After the release of three court filings yesterday (a sentencing recommendation for Michael Cohen from SDNY, another Cohen sentencing recommendation from Robert Mueller, and a statement from the Special Counsel of the lies from Paul Manafort that justify ending his plea agreement) the consensus of legal and political pundits is that Trump is essentially finished. How long he will continue as fake “president” is unclear, but he has been credibly accused of a crime by his own Justice Department.
I’ve gathered a number of opinion pieces that I think are very good. It’s difficult to excerpt these long pieces, so I’m just giving you the highlights. You’ll have to go to the sources for more details.
Jonathan Chait: The Department of Justice Calls Donald Trump a Felon.
Federal prosecutors released sentencing recommendations for two alleged criminals who worked closely with Donald Trump: his lawyer Michael Cohen, and campaign manager Paul Manafort. They are filled with damning details. But the most important passage by far is this, about Trump’s fixer: “Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.”
The payments in question, as the document explains, concern a payoff to two women who claimed to have affairs with Trump. The payments, according to prosecutors, were intended to influence the campaign, and thereby constituted violations of campaign finance law. They have not formally charged Trump with this crime — it is a sentencing report for Cohen, not Trump — but this is the U.S. Department of Justice calling Trump a criminal….the fact that he is being called a felon by the United States government is a historic step. And it is likely the first of more to come…..
Cohen is providing helpful information on other crimes. Cohen reportedly gave the special counsel “useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during them.” And this contact continued into 2018. Cohen was not locked out and probably has access to some secrets….
The special counsel sentencing recommendation for Cohen also reveals that Russian contact with the Trump campaign began as early as 2015, not the following spring. And Russians promised “political synergy” — which is essentially a synonym for campaign collusion — and “synergy on a government level.” That means a quid pro quo in which Russia would help Trump win the election and Trump, if elected, would give Russia favorable policy. This is the heart of Mueller’s very much ongoing investigation.
There are suggestions in both the Cohen filings that The Trump Organization was involved in crimes, and that is very significant. As Emptywheel pointed out recently, even if Trump were to pull a Nixon and make a deal with Pence–the presidency in return for pardons–Pence could not pardon Trump’s company.
Marcy writes that the sentencing memorandum released by Cohen’s attorneys on November 30,
…puts Trump’s eponymous organizations — his company and his foundation — squarely in the bullseye of law enforcement. The known details of all those puts one or the other Trump organization as an actor in the investigation. And we’ve already seen hints that the Trump Organization was less than responsive to some document requests from Mueller, such as this detail in a story on the Trump Tower deal:
According to a person familiar with the investigation, Cohen and the Trump Organization could not produce some of the key records upon which Mueller relies. Other witnesses provided copies of those communications.
If there’s a conspiracy to obstruct Mueller’s investigation, I’m fairly certain the Trump Organization was one of the players in it….
But the Trump Organization did not get elected the President of the United States (and while the claims are thin fictions, Trump has claimed to separate himself from the Organization and Foundation). So none of the Constitutional claims about indicting a sitting President, it seems to me, would apply.
If I’m right, there are a whole slew of implications, starting with the fact that….it utterly changes the calculation Nixon faced as the walls started crumbling. Nixon could (and had the historical wisdom to) trade a pardon to avoid an impeachment fight; he didn’t save his presidency, but he salvaged his natural person. With Trump, a pardon won’t go far enough: he may well be facing the criminal indictment and possible financial ruin of his corporate person, and that would take a far different legal arrangement (such as a settlement or Deferred Prosecution Agreement) to salvage. Now throw in Trump’s narcissism, in which his own identity is inextricably linked to that of his brand. And, even beyond any difference in temperament between Nixon and Trump, there’s no telling what he’d do if his corporate self were also cornered.
In other words, Trump might not be able to take the Nixon — resign for a pardon — deal, because that may not be enough to save his corporate personhood.
Head over to Emptywheel for more details.
Ken White (AKA Popehat) at The Atlantic: Manafort, Cohen, and Individual 1 Are in Grave Danger.
White provides a very good summary of the yesterday’s three court filings, which you can read at the link. Here’s his conclusion:
The president said on Twitter that Friday’s news “totally clears the President. Thank you!” It does not. Manafort and Cohen are in trouble, and so is Trump. The Special Counsel’s confidence in his ability to prove Manafort a liar appears justified, which leaves Manafort facing what amounts to a life sentence without any cooperation credit. The Southern District’s brief suggests that Cohen’s dreams of probation are not likely to come true. All three briefs show the Special Counsel and the Southern District closing in on President Trump and his administration. They’re looking into campaign contact with Russia, and campaign finance fraud in connection with paying off an adult actress, and participation in lying to Congress. A Democratic House of Representatives, just days away, strains at the leash to help. The game’s afoot.
Another very good summary of the filings can be read at Lawfare, this one by Victoria Clark, Mikhaila Fogel, Quinta Jurecic, and Benjamin Wittes: ‘Totally Clears the President’? What Those Cohen and Manafort Filings Really Say. Here’s a short excerpt on Trump’s culpabililty:
In short, the Department of Justice, speaking through the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is alleging that the president of the United States coordinated and directed a surrogate to commit a campaign finance violation punishable with time in prison. While the filing does not specify that the president “knowingly and willfully” violated the law, as is required by the statute, this is the first time that the government has alleged in its own voice that President Trump is personally involved in what it considers to be federal offenses.
And it does not hold back in describing the magnitude of those offenses. The memo states that Cohen’s actions, “struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows.” His sentence “should reflect the seriousness of Cohen’s brazen violations of the election laws and attempt to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.”
One struggles to see how a document that alleges that such conduct took place at the direction of Individual-1 “totally clears the president.”
Garrett M. Graff at Wired: The Mueller Investigation Nears the Worst Case Scenario.
WE ARE DEEP into the worst case scenarios. But as new sentencing memos for Trump associates Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen make all too clear, the only remaining question is how bad does the actual worst case scenario get?
The potential innocent explanations for Donald Trump’s behavior over the last two years have been steadily stripped away, piece by piece. Special counsel Robert Mueller and investigative reporters have uncovered and assembled a picture of a presidential campaign and transition seemingly infected by unprecedented deceit and criminality, and in regular—almost obsequious—contact with America’s leading foreign adversary.
A year ago, Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic outlined seven possible scenarios about Trump and Russia, arranged from most innocent to most guilty. Fifth on that list was “Russian Intelligence Actively Penetrated the Trump Campaign—And Trump Knew or Should Have Known,” escalating from there to #6 “Kompromat,” and topping out at the once unimaginable #7, “The President of the United States is a Russian Agent.”
After the latest disclosures, we’re steadily into Scenario #5, and can easily imagine #6.
Read a detailed analysis at the link. Graff is the author of a book on Robert Mueller’s time as FBI Director.
Another highly recommended analysis from Ryan Goodman and Andy Wright at Just Security: Mueller’s Roadmap: Major Takeaways from Cohen and Manafort Filings. Goodman and Write offer eight “takeaways.”
1. SDNY Prosecutors named the President of the United States as a direct participant, if not the principal, in felonies….
2. Other Trump Campaign and Trump Organization officials may face criminal charges for the hush money scheme….
3. The Special Counsel ties Trump directly to possible Russia collusion….
4. Russian contacts began during the GOP Primary….
5. The Special Counsel targets many Manafort lies but is silent on the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians….
6. Some potential hints of obstruction and suborning perjury….
7. Mueller’s M.O.: What he’ll do with lying to the public (and lies in writing)….
8. Why Cohen was more forthcoming with Mueller than SDNY, and SDNY wants him to serve a significant prison sentence.
I’ll just share one interesting excerpt from point 7, on lies that are put in writing and lies to the public. Both of these could apply to Trump himself.
In terms of perjury and false statements, Mueller seizes on fact that Cohen lies were in written testimony rather than arising “spontaneously from a line of examination or heated colloquy.” That’s a danger sign for people like Trump, who may have thought they had greater safety in written responses to Mueller, and people like Roger Stone, whose apparent lies to Congress are on the face of his written testimony.
Another important insight is how Mueller seizes on Cohen’s lies made to the public.
First, Mueller’s theory of the case recognizes that public statements are methods of communication with other witnesses. That’s important for potential conspiracies to commit perjury or otherwise obstruct justice. This also increases the likelihood that Mueller will regard public statements by President Trump and his lawyers as signals to other witnesses–such as publicly dangling pardons and favoring the “strength” of uncooperative witnesses.
Second, Mueller considers lies to the public can be an attempt to undermine the investigation. The memo states, “By publicly presenting this false narrative, the defendant deliberately shifted the timeline of what had occurred in the hopes of limiting the investigations into possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” That sounds awfully similar to the creation of a cover story about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, which the President himself reportedly directed from aboard Airforce One.
Third, Mueller considers Cohen’s false statements to be even more significant because he “amplified” them by “by releasing and repeating his lies to the public.” That approach spells trouble for several Trump campaign associates including Roger Stone, Donald Trump Jr., Erik Prince, and Michael Caputo.
Barry Berke, Noah Bookbinder and Norman Eisen at The Washington Post: Is This the Beginning of the End for Trump? A brief excerpt:
The special counsel focuses on Mr. Cohen’s contacts with people connected to the White House in 2017 and 2018, possibly further implicating the president and others in his orbit in conspiracy to obstruct justice or to suborn perjury. Mr. Mueller specifically mentions that Mr. Cohen provided invaluable insight into the “preparing and circulating” of his testimony to Congress — and if others, including the president, knew about the false testimony or encouraged it in any way, they would be at substantial legal risk.
Mr. Trump’s legal woes do not end there. The special counsel also advanced the president’s potential exposure under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for activities relating to a potential Trump Tower Moscow. Mr. Mueller noted that the Moscow project was a lucrative business opportunity that actively sought Russian government approval, and that the unnamed Russian told Mr. Cohen that there was “no bigger warranty in any project than the consent” of Mr. Putin.
If recent reports that Mr. Cohen floated the idea of giving Mr. Putin a $50 million luxury apartment in a future Trump Tower Moscow prove true, both the president and his company could face substantial jeopardy.
There’s much more analysis at the WaPo link.
It has been quite a week, ending with a bang yesterday. As Trump often says, “we’ll see what happens.” What stories have you been following?
The pressure is building on Trump. This morning he had a major meltdown on Fox and Friends. It was so bad that the hosts couldn’t hide their embarrassment and they finally had to cut off the call. Trump publicly accused James Comey and Andrew McCabe of committing crimes and for the first time he said the words “Stormy Daniels” and admitted that Michael Cohen was representing him (Trump) in Cohen’s dealings with Daniels. He also admitted that he spent the night in Moscow in 2013, despite what he told Comey. Finally, he said that he wasn’t going to keep his hands off the DOJ much longer.
President Trump called into his favorite morning show for a wide-ranging interview during which an animated — and, at times, angry — Trump weighed in on several scandals swirling around his administration. Chief among them: special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.
The president chastised the Justice Department for greenlighting the Russia probe into his campaign’s alleged ties with Russia rather than pursuing a separate investigation into former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
“Our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from, but at some point, I won’t, our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia,” Trump said. “There is no collusion with me with Russia and everyone knows it.”
Asked about the extent to which Cohen handles his legal affairs, Trump characterized his involvement as “a tiny, tiny little fraction.” But there was a notable exception.
“He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal,” Trump said, marking the first time he had ever spoken the porn actress’ name publicly. The disclosure also raised further questions about his earlier assertion that he had no knowledge that Cohen paid the porn actress $130,000 in hush money during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“He leaked classified information to get a special counsel and leaked the memos which are classified — the memos were about me and he didn’t write those memos accurately. He wrote a lot of phony stuff,” Trump said as the Fox & Friends hosts looked on in silence. “For instance, I went to Russia for a day or so, a day or two, because I own the Miss Universe pageant, so I went there to watch it because it was near Moscow. So I go to Russia, now, I didn’t go there, everybody knows the logs are there the planes are there. He said I didn’t stay there a night. Of course I stayed there. I stayed there a very short period of time but of course I stayed there. Well his memo said I left immediately, I never said that. I never said I left immediately.”Trump also said of Comey: “I did a great thing for the American people by firing him.”
Here’s his rant on McCabe.
I hope McCabe’s lawyer was listening, because I think he has a case for defamation.
First, Trump claimed that Cohen — his longtime personal lawyer and fixer — only represented him in “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his overall legal work….
Trump’s comments come a day after a lawyer representing him told a federal judge that Trump himself “is ready to help recommend what materials seized from his personal attorney that relate to him should be withheld from federal investigators because of attorney-client privilege,” according to the Associated Press.
The day after the raid on his longtime personal attorney, Trump suggested that it shouldn’t even have happened because of attorney-client privilege.
But Trump’s claim that Cohen only deals with “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his legal work will likely complicate his lawyers’ efforts to shield seized documents from federal investigators in prosecutors.
Trump acknowledged during the Fox & Friends interview that Cohen did represent him during his dealings with Daniels. Trump recently claimed he had no knowledge of the payment at the time.
“Michael would represent me and represent me on some things,” Trump said. “He represented me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal, he represented me. He represented me and you know, from what I see he did absolutely nothing wrong.”
But Cohen’s story about the secret Daniels hush payment — which may have been illegal if it was meant to help Trump’s campaign — is that he made it from his personal funds, without Trump being looped in at all. Trump’s acknowledgement that Cohen “represented me” in the “crazy Stormy Daniels deal” undermines the repeated public claims of his own lawyer.
Read more details at the link above. Also see this piece at The Guardian: Trump admits Michael Cohen was his lawyer in Stormy Daniels matter.
You can watch a long clip from the interview at this Business Insider link. If you can’t stand to listen to Trump’s voice, at least watch it with the sound muted to see the embarrassed looks on the faces of the Fox hosts.
Here’s what Trump whisperer Maggie Haberman had to say about Trump’s meltdown.
And here we go. The government’s attorneys quoted Trump’s Fox and Friends rant in their filing for the court hearing in the Michael Cohen case today at noon.
Click on that link to read the entire document.
One more related story from The New York Times: Michael Cohen to Take Fifth Amendment in Stormy Daniels Lawsuit.
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, will invoke his Fifth Amendment right in a lawsuit filed against the president by Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film star better known as Stormy Daniels.
Mr. Cohen’s decision, disclosed Wednesday in a court filing in California, where the suit was filed, came a day before a federal judge in Manhattan was set to hold a hearing regarding materials seized from Mr. Cohen during an F.B.I. raid earlier this month.
Mr. Cohen cited the Manhattan investigation in his filing on Wednesday, saying that, if called as a witness in Ms. Clifford’s lawsuit, “I will assert my 5th Amendment rights in connection with all proceedings in this case due to the ongoing criminal investigation by the F.B.I. and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.” [….]
Citing the Fifth Amendment in the Clifford case allows Mr. Cohen to avoid being deposed and revealing sensitive information in the more important criminal investigation.
In Trump “I know the best people” news, The White House has withdrawn the nomination of Ronny Jackson to run the VA. The Washington Post:
The White House withdrew the nomination of Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician, to lead the Veterans Affairs Department on Thursday after lawmakers went public with a torrent of accusations leveled against him by nearly two dozen current and former colleagues from the White House medical staff.
In a statement released Thursday morning, Dr. Jackson announced that he was withdrawing his name for consideration to be the secretary of Veteran Affairs.
“Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this president and the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes,” Dr. Jackson said in a statement provided by the White House press office.
He said that the charges against him were “completely false and fabricated.”
Within minutes of the withdrawal, President Trump lamented the loss of his nomination, and said that Senator Jon Tester of Montana, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, would “have a big price to pay” for undercutting Dr. Jackson.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt will face a double whammy of hearings on Capitol Hill Thursday that could make or break his career at the EPA. You can watch the C-SPAN livestream here.
The hearings were originally intended to give Pruitt the chance to pitch his agency’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. But members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, including some Republicans, are expected to grill Pruitt over his growing list of alleged ethical lapses.
A tsunami of accusations of improper dealings has emerged since Pruitt’s last trip to the Hill in January, from using sirens to get to dinner reservations to a sweetheart condo deal with a lobbyist to ousting staffers who questioned his luxury travel. These allegations have led to investigations from Congress, the White House, and government watchdogs. The Government Accountability Office already found that the $43,000 phone booth in Pruitt’s office broke the law.
And though his prepared statement for the Energy and Commerce Committee completely ignores the controversies around him, the New York Times reported that Pruitt is preparing for a confrontation with a set of talking points on his long list of scandals. He will argue, among other things, that he flew first class based on recommendations from his security staff and that he wasn’t involved in the decision to bypass the White House to get massive raises for two close aides.NB
Meanwhile, EPA employees protested outside the agency’s headquarters on Wednesday, decrying budget cuts alongside activists and lawmakers who want to “Boot Pruitt” out of office.
NBC News’ First Read suggests that Trump’s biggest problem might be the competency question.
This morning, President Trump’s pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs withdrew his nomination after new allegations against him surfaced. Today, Congress is expected to grillthe president’s EPA administrator over alleged ethical lapses. And the president’s personal lawyer and fixer is pleading the Fifth Amendment.Yes, it’s chaos and controversy, which we’ve constantly chronicled here. But it’s also a matter of competency. According to this month’s NBC/WSJ poll, a majority of Americans — 56 percent — said that Trump’s administration isn’t competent, including 39 percent who said it isn’t competent at all. By contrast, 43 percent said it was competent, including 16 percent who said “very competent.”
To put those numbers into perspective, 50 percent of American said Barack Obama’s administration was competent in June 2014 (so after the Obamacare website crash during his second term), and 53 percent said George W. Bush’s administration was competent in March 2006 (after Hurricane Katrina).
So for all the potential dangers to Trump’s presidency — the Russia investigation, historically low approval ratings, Democrats possibly winning the House (and Senate) in November — the biggest could very well be the competency question.
Indeed, majorities of women (61 percent), seniors (58 percent), millennials (57 percent), independents (57 percent) and men (51 percent) said the Trump administration wasn’t too competent or not competent at all. Even whites were split down the middle — 50-50.
That’s a big problem.
That’s all I have for you this morning. I know I’ve only touched on a small part of what’s happening. So . . . what stories are you following today?