmost respect for Bob and his distinguished record of public service. And when he was named special counsel, I said his selection was ‘good news’ and that, knowing him, I had confidence he would handle the matter properly. And I still have that confidence today.”
On Tuesday, Barr repeatedly sought to reassure senators that he would not interfere with Mueller’s investigation, claiming he wouldn’t be “bullied” into doing anything he deemed improper.
“I am not going to do anything that I think is wrong, and I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong,” Barr told the panel. “By anybody. Whether it be editorial boards, or Congress or the President. I’m going to do what I think is right.”
That doesn’t give me much peace given all the pardons doled out on his recommendations on the Iran Contra Scandal startng with Caspar Weinberger. I’m closing with this quote via NPR with the man who was charged with the prosecution.
To the man who led the Iran-Contra investigation, however, the pardons represented a miscarriage of justice.
“It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office, deliberately abusing the public trust without consequences,” said Lawrence Walsh, the independent prosecutor in the case, at the time of the pardons.
Will any of this history repeat on us and will it be the good outcomes instead of those miscarriages of justice?
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?