THE QUESTION of whether President Trump colluded with Russia to tilt the 2016 election is important. But it’s not the only important question in the Russia investigation, as revelations Thursday from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III make clear. The disclosures suggest that Mr. Trump deceived voters about his business aspirations in Russia even as he asked for their votes during the primaries of 2016. That is not a minor transgression.
Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer and fixer, admitted in court Thursday that he lied to Congress about Mr. Trump’s effort to develop a marquee building in Moscow. Mr. Cohen had said previously that the effort ended before the 2016 Iowa caucuses. In fact, according to the special counsel’s documents, it continued into June 2016, when Mr. Trump was the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Mr. Cohen was apparently in touch with Russians and briefing Mr. Trump on the status of the Moscow project. Mr. Cohen told a Manhattan judge Thursday that he lied about the Moscow planning to help Mr. Trump’s political messaging.
The president responded by lashing out at Mr. Cohen and saying that his former lawyer is now lying. Mr. Trump apparently did not know or did not care that the special counsel had released email evidence bolstering Mr. Cohen’s current position. Perhaps sensing that no reasonable person would believe him, Mr. Trump simultaneously maintained that it would not have been a problem if he had pursued the Moscow project during the campaign.
That was not Mr. Trump’s attitude before, when he flatly denied Russia connections during a campaign in which he seemed suspiciously fond of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. “The Dems said maybe it is Russia dealing with Trump. Crazy!” Mr. Trump tweeted in July 2016. “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.” Mr. Trump clearly meant to give the impression that Moscow was irrelevant to his personal interests.
After assuring the American people he did not have financial relationships with Russia and subsequently winning the election, Mr. Trump was even more definitive. “I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” he tweeted shortly before his 2017 inauguration.
In fact, as Post columnist David Ignatius found in an extensive investigation last year, “The simple truth is that Trump has been hungry for Russia projects for more than three decades. He has repeatedly touted plans for a Moscow mega-development and has courted a steady stream of investors from the former Soviet Union for ventures in New York, South Florida and other locations.”
The collusion question is still outstanding. But there is little room for doubt that Mr. Trump wanted to conceal his business goals in Russia . His denials, as the public can now see more clearly than ever, are not credible.