The last week presented the spectacle of Trump’s personal attorney and long time “fixer,” Michael Cohen, turning against Trump and Trump turning against Cohen.
Round 1: The McDougal Tapes.
Cohen struck first, releasing an audio tape of him talking to Trump in September 2016 about purchasing the rights to hush Trump’s alleged mistress, and Playboy model, Karen McDougal. The tapes prove Trump and his people repeatedly lied in denying Trump had any knowledge of the deal. This casts doubt on Trump’s similar denials that he knew about the hush agreement with Stormy Daniels.
Trump struck back, on Twitter of course, asking what kind of attorney would tape his client.
“What kind of lawyer would tape a client?” Quite obviously the kind you would hire, Mr. President. The tape proved Trump a liar. Score one for Cohen.
The tape places the “catch and kill” $150,000 deal the National Enquirer made with McDougal squarely in the context of the campaign, making it more difficult to dodge the allegation that it was an illegal and unreported in-kind campaign contribution. It also makes it more difficult to claim the hush agreement payment by Cohen to Stormy Daniels was not a similarly improper campaign contribution or loan. So there are legal issues related to this tape.
Perhaps most shocking is the clear proof the National Enquirer colluded with the Trump Campaign to kill an embarrassing story about Trump. This opens a host of questions about other possible collusion between the tabloid and the Trump Campaign.
For example, during the primaries the National Enquirer notoriously ran a false story claiming Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of JFK. Trump personally endorsed this false story. Was that false story a product of similar collusion between the Trump Campaign and the National Enquirer? Was the tabloid just another shill for the Trump Campaign?
However, I think the release of the tape may have been a clever and deliberate attempt to undermine Trump’s credibility for the factual dispute that would follow.
Round 2: Cohen Claims Trump Knew and Approved of the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower Meeting With Russians.
On June 9, 2016 Trump’s son (Donald Trump, Jr.), his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his Campaign Manager (and future Mueller indictee), Paul Manafort, had a secret meeting with Russians in Trump Tower. The meeting was arranged with the promise of getting email dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton because the Russian government wanted to help the Trump Campaign. During the meeting, Trump Junior asked the Russians for information showing Clinton received money from the Russians, but they were unaccommodating.
When news of this meeting broke, just over a year later, Team Trump released a letter suggesting the meeting was set up just to discuss Russian adoptions. While Trump and his people denied President Trump was involved in writing this false letter, Trump’s lawyers would later admit to Mueller that he dictated the letter. Trump’s lawyers would argue that it’s not a crime to lie to the press. The letter, suggesting the meeting was just about adoptions, was proven false by the release of Trump Junior emails setting up the meeting. These emails showed the meeting was set up for the purpose of getting email dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton. They make clear the Russians were doing this because the Russian government wanted to help the Trump Campaign.
Notwithstanding the myriad lies from Team Trump about this meeting, there has been at least one consistent claim: President Trump didn’t know about it. They claim Trump did not know about it beforehand, or after, until news of it broke over a year after the meeting. CNN lists 20 times Trump or his people denied Trump had any knowledge of the meeting until over a year later.
On July 27th, Cohen told CNN that not only did President Trump have advance knowledge of the meeting, he gave advance approval to it. Cohen claims he was in a meeting where Trump was told of the planned June 9th meeting and approved going forward with it. It has not yet been revealed who else was in that meeting.
If true, this is a bombshell. It would mean that Donald Trump personally approved a meeting intended to collude with Russians to get dirt on Clinton. It would also mean that Trump knew as early as the first week of June 2016 that the Russian government wanted to help him win and it would mean Trump was eager to accept their offers of assistance. It would also mean Trump’s dictating the misleading letter about the purpose of the meeting was a deliberate effort to conceal evidence of his personal involvement in the nascent conspiracy, after the Special Counsel was investigating possible Russian collusion.
On September 7, 2017 Donald Trump Junior testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was repeatedly asked if his father had advance knowledge or if he told his father in advance of the meeting. He repeatedly denied it. This exchange from p. 29 of the transcript is typical:
Q. Did you inform your father about the meeting or the underlying offer prior to the meeting?
A. No, I did not.
Lying to Congress is a crime. If Cohen’s claim is correct, Trump Junior could be in trouble.
With so much at stake, Trump wasted no time in taking to Twitter to deny it all. Trump suggested Cohen was lying to cut a deal to get out of his own legal troubles.
Trump’s bumbling personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, called Cohen a “pathological liar” and said Cohen has “been lying all week, he’s been lying for years” before declaring that Cohen has no credibility.
So what we have here is a case of what lawyers call a material fact issue in dispute, or a contested factual question. Cohen now claims Trump knew about this meeting in advance, and approved it in advance. Team Trump denies it. The question now is to determine who is most likely telling the truth.
Weighing Witness Credibility
When courts and juries must resolve contested factual questions, one means is to weigh the relative credibility of the competing witnesses by considering the reputation, consistency, and history for honesty of the witnesses, particularly in regard to the issue on point.
Consider, for example, Giuliani’s prior endorsements of Cohen’s character. Giuliani’s current attacks on Cohen’s character are in stark contrast to prior comments where Giuliani just three weeks before said, “I have no concerns that Michael Cohen is going to do anything but tell the truth.” On May 6th Giuliani described Cohen as “an honest and honorable lawyer.” Now suddenly Giuliani wants to claim Cohen is a “pathological liar” who has “been lying for years”? So who has the credibility problem here?
In regard to this meeting, Team Trump has engaged in a series of verifiable lies. On July 24, 2016, Donald Trump Jr appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and strongly attacked the “moral compass” of anyone suggesting the Russians sought to help the Trump campaign, calling such assertions “lie after lie.” Yet he had a meeting just the month before set up for exactly that purpose. On November 11, 2016 Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks flatly and broadly denied any foreign contacts at all during the Trump campaign. She sweepingly stated, “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.” Of course, there were in fact many contacts between the campaign and Russians, to include the one Trump Junior had and all the meetings George Papadopoulos had that he later admitted to.
After repeatedly denying the existence of any such meetings, Donald Trump personally dictated a letter falsely characterizing the purpose of the June 9, 2016 meeting at issue. Then Team Trump lied about President’s Trump involvement in dictating that lie. Lie upon lie with compounding lies about lies.
However, Cohen has credibility problems too. Not only is he under criminal investigation, but he also lied about the very issue at hand. While working for Trump, Cohen was among those who said Trump had no advance knowledge of the meeting. Of course, when he said that, Cohen was an agent for Trump, and unsurprisingly lying for Trump (like all the others).
Cohen is under criminal investigation and, let’s face it, he’s a crook. Trump hired a crook as his personal attorney and kept him as his personal attorney for years. The testimony of crooks is often required to catch other criminals because those are the kind of people criminals rely on. You think Trump hired Cohen because he wanted a squeaky clean, above board lawyer?
Trump tweets to imply that Cohen is lying to seek a favorable plea agreement with the government. The big problem is that, foremost, a plea agreement requires the subject to tell the truth. Failure to tell the truth breaks the agreement and forfeits its benefits. Language from Paragraph 8(a) of Michael Flynn’s plea agreement is typical in this regard:
“Your client shall cooperate fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly with this Office . . . Any refusal by your client to cooperate fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly as directed by this Office . . . will constitute a breach of this Agreement by your client, and will relieve this Office of its obligations under agreement.”
If Cohen cuts a deal, those words will be part of his deal.
Still Cohen has a disadvantage here. He says Trump was told, Trump and everyone else says he was not told. Cohen is outnumbered in his story. Sure, he’s outnumbered by liars, but he is outnumbered.
If only there were other evidence Trump knew in advance. If only Trump said something before the meeting suggesting he had advanced knowledge of it . . .
Two Days Before The Meeting, Trump Hints He Knows About It.
A timeline of events leading up to this meeting hints that Trump had knowledge of it at least two days before it happened. Let’s review.
June 3, 2016: Rob Goldstone emails Donald Trump Jr., to set up a meeting with Russians who want to help the Trump Campaign by providing dirt on Hillary Clinton. The email reads:
Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.
What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?
I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.
Trump Junior responds the same day as follows:
Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?
June 6, 2016: Rob Goldstone again emails Trump Junior to coordinate the meeting with Russians that will be held three days later. The email reads:
To: Donald Trump Jr.
Subject: Re: Russia — Clinton — private and confidential
Let me know when you are free to talk with Emin by phone about this
Hillary info — you had mentioned early this week so wanted to try
to schedule a time and day Best to you and family Rob Goldstone
Trump Junior responds by arranging a phone call with Goldstone and Emin Agalarov. Less than an hour after that call Trump Junior calls a phone with a blocked phone number. It is known that his father has a blocked phone number. In testimony to Congress Trump Junior would claim he doesn’t remember who the call was to.
June 7, 2016: At a campaign rally Trump promises to give a major speech the following week outlining how the Russians gave money to Clinton to get preferential treatment. Check it out starting around the 6:30 mark.
On June 9th, Trump Jr has the secret meeting with the Russians. At the meeting Trump Jr asked for the information about Russia giving money to Clinton in exchange for favors that Trump hinted about in this speech. Trump Jr and the Russians say they had no such information. Shortly after the meeting Trump Junior again makes a call to a phone with a blocked number. It is known that his father has a blocked number.
The much ballyhooed speech never happens. Instead something else happens. Donald Trump tweets to Hillary Clinton: “Where are your 33,000 emails that you deleted?”
Putting It Together
The timeline and the phone calls suggest that Trump Junior told his father about the meeting by phone (to a blocked number) on June 6th. He suggested to his father that the Russians might have information tying Clinton to improper payments in exchange for favors. Presumably, sometime shortly thereafter, Trump personally approved the meeting as Cohen describes.
Based on what he had been told, the next day (June 7th), Trump speaks at the campaign rally and promises a big speech a few days later revealing a supposed Clinton/Russian money connection.
On June 9th Trump Junior has the secret meeting with the Russians where he asks for dirt on the Clinton/Russian money. The Russians tell him they don’t have that, but they do have Clinton emails. Trump Junior calls his father’s blocked phone again and informs him of this. Candidate Trump is unable to fulfill his promised speech, but tweets about Clinton emails.
One thing I am confident of. While I don’t know for sure whose blocked phone Trump Junior called, I am sure Special Prosecutor Mueller does.
The next month, on July 22, 2016, Donald Trump has a press conference and states: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
On that very day Wikileaks releases 20,000 Clinton emails that are devastating to her campaign. Wikileaks received these emails from Guccifer 2.0, an arm of the Russian GRU.
The leaks, just three days before the Democratic National Convention, are weaponized in their timing and content to inflict maximum damage on the Democratic party. They include evidence the DNC favored Clinton over Bernie Sanders, creating a split in the party just as it was attempting to unite. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is quickly compelled to resign and ramifications blister the party, and the Clinton Campaign, throughout the election.
“A Russia-gate Timeline.” https://medium.com/@KeithDB/a-russia-gate-timeline-2a7adcce7a67
“A Running Tab Of Mueller Investigation Convictions & Indictments.” https://medium.com/@KeithDB/a-running-tab-of-mueller-investigation-convictions-indictments-f518b9a72827
“Mueller’s Latest Indictments Come Closer to Trump Campaign Than Ever.” https://medium.com/@KeithDB/muellers-latest-indictments-come-closer-to-trump-campaign-than-ever-14182987bdcf