Michael Cohen‘s surprise guilty plea on Nov. 29 and his sentencing memorandum the next day suggest that special counsel Robert Mueller is hard at work with a long way to go. For months, the media have reported the wishful thinking of Trump’s lawyers pushing the narrative that Mueller is “almost done” or “wrapping things up.”
None of that is coming from Mueller’s team. So when you hear or read that the “concluding phase” of the special counsel’s work is underway, consider the source. The media reporting those stories aren’t. Such predictions are not news. They are Trump-based propaganda.
Cohen Confirms Putin’s Leverage Over Trump
Mueller speaks exclusively through his court filings. And on Nov. 29, he did it through Michael Cohen’s plea. Trump’s trusted personal attorney for a dozen years has now told federal courts that he lied to Congress about what was happening during the 2016 presidential campaign. Specifically,
— Cohen followed Trump’s instructions and violated campaign finance laws by buying the silence of Trump’s former mistresses.
— Cohen pursued the Trump Tower-Moscow project as late as June 2016 and, along the way, kept Trump and the Trump family informed personally of its status and progress.
— Cohen and Trump discussed possible trips to Russia for meetings with top government officials about approvals and financing for Trump Tower-Moscow.
— All of Trump’s contrary statements that he never had anything to do with Russia were lies.
The last item is especially important.
For more than three years, Putin has known more about Trump’s dealings with Russia than the American people have. That information gap has been a source of Putin’s leverage over Trump and highlights the fundamental question driving Mueller’s counterintelligence investigation:
What else does Putin know about Trump that the American public does not, and when did he learn it?
More is coming. Cohen is cooperating with Mueller, the New York Attorney General, and the New York State Department of Tax and Finance in connection with ongoing investigations into Trump, the Trump Organization, and the Trump Foundation.
Less Obvious Danger to Trump Loyalists and Lawyers
Here’s an under-reported nugget in the Cohen sentencing memo that should have Trump’s lawyers especially concerned: As Cohen was crafting lies that he told Congress, he kept Trump’s legal team informed. He wanted to make sure that he was following Trump’s desired Trump-Russia messaging. That could be a problem for Trump’s lawyers.
I’ve read all of the publicly released transcripts of witnesses who testified before the farcical House investigation into Trump-Russia. Some witnesses treated the proceedings cavalierly. They probably thought that blowing off the Trump Party-controlled Congress posed had no downside risk.
Donald Trump Jr. and Erik Prince, for example, knew that their allies in the Trump Party (formerly the GOP) would never authorize contempt proceedings and thereby force full and complete answers to proper questions that Democrats in Congress had posed to them. Absurd invocations of “executive privilege” and evasive non-answers went unchallenged. Trump and his loyalists emerged unscathed.
Or so they and Trump thought.
Case Studies for Future Law Students
On Nov. 6, Trump, Don Jr., and Prince probably started sweating when Democrats won control of the House. Suddenly, the prospect of new subpoenas and contempt proceedings loomed large.
But Cohen’s surprise plea must have sent them reeling as much as it sent Trump tweeting. That’s because Mueller prosecuted Cohen — and obtained a guilty plea — for his false statements to Congress, not to Mueller or his team. In the long run, the Trump Party in the House had afforded them no protection at all.
Mueller has some of those congressional transcripts, including Don Jr.’s and Prince’s. Soon he’ll have the rest. That means more indictments are coming. It also means predicting that Mueller will wrap up his work by the end of the year is, well, wandering out on a fragile limb.
For a summary of the many Trump minions who have lied to federal authorities (including Congress) about Trump-Russia, look at Ryan Goodman’s thorough and meticulously sourced “Perjury Chart” at JustSecurity.org.
History Lesson Not Learned
Which takes us to the problem for Trump’s lawyers. They have crafted more than 30 “joint defense agreements” with various witnesses and subjects in Mueller’s investigation. In doing so, the Trump legal team may have outsmarted itself.
Based on Cohen’s plea, it sure looks like some of Trump’s attorneys were aware that Cohen was going to appear before Congress and spout Trump’s false messaging — i.e., lie. Who else besides Cohen went through such a coordination exercise? Mueller knows and soon the public will, too.
At best, those attorneys are now witnesses to potential obstruction of justice. At worst, they are targets of such an inquiry.
Watch This Space
More than 20 Watergate attorneys were involved in wronging. Some lost their licenses; some landed in prison; some suffered both fates. It’s time to start a tally of imprisoned and/or disbarred Trump-Russia players with law degrees.
In the weeks and months ahead, this list will grow:
Paul Manafort (JD, Georgetown, ’74)
Michael Cohen (JD, Cooley, ’91)
Alex van der Zwaan (LLB, King’s College, ’06)
Here are the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
OCT. 28, 2015: Trump Signs Letter of Intent for Trump Tower in Moscow (revision of previous entry)
NOVEMBER 3, 2015: Sater and Cohen Pursue Trump Tower-Moscow
REVISED: NOVEMBER 2015-JUNE 2016: Cohen Keeps Trump Informed of Trump Tower-Moscow Developments; Sater and Cohen Consider a Free $50 Million Penthouse for Putin (revision of previous entry)
JAN. 14, 2016: Cohen Seeks Kremlin’s Help in Trump Tower Deal (revision of previous entry)
JAN. 16-21, 2016: Cohen Sends Another Message to Moscow; Kremlin Responds
MAY 4, 2016: Cohen and Sater Discuss Trump Trip to Russia
MAY 5, 2016: Sater Invites Cohen to St. Petersburg, Russia for Potential Putin/Medvedev Meeting
JUNE 2016: Cohen Discusses Status of Moscow Project with Trump
JUNE 14, 2016: Cohen Ditches Plan to Visit Russia
JULY 25, 2016: Stone Tells Corsi to Get WikiLeaks’ Hacked Emails
JULY 26, 2016: Trump: ‘I Have Nothing to Do With Russia’
AUG. 2-11, 2016: Corsi Informs Stone of WikiLeaks’ Plans, Suggests Attacking Clinton’s Health; Stone Talks to Trump; Hannity Helps
OCT. 9, 2016: Trump on Russia: ‘I Don’t Deal There’
OCT. 24, 2016: Trump: ‘I Have Nothing to Do With Russia’
OCT. 26, 2016: Trump: ‘I Have Nothing to Do With Russia’
JAN. 11, 2017: Trump: ‘We’ve Stayed Away’ From Deals in Russia
FEB. 7, 2017: Trump Tweets: ‘I Don’t Know Putin; Have No Deals in Russia’
AUG. 28-30, 2017: Story Breaks on Trump Tower-Moscow; Russia Participates in Trump/Cohen Cover-Up
SEPT. 1, 2017: Trump’s Lawyers Ask Rosenstein to Investigate Comey
SPRING 2018: Trump Tells McGahn to Investigate Clinton and Comey
REVISED: SEPT. 14, 2018: Manafort Pleads Guilty, Agrees to Cooperate with Mueller But Continues Feeding Info to Trump (revision of previous entry)
OCT. 22, 2018: Giuliani Admits Manafort Is Feeding Mueller Info To Trump Lawyers; Trump Has 32 Joint Defense Agreements with Mueller Witnesses or Subjects
NOV. 9, 2018: Court Wants Briefs on Impact of Whitaker Replacing Sessions (revision of previous entry)
WEEK OF NOV. 12, 2018: Trump Gets Draft of Corsi Plea Deal
NOV. 16, 2018: Papadopoulos Seeks Postponement (revision of previous entry)
NOV. 16-29, 2018: Comey Responds to GOP Congressional Demands With Desire to Appear Publicly; Cuts Deal (revision of previous entry)
NOV. 19, 2018: Senate Democrats File Suit to Remove Whitaker
NOV. 20, 2018: Trump Has Provided Written Answers to Mueller; Topics Include WikiLeaks, Trump Tower Meeting, and GOP Platform Change
NOV. 23, 2018: Corsi Says He’s in Plea Talks With Mueller
NOV. 25, 2018: Russia Captures Ukrainian Naval Vessels in Black Sea; EU Issues Immediate Condemnation; Trump Equivocates
NOV. 26, 2018: Trump Tweets About Anticipated Mueller Report, ‘Hundreds of People’ Who Had No Campaign Contact with Russians
NOV. 26, 2018: Mueller Says Manafort Lied After Plea Agreement
NOV. 27, 2018: Trump Tweets About ‘Conflicted’ Mueller, ‘Phony Witch Hunt’, ‘Gang of Angry Democrats’, Clinton E-mail Server
NOV. 27, 2018: Trump Retweets Image of Critics, Mueller, and Rosenstein: ‘When Do Trials For Treason Begin?’
NOV. 28, 2018: Trump Tweets About ‘Gang of Angry Dems’, ‘Witch Hunt’, ‘Hoax’
NOV. 28, 2018: Trump Says Manafort Pardon ‘on the Table’, Rips Mueller
NOV. 29, 2018: Trump Tweets About ‘Mueller and the Angry Democrats’, ‘Crooked Hillary’
NOV. 29, 2018: Cohen Pleads Guilty in Mueller Probe; Coordinated False Congressional Statements with Trump Legal Team
NOV. 29, 2018: Kremlin Reverses Earlier Cover-Up Statement About Cohen Emails
NOV. 29-30, 2018: Trump Cancels G-20 Meeting with Putin; Kremlin Pushes Back; Trump Says He Might Meet with Putin After All
NOV. 29, 2018: Trump Blasts Cohen
NOV. 29, 2018: German Authorities Raid Deutsche Bank
NOV. 29, 2018: Trump Tweets: ‘Witch Hunt’, ‘Hoax,’ Cites Dershowitz
NOV. 30, 2018: Trump Tweets: ‘Lightly Looked at Doing a Building Somewhere in Russia’ While Running for President