Inching Closer to the C-Word.
On December 7th the Department of Justice released two sentencing memorandums for Michael Cohen from very different DOJ jurisdictions. One from the Special Counsel’s Office (the “SCO” or Mueller’s team) and another from the United States Attorneys Office (USAO) for the Southern District of New York (SDNY). You can read both here. They are both bad for the President.
Between the two, the one from the SCO is more generous for Cohen. While not being as direct as the one from the SDNY in accusing the President of crimes, it should nonetheless be chilling and concerning for the President and many around him.
Footnote 2 of the SCO Memo
One of the more interesting nuggets is from a footnote in the sentencing memorandum. That footnote is offered to support the following statement:
The information provided by Cohen about the Moscow Project in these proffer sessions is consistent with and corroborated by other information obtained in the course of the SCO’s investigation.
Note that the SCO has other sources for this stuff. However, the SCO was impressed by Cohen telling a truth they already knew without prompting. This is footnote 2:
The defendant, without prompting by the SCO, also corrected other false and misleading statements that he had made concerning his outreach to and contacts with Russian officials during the course of the campaign. For example, in a radio interview in September 2015, the defendant suggested that [Trump] meet with the President of Russia in New York City during his visit for the United Nations General Assembly. When asked previously about these events, the
defendant claimed his public comments had been spontaneous and had not been discussed within the campaign or the Company. During his proffer sessions, the defendant admitted that this account was false and that he had in fact conferred with Trump about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting. The meeting ultimately did not take place.
Mueller’s team knew Cohen lied about that before he told them. An intriguing question is how the government already knew that. Let’s be clear about this. The SCO already knew Cohen coordinated with Trump reaching out to the Russians. Makes you wonder what else they know.
Of course the real story is this happened. As early as September 2015 Trump directed Cohen to reach out to the Russians on behalf of his campaign, and Mueller has known this for awhile. While that meeting didn’t happen, under point #1 below we know that just two months later, in November 2015, other representatives of the Russian government were contacting Cohen with offers to help Trump campaign.
As early as 2015 the Trump Campaign knew Russians were wanting to reach out to help his campaign. As discussed below, they would say so again in November of that year. The Russians would say so yet again when setting up the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. That meeting did happen and we now know it happened in the context of many other contacts by the Trump Campaign to Russians and by Russians to the Trump Campaign. We know some of those earlier contacts were with Trump’s knowledge and by his direction. It’s getting hard to believe that Trump Tower meeting was not also done with the knowledge and direction of Trump.
However, the real story is that the Russians were again, and again, communicating to the Trump Campaign that they wanted to help get Trump elected. In addition to these examples, they also told George Papadopolous the same thing. Yet Trump, and his campaign, claimed again and again that there were no conversations between Russians and his campaign at all and that the entire notion of Russians wanting to help him get elected was preposterous.
The Four Areas of Cohen’s Specific Assistance
The SCO’s sentencing memo itemizes four specific areas where Cohen has assisted the investigation. These should definitely be of concern to Trump.
- Information about Cohen’s “own contacts with Russian interests during the campaign and discussions with others in the course of making those contacts.” Cohen “provided information about attempts by other Russian nationals to reach the campaign.” The Russians the “political synergy” that could be achieved. The Russian government made clear it was not just politics they hoped to help Trump with, but also making him richer. The Russian suggested the meeting “could have a phenomenal impact not only in political but in a business dimension as well.” In the Fall of 2015, as the Republican debates were in full swing, Russians were appealing to Trump politically, and with money . . . and he was listening.
- Cohen provided “useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign.” That means there are other witnesses Mueller has certainly gone to. The “matters core to the investigation” are almost certainly Russian collusion.
- “Cohen provided relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017 -2018 time period.” This was after the election and while Trump was President. There are some very nervous employees, and perhaps former employees, of the President. Hints as to what some of these conversations may have been about are found in the fourth point.
- “Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries.” This needs to be put in the context of the sentencing memorandum submitted by Cohen’s lawyers. In that sentencing memo Cohen describes his “close and regular contacts” with White House staff as he prepared his (what turned out to be false) answers to Congress. Put simply, this means Cohen explained who in the White House he coordinated his perjury with.
For all this the SCO is generous and recommends a lenient sentence that includes any time served and concurrent running of sentences.
The Sentencing Memo For the Southern District of New York Accuses the President of the United States of Felony Campaign Finance Violations
The SDNY is less generous to Cohen. They discuss the seriousness of Cohen’s crimes that include tax fraud, bank fraud and campaign finance violations, and his systematic efforts to conceal them. One reason they are less generous is that they did not find Cohen’s assistance nearly as helpful because they already had proof of what he told them before they told him. They recommend a substantial jail sentence only slightly below the guidelines.
However, the key statement occurs after detailing the campaign finance violations. The SDNY states, “as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1 [Trump].”
That is not from Cohen or his attorneys. This is a statement by the United States Attorneys Office asserting the President of the United States was a conspirator to commit felonious campaign financing fraud. Further, it is in a context where the SDNY suggests they already had proof of that before Cohen told them. In short, they have proof of this without Cohen’s word or testimony. Don’t you wonder what that might be?
Placing In Context of Other Recent Releases
The Cohen sentencing memorandums released on December 7th did not occur in isolation and should not be viewed in isolation. Rather they culminated stunning not quite two weeks of documents related to the Russia investigation that cumulatively suggest Mueller is very much closing in on charges of collusion. These include:
- November 27, 2016 Jerome Corsi bizarrely releases to the media a draft Statement of Offense prepared by Mueller’s team for him to sign as part of the plea bargain deal he rejected. The Statement of Offense sets forth facts evidencing collusion between Trump Campaign Advisor Roger Stone and Wikileaks, which in turn was getting the information from the Russian GRU. Further, it is clear Corsi and Stone knew the materials were stolen, or hacked. See here for a translated version of the Statement of Offense.
- November 29, 2018: Michael Cohen pleads guilty to telling Congress three lies in testimony Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. The Criminal Information filed with the plea agreement details the lies including false claims to Congress that Trump ended work on the Trump Tower Moscow deal in January 2016. In truth, active work continued on the deal until June of that year.
- November 30, 2018: Cohen’s attorneys release a sentencing memorandum pleading for leniency. Much of the plea for leniency is based on Cohen acting with the full knowledge and direction of President Trump in his illegal conduct. There are even hints that Cohen’s false statements to Congress were coordinated with the Trump Administration. Those statements are later verified by the government’s sentencing memorandum discussed above.
- December 3, 2018: Trump posts two tweets commending Roger Stone for not cooperating with Mueller and attacking Michael Cohen for doing so. The tweets specifically urge that Cohen serve a “full and complete sentence” for his crimes. The tweets are seen by many as amounting to witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
- December 4, 2018: Mueller releases a frustratingly heavily redacted sentencing memorandum for Michael Flynn. Technically it’s two documents. A sentencing memo, and a heavily redacted addendum. The addendum would have the real interesting information if we could see it through all the redactions, which we can’t. What we can see tells us that: 1) Flynn’s help to the SCO has been so profound that the SCO recommends no prison time, 2) Flynn is helping not only in the Russia collusion investigation but two separate ones whose nature is completely redacted, and 3) Quote: “[Flynn] has also assisted the SCO investigation concerning links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign . . . on a range of issues including interactions between individuals of the Presidential Transition Team and Russia.”
Does anyone really think all that redacted stuff in the Flynn memo is about Mueller finding that nothing happened?
When the December 7 Cohen sentencing memos discussed above are combined with the Jerome Corsi draft Statement of Offense, the Cohen Criminal Information filed with his guilty plea, the sentencing memo prepared by Cohen’s attorneys, and theheavily redacted Flynn sentencing memo, it is clear that Mueller’s zero in on provable Russian collusion is no “witch hunt.”
White House And Trump Response
Trump and the White House engaged in a bizarre embrace of alternative reality. Shortly after the release of the memorandums, Sarah Sanders released this statement:
“The government’s filings in Mr. Cohen’s case tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known. Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied and as the prosecution has pointed out to the court, Mr. Cohen is no hero.”
If that seems a bizarre denial, Trump took to Twitter to go even further down the gas lighting rabbit hole.
That rates a “wow.” In fact, the SDNY United States Attorney’s Office as directly as possible accused Trump of campaign financing fraud. The SCO’s sentencing memo:
- For the first time revealed that representatives of the Russian government were telling Trump they wanted to help his election (and his business bottom line) as early as Fall 2015.
- Cohen provided useful information related to “core” matters of the collusion investigation.
- Cohen provided useful information of dealings within the Administration, after Trump was President, that likely included . . .
- Coordinating his false testimony to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow deal Trump was working with Russians on even after he had secured the Republican nomination.
Perhaps the biggest story is the mental fitness of a man who is denying all that is happening around him. As Mueller’s offense steadily moves the ball, Trump is claiming the quarterback was sacked on 4th down.