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.
“Individual-1” is the president, who is believed by the Justice Department to have committed a felony, and who reacted:
Totally clears the President. Thank you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
I don’t know if he’s a conscious liar, or is simply delusional. I don’t know which is more frightening to contemplate.
Meanwhile, bad news: WH Chief of Staff John Kelly is reportedly on the verge of resignation. The president has reportedly stopped speaking to him. If true, who will be left to keep a rein on Trump?
Trump’s first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said unkind things about him:
Answer starts at :22 mark. Tillerson says that Trump does not like to read, does not like to take briefings, and acts on impulse, without thinking things through. When asked how their relationship went off the rails, Tillerson said that he thinks Trump got tired of him (Tillerson) telling him all the time, “Mr. President, you can’t do that, because it’s illegal…”.
The president responded this way to the remarks of Tillerson, who previously ran ExxonMobil:
Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
Dumb as a rock and lazy as hell, that Tillerson. Right.
Is it more likely that a lazy idiot rises to the helm of a global oil company, or is elected President of the United States?
Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn have been cooperating with Mueller, as we know. Today’s Cohen case filings, combined with Trump’s ego and lack of discipline — in particular his disregard for the law as just another obstacle to be rolled over for the sake of getting what he wants — tells me that Mueller’s final report is going to be quite interesting.
Can you imagine what would have happened at any point prior to January 20, 2017, if the US Justice Department had published a document accusing the President of the United States of a felony? And if his former Secretary of State had said in public that he figures the president got tired of being told by him that the thing he wanted to do was against the law?
What a humiliation for our country. Even if you think he is better than Hillary Clinton would have been — and I’m still willing to say that on the basis of judges alone, but only that — but damn, this is disgusting.
The cycle of life in the Trump administration —
The president hires you and says you’re amazing.
The president demands impossible things of you.
You either quit or get fired.
The president says you were awful all along.
— Chris Megerian (@ChrisMegerian) December 7, 2018
UPDATE.2: From David French, who is a lawyer:
Most of the online attention has focused on the SDNY’s Cohen memo because it claims that when Cohen committed his campaign-finance crimes, he “acted in coordination with and at the direction of” Donald Trump. As former prosecutor Renato Mariotti notes, it’s highly unlikely that prosecutors would make that assertion without independent corroborating evidence beyond Cohen’s own statements.
This is significant. A person who directs an agent or subordinate to commit a crime is generally also guilty of that crime. It’s way too soon to assert that Trump himself is guilty, but there is no way to interpret the prosecutor’s assertion as anything other than ominous for Trump.
But it may not be the night’s most ominous assertion. I want to focus on a different document: the special counsel’s sentencing memo outlining Cohen’s cooperation with the Special Counsel’s Office. This document may well outline the roadmap for an impeachment count against the president that is based on recent presidential precedent.
French goes on to explain why. You should read it.
UPDATE.3: More legal analysis. Trump is in very serious trouble; this explains why. Excerpt:
In crediting Mr. Cohen with providing “substantial and significant efforts” to assist the investigation, Mr. Mueller’s separate sentencing memo details new evidence of collusion with Russia, including a previously unreported phone conversation in November 2015 between Mr. Cohen and an unnamed Russian who claimed to be a “trusted person” in Moscow. The Russian explained to Mr. Cohen how the Russian government could provide the Trump campaign with “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level,” and offered to set up a meeting between Mr. Trump, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
This newly disclosed conversation directly speaks to the question of collusion — the outreach was explicitly political and was focused on how each side would gain from a potential partnership.
Mr. Mueller also notes that Mr. Cohen provided his team with additional information relevant to the “core” of the special counsel investigation.
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.
There’s more. This stuff is about to get very real.
UPDATE.4: From the Lawfare blog’s analysis:
As to the substance of the government’s memos in the Cohen cases, they provide little basis for the president’s cries of exoneration. The majority of the information about “Individual-1” presented in the U.S. attorney’s filing is not new. Cohen himself acknowledged it in court and in his original plea documents in August. His own sentencing memo also contains much of the same material.
What makes this document extraordinary is the government’s restatement of the most striking portion of Cohen’s August admissions in its own voice: Cohen indicated that he committed campaign finance violations at the direction of the candidate who conducted an “ultimately successful” campaign for president. The government now echoes this testimony and alleges:
With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.
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.
What should one make of all of this? It has long been clear that the Russian side of L’Affaire Russe involved a long-running, systematic effort to reach out to members of the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign. Mueller’s account of Cohen’s November 2015 conversation about “political synergy” is just one more thread in that pattern. What is less certain is whether and how that Russian effort was reciprocated by those surrounding the president. Friday’s court filings don’t substantially clarify that issue, but they do add more detail and texture to an already troubling picture.
Mueller is still not ready to show his hand on the key substantive questions. But President Trump should should probably go easy on the cries of vindication. They may age badly, and they may do so quickly.