Trump lashes out as court files link him to election crimes
Democrats openly discuss impeachment after Mueller filings
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.