The latest iterative step in Robert Mueller’s Gambino-style rollup of the Trump campaign is Michael Cohen’s statement in federal court that he lied to Congress about his dealings with Russia. Cohen had been negotiating with Russia during the campaign on Trump’s behalf.
The most immediate and unsurprising thing this tells us is that Trump has mislead the public about this topic for a long time. “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia,” he tweeted on July 26, 2016. “I have nothing to with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia — for anything,” he told reporters the next day. At a press conference the following January, Trump explained that he abstained from such dealings for the very sensible reason that it would be improper. “We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to, I just don’t want to because I think that would be a conflict.”
Cohen lied about his dealings because Trump wanted to hide an improper conflict.
Where this leads remains to be seen, as always. One possibility is that Cohen’s testimony will be used to demonstrate perjury by Trump himself. ABC News reports that Trump was asked about the Trump Tower Moscow project by Robert Mueller on his written questionnaire. ABC does not know how Trump answered the question, but Mueller appears to have gotten Trump to commit to a story first, and is rolling out witnesses who are poised to contradict him.
Second, Cohen’s confession in court confirms the major details first reported last May by Antony Cormier and Jason Leopold. Here is an important passage from their story: “Even before the appointment of Mueller as special counsel in May 2017, FBI agents investigating Russia’s interference in the election learned that Cohen was in frequent contact with foreign individuals about Trump Moscow — and that some of these individuals had knowledge of or played a role in 2016 election meddling.”
If this part is confirmed — and Cohen’s confession adds to its credibility — then it will show direct cooperation during the campaign between Trump’s lawyer and Russians involved in the covert campaign to help elect him. This is yet another possible channel for collusion.
Trump deflected the latest setback by using his customary mobster lingo. “He’s a weak person,” Trump said, “and by being weak, unlike other people that you watch, he is a weak person and what he’s trying to do is get a reduced sentence.” Trump is almost literally a mob boss, but it’s not clear if the public is going to be enthusiastic about reelecting a president who publicly expresses his view that cooperating with the government is weakness and respecting omerta a form of strength.