CREDIT: White House (Pete Souza); Gage Skidmore; Illustration by Roughly Explained

Prosecutors often drop bombshells in court filings. The sentencing memos Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed in the Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn cases are not bombshells. They are the legal equivalent of carpet bombing the White House. Read from the perspective of a professional investigator ‒ a position this author held with congressional committees for nearly 20 years ‒ the memos, particularly those in the Cohen case should worry, if not terrify, President Trump and his legal team. They paint a vivid picture of potential collusion which began much earlier than anyone thought or knew and link Russian interference in the election to Trump’s businesses.

Possible Collusion in 2015?

Cohen told the Special Prosecutor’s office in one of his seven debriefings that “in or around November 2015” the President’s self-described fixer spoke with a Russian, who claimed to be trusted by Vladimir Putin, and said he “could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level.’”

Take a deep breath. Think about that hand grenade that Mueller dropped into the President’s lap. Someone close to Putin offered to have the Russian government assist the Trump campaign a year before the election.

Mueller also said this unnamed Russian offered to set up a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin. The Russian said the proposed meeting “could have a ‘phenomenal’ impact” on the election. The proposed meeting never happened. But the Special Counsel significantly does not say whether Cohen or anyone else in the campaign followed up on the offer by Russia to provide “political synergy” with the nascent campaign.

What Else Cohen Told Mueller

Buried within the Cohen sentencing memo is the revelation that he told Mueller “about attempts by other Russian nationals to reach the campaign.” We know about the Trump Tower meeting. Were there more Russians who tried to speak with the Trump campaign or its officials? Cohen provided information “about his conduct and that of others on core topics under investigation” by the Special Counsel. Starting in August of this year Cohen held seven “lengthy” meetings with Mueller in which he spoke about “his own contacts with Russian interests during the campaign and discussions with others.” Do the “others” include President Trump, who was identified in court filings as “Individual 1”? Mueller didn’t say. It might.

Mueller says Cohen told his office facts about “Russian-related matters” that Cohen obtained during “his regular contact” with unnamed Trump organization “executives” during the 2016 campaign.” Until shortly after he was sworn in the President was head of the real estate empire that bears his name

In an almost off-handed way, Muller says Cohen talked about “his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 time period.” Mueller doesn’t reveal the names of those persons, but the President obviously is someone “connected to the White House.”

What to Make of Michael Cohen’s Latest Guilty Plea

It’s Strictly Business

The press has long speculated that Trump’s largest potential legal liability stems not from the campaign’s contacts with Russians but from his business dealings. Cohen provides a direct nexus between the Trump real estate business and possible Russian collusion. Mueller, based on Cohen’s information, says there was a direct connection between contacts the campaign had with Russia and a planned Trump Tower in Moscow.

Cohen admitted he lied to Congress about when the Moscow project died. He testified it ended before the Iowa caucuses. Cohen in fact continued to “discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign.” Those chats with Trump directly related to Mueller’s probe because they “occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.” That’s link number one.

Link Number two may be equally if not more damaging. Mueller said the Moscow Project could have reaped millions for the Trump Organization and thus “was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government.” The unnamed Russian close to Putin offered that assistance when he spoke with Cohen in November 2015. He suggested that a meeting between the now-President and Putin that would help move the project along. Cohen says he spoke with Trump before he reached out to the Russian government to set up the meeting. That implies the President approved it.

The meeting never happened because, as Mueller put it, Cohen “was working on the Moscow Project with a different individual who Cohen understood to have his own connections to the Russian government.” That describes Felix Sater. The House Intelligence Committee called Sater someone with “a unique and colorful background.” Sater told the panel about “his path from Wall Street banker to white-collar criminal to government informant.”

Why Mueller is Investigating Trump’s Business Ties

What Michael Flynn Told Mueller

The Mueller sentencing memo in the Michael Flynn case isn’t particularly enlightening. The same cannot be said for the Attachment to that memo or the one filed by Flynn’s attorney.

Mueller, in the attachment, hints that the “links or coordination” between Russia and the Trump campaign after the election. He says Flynn has helped on a probe of “interactions between individuals in the Presidential Transition Team and Russia,” among other topics. The portion of the attachment that describes “useful information” about those contacts was redacted, indicating that it is an ongoing and sensitive investigation.

What to Make of Michael Flynn’s Sentencing Memo

Both Mueller and Flynn’s attorney say the former National Security Advisor has had 19 debriefings with Mueller’s office and the Department of Justice, which took up nearly 63 hours. His lawyers say Flynn “has produced thousands of documents” to DOJ and turned over his “electronic devices.”

Flynn, who served as senior advisor to the Trump campaign and then as a senior White House official gave Mueller a treasure trove of documents and presumably every email or text message he had. The noise you hear is every campaign or White House official who communicated with Flynn speed dialing criminal defense lawyers.

The noise you hear is every campaign or White House official who communicated with Flynn speed dialing criminal defense lawyers.

Only a stupid or reckless prosecutor would make false or misleading representations in court filings. Mueller is neither. He has a reputation for being very smart and thorough. He likely has evidence to substantiate every word in the sentencing memos. If even half the revelations are true, President Trump may be in very serious political or possibly legal trouble.

Can a President obstruct Justice? It might not matter.

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