Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer, pierced the veil over Trump’s personal financial deals and revealed that discussions about a potential Trump Tower in Moscow were still underway as late as the summer of 2016, after Trump was the presumptive nominee. (Republicans nominated a controversial real estate mogul, who’d done business with Russian oligarchs in the past, and was continuing to pursue a lucrative deal with an adversary of the United States — and never bothered to get his tax returns.)
Even more astounding, the Wall Street Journal reported, “the proposed plans for the 2016 project included giving Russian President Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse, long-time Trump associate Felix Sater said in an interview. Mr. Cohen loved the idea, Mr. Sater said.”
The portrait of a candidate, and then a president, currying favor with a foreign leader — and then trying to minimize his involvement when he unexpectedly became president — is deeply troubling and is at odds with what Trump has said publicly. (It may also differ from his written answers to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.)
Cohen’s plea has also raised the stakes for many other individuals. Most clearly, the Trump family is now under the microscope (Yahoo News reports, “Multiple sources have confirmed to Yahoo News that the president’s elder daughter, Ivanka, who is now a top White House adviser, and his eldest son, Don Jr., were also working to make Trump Tower Moscow a reality.”) Underscoring the threat to the Trump family, Natasha Bertrand writes in the Atlantic:
It isn’t just Trump who may be in legal danger now that Cohen is cooperating — it’s also his family members, who Cohen admitted to briefing on the Trump Tower Moscow deal in 2016. According to the criminal information, filed by Mueller on Thursday, Cohen discussed the Moscow deal with Trump’s family members “within” the Trump organization. Donald Trump Jr., an executive vice president of the Trump Organization, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last year that he was only “peripherally aware” of the Moscow deal in 2016. It is not clear what he told the House Intelligence Committee, which has not yet released the transcripts of the closed-door interview. But Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee’s incoming chairman, said in a statement that the Cohen plea “highlights concern over another issue — that we believe other witnesses were also untruthful before our committee.”
If evidence now shows that Donald Trump, Jr. was involved, not merely “peripherally aware” of the Trump Tower deal he may have a serious legal problem.
And that points to a second circle of people who must be nervous about an indictment for lying to Congress: The list of witnesses who’ve testified before he House and/or Senate. One now can appreciate the importance of a Democratic House majority committed to unearthing facts and assisting the special counsel, rather than running interference for the president.
The Associated Press has reported that Schiff and other Democrats on the Intelligence Committee will now be reviewing transcripts. “Schiff says he wants to provide committee transcripts to special counsel Robert Mueller. He says Mueller’s office was able to bring charges against Cohen because it had ‘the advantage’ that Cohen made his testimony public.”
High on the list of those concerned may be Trump’s eldest son. “At least one of Trump’s children, Donald Trump Jr., a loyal surrogate for his father on the campaign trail, has provided testimony under oath to at least three congressional committees where he was asked about the proposed deal,” CNN reported. “Most of that testimony is not public and it isn’t clear how detailed the questions were about the project. Yet it could place him in legal jeopardy if anything he told Congress conflicts with information provided by Cohen if it is supported by other evidence.”
A third group of rattled people should be those who had Russia contacts during the campaign and transition. The Moscow Project has been keeping track of all the connections between the Trump campaign and Russians. It now reports: “With news of the Cohen plea and other developments since then, we have now updated our total tracker to include at least 92 contacts, including at least 27 meetings.” Its log of contacts reveals “at least 26 high-ranking campaign officials and Trump advisors were aware of contacts with Russia-linked operatives during the campaign and transition. None of these contacts were ever reported to the proper authorities. Instead, the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them.”
The efforts to deny and cover up contacts with Russia now have some context: Trump didn’t want it known that his involvement with the Kremlin was much deeper than he had let on:
[Jeff] Sessions, [Paul] Manafort, and [Jared] Kushner also knew of other contacts between the Trump team and Russia-linked operatives outside of their own meetings.
Many of these officials were involved in explicit efforts to conceal their contacts. Take the infamous meeting on June 9, 2016 in Trump Tower, attended by Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, that was for the express purpose of obtaining information from the Russian government that would help the Trump campaign. None of them reported the meeting, and Trump Jr. went to significant lengths to hide its true nature. When The New York Times found out about the meeting, Trump Jr. first lied to the Times about the purpose of the meeting, saying it was about adoptions. When confronted with evidence that he had lied, he changed his story — but the cover-up did not stop there. The Trump team also tried to hide the President’s involvement in the initial false statement from his son.
In sum, Cohen’s revelations about ongoing Trump Organization dealings with Russia puts at risk members of the president’s family, the cast of witnesses who have testified before Congress and the many individuals who had contacts with Russia and were less than truthful about them. “The blast radius caused by Cohen’s cooperation could be enormous. As Trump’s fixer, Cohen not only can implicate Trump for colluding with Russia but potentially the entire Trump organization,” says Max Bergmann, head of the Moscow Project. “He can pull back the curtain on a family business that has been extremely opaque and address whether it is indeed a vehicle for massive money laundering. This is a business operation that was never significant enough to warrant a lot of legal scrutiny. But it is certainly being scrutinized now. And Cohen was involved in multiple shady Trump organization projects in the former Soviet Union in which Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr were intimately involved. I imagine they are very worried.”
You don’t lie for no reason, and Cohen has supplied the reason why so many people found it necessary to conceal the Trump campaign’s and the Trump organization’s ties to Russia.