Rus­sia probe mak­ing more con­nec­tions to Trump

Pros­e­cu­tors say pres­i­dent di­rected il­le­gal pay­ments; as­sert Co­hen lied about Rus­sia, Manafort about ties

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Chad Day

WASH­ING­TON — Key pieces of the spe­cial coun­sel’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion ap­pear to be fall­ing into place.

In three court fil­ings Fri­day, pros­e­cu­tors for the first time con­nected Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to a crime in­volv­ing hush money pay­ments to a porn ac­tress. They re­vealed new out­reach from Rus­sia early in the Trump pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. And they vividly laid out how they say two cen­tral fig­ures in the Trump or­bit — Michael Co­hen and Paul Manafort — were con­tin­u­ally tripped up by lies.

Here are the key take­aways from the lat­est round of court doc­u­ments from Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion:

Early Rus­sian out­reach

Trump an­nounced his pres­i­den­tial can­di­dacy in June 2015 — and by Novem­ber, the Rus­sians were reach­ing out about “po­lit­i­cal syn­ergy.”

The court papers re­veal the ear­li­est known con­tact be­tween Rus­sia and a Trump cam­paign as­so­ciate. In fall 2015, Co­hen was months into his work on a pro­posed Trump Tower in Moscow when an uniden­ti­fied Rus­sian na­tional pro­posed a meet­ing be­tween Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. The per­son, pros­e­cu­tors say, claimed to be a “trusted per­son” in Rus­sia, who could of­fer the Trump cam­paign “po­lit­i­cal syn­ergy” and “syn­ergy on a govern­ment level.”

And the per­son sought to con­nect the Trump busi­ness project with the cam­paign, say­ing the meet­ing could have a “phe­nom­e­nal” im­pact on the pro­posed tower in Moscow. There is “no big­ger war­ranty in any project than the con­sent of ” Putin, the per­son told Co­hen.

Pros­e­cu­tors say Co­hen didn’t fol­low up, and the meet­ing never oc­curred. Still, the out­reach is more ev­i­dence that Rus­sia was ea­ger to build re­la­tion­ships with the Trump cam­paign and busi­nesses.

Trump di­rected Co­hen’s crime

Pros­e­cu­tors didn’t mince words: The cam­paign fi­nance vi­o­la­tions Co­hen com­mit­ted came “in co­or­di­na­tion with and at the di­rec­tion of ” Trump, ac­cord­ing to the new fil­ings.

Those vi­o­la­tions stemmed from pay­ments Co­hen made to buy the si­lence of porn ac­tress Stormy Daniels and for­mer Play­boy model Karen McDougal. Both had al­leged they had af­fairs with Trump, which the White House de­nies. Daniels was paid $130,000 as part of a nondis­clo­sure agree­ment signed days be­fore the 2016 elec­tion.

Trump has de­nied know­ing any­thing about the Daniels pay­ment. But the fil­ing di­rectly con­tra­dicts that claim. It also, for the first time, di­rectly ties Trump to a fed­eral crime.

Cam­paign fi­nance law re­quires can­di­dates to re­port any pay­ments made to in­flu­ence the elec­tion. The Trump cam­paign failed to re­port the pay­ment at the time.

Pros­e­cu­tors don’t say Trump broke the law and the Jus­tice De­part­ment has main­tained that a sit­ting pres­i­dent can­not be in­dicted.

Pub­lic state­ments mat­ter to Mueller

At least they did when Co­hen lied to Congress — and it could have im­pli­ca­tions for other episodes un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the Rus­sia probe.

Co­hen has ad­mit­ted ly­ing to Congress about how long he worked on the Trump Tower Moscow project and re­peat­ing the false­hoods to the press. But Mueller’s team doesn’t just con­sider this self-pro­tec­tion.

It was a “de­lib­er­ate ef­fort” to pub­licly present a “false nar­ra­tive” in the hopes of lim­it­ing the scope of the var­i­ous Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tions, pros­e­cu­tors say in the court papers.

Mueller’s fo­cus on pub­lic as­ser­tions — and their im­pact on wit­nesses, law­mak­ers and on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions — could serve as a warn­ing shot to Trump.

The pres­i­dent also has spread false­hoods about his cam­paign’s ties to Rus­sia. The spe­cial coun­sel has ques­tioned wit­nesses about a state­ment Trump dic­tated on Air Force One last year that omit­ted sev­eral de­tails about a June 2016 Trump Tower meet­ing with a Rus­sian at­tor­ney.

The fil­ing sug­gests Mueller in­tends to hold wit­nesses ac­count­able for the state­ments made pri­vately and pub­licly. If the lies are meant to in­flu­ence the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, they may fac­tor into Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether Trump has tried to obstruct the probe.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tacts

De­spite their crim­i­nal cases, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion just can’t quit Manafort or Co­hen, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors.

In Co­hen’s case, Mueller’s team said he has pro­vided “rel­e­vant and use­ful” in­for­ma­tion about his con­tacts with peo­ple con­nected to the Trump White House in 2017 and 2018. With Manafort, pros­e­cu­tors say he also had sev­eral re­cent Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tacts — and lied about them.

After Manafort pleaded guilty and agreed to co­op­er­ate with the govern­ment, pros­e­cu­tors say he told them he had “no di­rect or in­di­rect” con­tact with peo­ple in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. But that was a lie, they say.

In­stead, they found ev­i­dence, in­clud­ing elec­tronic doc­u­ments, show­ing con­tacts with mul­ti­ple Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials. That in­cluded com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a “se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial” through Fe­bru­ary 2018. Manafort also di­rected a per­son to speak with an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial on his “be­half ” on May 26.

Nei­ther Co­hen’s nor Manafort’s fil­ings de­tail the con­tent of the con­ver­sa­tions or iden­tify the of­fi­cials. Manafort has con­tended he was truth­ful with Mueller’s team.

‘Lu­cra­tive’ Moscow deal

Trump and his lawyers have down­played the Trump Tower Moscow pro­posal. The pres­i­dent has said he never put any money into it and ul­ti­mately de­cided not to do it.

But Mueller’s team re­veals that if he did, they be­lieve they know the wind­fall.

Ac­cord­ing to Co­hen’s fil­ing, the deal could have yielded “hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars from Rus­sian sources in li­cens­ing fees and other rev­enues.”

They also note that the project’s suc­cess likely hinged on Rus­sian govern­ment ap­proval, which Co­hen sought.

Michael Co­hen

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