Trump lashes out as court files link him to elec­tion crimes

Democrats openly dis­cuss im­peach­ment af­ter Mueller fil­ings

The Observer - - World - David Smith

Don­ald Trump has lashed out at the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian elec­tion med­dling, af­ter court fil­ings pro­duced the most di­rect ev­i­dence yet link­ing him to crim­i­nal con­duct.

The pres­i­dent re­acted af­ter bomb­shell sen­tenc­ing memos sub­mit­ted by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and the south­ern dis­trict of New York prompted some Democrats in Congress openly to coun­te­nance im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings.

Early yes­ter­day, writ­ing in cap­i­tal let­ters, Trump tweeted: “AF­TER TWO YEARS AND MIL­LIONS OF PAGES OF DOC­U­MENTS (and a cost of over $30,000,000), NO COL­LU­SION!”

In fact the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan more re­cently than that, in May 2017, and the Poli­ti­fact web­site es­ti­mates it has cost about $27m (£21m).

The pres­i­dent was put on the de­fen­sive af­ter find­ing him­self in le­gal peril. In three court fil­ings on Fri­day, pros­e­cu­tors con­nected him to a crime in­volv­ing hush-money pay­ment to women who claim to have had af­fairs with him; re­vealed that con­tacts with Rus­sia be­gan ear­lier in his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign than pre­vi­ously thought; and un­rav­elled webs of lies spun by his for­mer lawyer Michael Co­hen and for­mer cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort.

Matthew Miller, a for­mer jus­tice depart­ment spokesman, summed up on Twit­ter: “The pres­i­dent and his lawyer vi­o­lated cam­paign fi­nance laws to in­flu­ence the out­come of the elec­tion while his cam­paign chair was meeting with an in­tel­li­gence as­set of a for­eign gov­ern­ment that was try­ing to in­flu­ence the out­come of the elec­tion. Not very le­gal.”

One of the most dam­ag­ing rev­e­la­tions was re­lated to a sex scan­dal. Co­hen bought the si­lence of porno­graphic film ac­tress Stormy Daniels and for­mer Play­boy model Karen McDou­gal, both of whom al­lege af­fairs with Trump, which he de­nies. Daniels was paid $130,000 as part of a nondis­clo­sure agree­ment signed days be­fore the 2016 elec­tion.

Cam­paign fi­nance law re­quires can­di­dates to re­port any pay­ments made to in­flu­ence the elec­tion but the Trump cam­paign failed to do so. Pros­e­cu­tors in New York, where Co­hen pleaded guilty in Au­gust to cam­paign fi­nance crimes in con­nec­tion with those pay­ments, said the lawyer “acted in co­or­di­na­tion and at the di­rec­tion” of Trump. Al­though Co­hen had pre­vi­ously im­pli­cated him, it was the first time pros­e­cu­tors linked Trump to the crime.

Pros­e­cu­tors de­manded “sub­stan­tial” jail time of be­tween 51 and 63 months for Co­hen for the cam­paign fi­nance vi­o­la­tions and bank fraud.

In a sep­a­rate fil­ing, Mueller de­tailed how in around Novem­ber 2015, five months af­ter Trump launched his bid for the pres­i­dency and well be­fore pre­vi­ously re­ported con­tacts, Co­hen spoke to a pur­ported “trusted per­son” in Rus­sia who of­fered the cam­paign “political syn­ergy” and “syn­ergy on a gov­ern­ment level”.

Co­hen said the uniden­ti­fied per­son “re­peat­edly pro­posed” a meeting be­tween Trump and the Rus­sian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, claim­ing it could have a “phe­nom­e­nal” im­pact “not only in political but in a busi­ness di­men­sion as well”.

The fil­ing added: “Co­hen, how­ever, did not fol­low up on this in­vi­ta­tion.”

Co­hen pleaded guilty last month to ly­ing to Congress in con­nec­tion with a Moscow prop­erty deal, which was be­ing pur­sued as late as one month be­fore Trump of­fi­cially be­came the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent.

Mueller also de­tailed mul­ti­ple “lies” that Manafort told in­ves­ti­ga­tors, lead­ing to a ter­mi­na­tion of his co­op­er­a­tion deal and the like­li­hood of a stiff prison sen­tence. A heav­ily redacted court fil­ing said Manafort told un­truths about his deal­ings with Kon­stantin Kil­imnik, a busi­ness as­so­ciate whom US of­fi­cials sus­pect is a Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tive, and about his con­tacts with Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials af­ter strik­ing a plea agree­ment.

Democrats have played down talk of im­peach­ing Trump, partly be­cause of fears that it will play into his hands and rally his base. But the lat­est fil­ings put the is­sue back on the ta­ble.

Asked on MSNBC if he was in a po­si­tion to con­sider dis­cussing im­peach­ment in Congress, Demo­cratic con­gress­man Joaquín Cas­tro of Texas replied: “I think we have to be … When the ev­i­dence be­comes so clear that you very likely have a crim­i­nal sit­ting in the Oval Of­fice, what is the Congress left to do at that point?”

Robert Mueller’s fil­ings show Trump’s team and Rus­sia were in con­tact ear­lier than re­ported.

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