Closing in on the pres­i­dent

On the Spe­cial Coun­sel’s In­ves­ti­ga­tion

San Francisco Chronicle - - FROM THE COVER -

If Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion is a “to­tal witch hunt” — as Pres­i­dent Trump in­sists in in­creas­ingly fran­tic terms — it’s the most pro­duc­tive sor­cery crack­down this side of Salem. De­spite in­ces­sant ef­forts to im­pede the in­quiry, court fil­ings on top for­mer Trump as­so­ciates this week re­vealed more ev­i­dence of se­ri­ous crimes in his in­ner cir­cle draw­ing ever closer to the pres­i­dent him­self.

Sen­tenc­ing doc­u­ments filed Fri­day by Mueller’s team and U.S. at­tor­neys in Man­hat­tan pro­vided more in­for­ma­tion about crimes ac­knowl­edged by Trump’s for­mer per­sonal lawyer and fixer, Michael Co­hen, and the pres­i­dent’s role in them. Mueller’s of­fice in­di­cated that Co­hen de­tailed his con­tacts with White House in­ter­me­di­aries and the prepa­ra­tion of his false tes­ti­mony to Congress about the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s pur­suit of a real es­tate deal in Moscow. Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in New York, mean­while, al­leged that Trump di­rected Co­hen’s se­cret pay­ments to the then­can­di­date’s al­leged paramours in

vi­o­la­tion of cam­paign-fi­nance laws.

Co­hen’s co­op­er­a­tion with au­thor­i­ties in­cluded seven in­ter­views with Mueller’s of­fice and in­for­ma­tion about the cam­paign’s con­tacts with Rus­sia dat­ing to 2015. While pros­e­cu­tors typ­i­cally rec­om­mend more le­nient sen­tences for de­fen­dants who as­sist other in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the Man­hat­tan pros­e­cu­tors rec­om­mended that Co­hen serve sub­stan­tial prison time for crimes that went be­yond his lies to Congress and cam­paign-fi­nance trans­gres­sions. The gov­ern­ment lawyers noted “a pat­tern of de­cep­tion that per­me­ated his pro­fes­sional life” — a dis­turb­ing char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of a man who was once so close to the pres­i­dent.

Mueller’s of­fice has ac­cused an­other prom­i­nent for­mer Trump as­so­ciate, one­time cam­paign chair­man Paul Manafort, of dou­ble-deal­ing even af­ter he agreed to co­op­er­ate with the probe. In a heav­ily redacted memo filed in that case Fri­day, pros­e­cu­tors said Manafort lied about his con­tacts with an as­so­ciate sus­pected of Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ties as well as with ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials as re­cently as this year.

Fri­day’s fil­ings came days af­ter Mueller’s team filed an­other sen­tenc­ing memo doc­u­ment­ing ex­ten­sive co­op­er­a­tion by Michael Flynn, the short­est-serv­ing na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser in Amer­i­can his­tory. As much as what it re­vealed, its row upon row of redac­tions should con­cern the pres­i­dent and his coun­try.

The case against Flynn was strong enough that he went from call­ing for Hil­lary Clin­ton’s ex­tra­ju­di­cial de­ten­tion to serv­ing as a model state’s wit­ness. He sat for 19 in­ter­views and pro­vided in­for­ma­tion per­ti­nent to three in­ves­ti­ga­tions: Mueller’s probe of the cam­paign’s re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia and two other mat­ters that, due to the redac­tions, are any­one’s guess — al­though pos­si­ble sub­jects in­clude the Co­hen crimes and at­tempts to ob­struct the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The cam­paign against the in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ued Fri­day with Trump’s nom­i­na­tion for at­tor­ney gen­eral, a critic of the probe; the out­go­ing House Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity’s last-gasp in­ter­ro­ga­tion of for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey re­gard­ing, of all things, Clin­ton’s emails; and an­other Twit­ter tirade about Mueller and his team. Par­tic­u­larly af­ter the week’s rev­e­la­tions, though, the cries of “witch hunt” sounded like so much hocus-pocus.

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