Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, was an early supporter of the Trump campaign, and infamously called for the incarceration of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during his speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
He came under scrutiny for a variety of potential criminal activities, and reached a plea deal in December 2017 with the special counsel team led by Robert Mueller. As part of the deal, he agreed to cooperate and admitted making fraudulent statements in an interview with FBI agents at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017. Flynn stepped down as national security adviser in mid-February 2017, less than a month into the Trump presidency, because the White House says he misled officials there about his contacts with the Russians.
“I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense,” U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in Washington told Flynn.
Sullivan also walked through a number of procedural steps to make sure that Flynn was pleading guilty because he was guilty and not for any other reason. He seemed frustrated with many of the arguments from Flynn’s team that he suggested took away from Flynn’s supposed acceptance of responsibility for his crime.
Sullivan had Flynn admit, once again, that he had lied to the FBI and was pleading guilty because he was guilty. He gave Flynn ample opportunity to back out of his guilty plea, discussed with the prosecution the variety of other crimes Flynn could have faced, and said Flynn’s criminal exposure would have been “significant” had be been charged with the other offenses.
“This crime is very serious,” Sullivan said, noting that Flynn lied “In the White House! In the West Wing!” Flynn shouldn’t “minimize” his “very serious” offense, Sullivan said.
“Arguably, you sold your country out,” Sullivan told Flynn. He then asked the government whether undermining U.S. sanctions against Russia for their interference in the 2016 election could be considered treason, a suggestion the government didn’t want to weigh in on. (Soon after, the judge said he did not mean to suggest Flynn committed treason.)
Arguably, you sold your country out.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, speaking to Michael Flynn
After nearly two hours in the courtroom, the judge ended up agreeing to delay sentencing Flynn so the former adviser can cooperate further with Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, as well as with a case against Flynn’s former business partner. Flynn will now be sentenced in March.
Flynn’s plea deal prevented his prosecution on a host of other potential charges. One example: An indictment against Flynn’s former business partner at The Flynn Group, Bijan Kian, was unsealed on Monday, the day before Flynn’s sentencing. That indictment, which refers to Flynn as “Person A,” says that Kian and Flynn worked together on an illegal campaign to do the bidding of the Turkish government, which was seeking to extradite a cleric living in the United States that the Turkish government accused of instigating a failed coup in 2016.
Flynn’s attorneys had argued for leniency ahead of his sentencing. Mueller’s team indicated it was open to a sentence in the range of zero to six months, but encouraged the court to reject Flynn’s “attempt to minimize” the seriousness of his crime.
“A sitting National Security Advisor, former head of an intelligence agency, retired Lieutenant General, and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents,” Mueller’s team wrote on Friday. “He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents to know the importance of telling them the truth.”
Four Democratic senators want a New York financial firm linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg to explain its hiring last year of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney and emerging legal adversary.
Cohen has publicly advertised his willingness to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating him for possible campaign finance violations and financial crimes. On Thursday, CNN reported that Cohen is prepared to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower at which Trump campaign officials expected to receive damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a Russian emissary. That’s one of several areas in which Cohen’s claims could show that Trump lied in public statements, a fact that might spell legal trouble for the president.
A letter sent Thursday by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) shows that Cohen’s legal plight is also drawing continued scrutiny of the companies that hired him hoping to capitalize on his access to Trump. The firms paid Cohen through a limited liability company he set up in Delaware. Cohen used the same LLC to pay hush money to women including Stormy Daniels, a pornographic actress who claims she had sex with Trump in 2006, the year after he married First Lady Melania Trump.
The lawmakers sent 29 questions to Andrew Intrater, the CEO of Columbus Nova, a New York-based investment firm. Intrater is Vekselberg’s distant cousin. Vekselberg’s conglomerate, the Renova Group, has also been Columbus Nova’s primary client. The Treasury Department sanctioned Vekselberg and Renova in April, barring them from financial transactions in the United States. Intrater, who had little prior history of political contributions, donated $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee and $35,000 to a Trump reelection fund in 2017. Vekselberg attended Trump’s inauguration with Intrater and discussed US-Russia relations during a meeting with Cohen in Trump Tower. Both Vekselberg and Intrater have reportedly been questioned by Mueller’s office.
Columbus Nova last year paid Cohen $500,000. Two people people speaking for the firm told Mother Jones in May that Intrater hired Cohen in the hope that he could connect the the firm with wealthy investors. In their letter, the senators alleged that Cohen tried—unsuccessfully—to convince another client, the drug company Novartis, to invest in a pharmaceutical firm tied to Columbus Nova.
The senators want to know whether the payments Columbus Nova made to Cohen were connected to Vekselberg and Russian-influence efforts. Their letter notes that “Columbus Nova began paying Mr. Cohen in January 2017 and that shortly thereafter, he worked with Ukrainian politician Andrii Artemenko to hand deliver a proposal ‘outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia’ to the office of then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.” The senators cite reporting that indicates Vekselberg hoped to fund Artemenko’s plan through Columbus Nova. They ask Intrater to explain “what relationship, if any,” he or Columbus Nova has with Artemenko.
A spokesman for Columbus Nova said Friday that Intrater and Columbus Nova had no ties to Artemenko. He said the firm is reviewing the letter.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump denied Friday that he knew in advance about a Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between a Russian lawyer, his eldest son and other campaign aides that had been convened to hear dirt on his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Trump tweeted, “NO,” he “did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr.” CNN reported Thursday Trump’s former longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, claims Trump knew in advance about the meeting. CNN cited anonymous sources saying Cohen was willing to share that information with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
A person familiar with the investigation confirmed the CNN report to The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
Cohen wasn’t at the Trump Tower meeting and Cohen has not offered evidence to support the claim that Trump knew about the meeting. He does not have any recordings of the meeting, the person said.
Trump’s team met with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, believing she had dirt on Clinton to share.
The Associated Press reported this week that Veselnitskaya worked more closely with senior Russian government officials than she previously let on, based on scores of emails, transcripts and legal documents that show her to be a well-connected attorney who served as a ghostwriter for top Russian government lawyers and received assistance from senior Interior Ministry personnel in a case involving a key client.
Trump, who in the past has denied knowing about the meeting before it happened, also shot back at Cohen, who was once so loyal to Trump that he said he’d take a bullet for his boss.
“Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam,” Trump tweeted, adding: “(Taxi cabs maybe?). He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary’s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice!”
Cohen, whose business dealings are being investigated by the FBI, has longtime dealings in the taxi industry and owns several medallions for New York City yellow cabs that allow them to pick up passengers on the street.
Cohen lawyer Guy Petrillo did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Cohen is under federal investigation in New York. The Justice Department has been investigating Cohen for months, raiding his home, office and hotel room in search of documents related to a $130,000 payment the attorney facilitated before the 2016 election to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actress who says she had sex with Trump in 2006.
In an interview with ABC News earlier this month, Cohen declined to answer if Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting in advance, citing the advice of his lawyers and the ongoing investigation.
Trump also on Friday dismissed as “ridiculous” a report that Muller’s team is looking at Trump’s tweets as they investigate possible collusion and obstruction of justice.
Trump complained that he had returned from a trip Midwest Thursday “only to be greeted with the ridiculous news” that Mueller and his team “cannot find Collusion… so now they are looking at my Tweets (along with 53 million other people).”
“(T)he rigged Witch Hunt continues!” he complained, adding: “How stupid and unfair to our Country.”
Mueller is known to be scrutinizing Trump’s tweets about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former F.B.I. director James Comey. A list of potential questions for Trump compiled by the president’s legal team following conversations with investigators and released earlier this year made clear that Mueller is interested in some of Trump’s tweets to the extent they raise obstruction of justice concerns.
In Helsinki, Trump’s true message to Putin is: “Thank you.” And we have no idea what to do about it.
By Ezra Klein, July 16, 2018
On July 27, 2016, Donald Trump mounted a podium in Doral, Florida, and issued a plea. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
Trump was referring to the emails Hillary Clinton had deleted as irrelevant to her work at the State Department. That is to say, he was asking, straightforwardly and publicly, for Russian agents to break into Clinton’s computer systems, steal documents she had deleted, and release them to the public.
Apparently, the Russians listened. According to the indictments special counsel Robert Mueller revealed on Friday, that same day in 2016, Russian hackers attempted, for the first time, to hack into “email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.” They also “targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.” To be clear, Russia’s campaign to interfere in the election was ongoing by July 2016; what Trump’s request seems to have done was focus their efforts on Clinton’s emails.
There are a number of plausible explanations for what happened here. Perhaps the Russians heard Trump’s call and heeded it. Perhaps Trump’s invitation was accompanied by a private plea — maybe Paul Manafort or Roger Stone passed along the idea to Russian contacts. Maybe it’s just an unhappy coincidence for the Trump campaign.
But it is worth resisting the tendency to let what we don’t yet know overly distract us from what we do know. Because what we do know is damning.
Today, in Helsinki, the president of the United States held a friendly meeting with the Russian leader who sabotaged an American election on his behalf, and who has been rewarded by seeing American foreign policy pivot in a pro-Russian direction.
None of this is in doubt. Indeed, Trump addressed the issue of election hacking during his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin. “I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said. “And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.”
Standing next to Putin, Trump turned on America’s intelligence services, and again mused about how much better it might have been if Russia had cracked Clinton’s server and gotten her documents.
“What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails?” Trump demanded. “33,000 emails gone — just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily.”
Even Trump’s allies found his performance shocking:
Asked if Russia had compromising material on the American president, Putin replied, “it’s difficult to imagine utter nonsense on a bigger scale than this. Please disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again.”
What we know about the Trump campaign, the Trump White House, and Russia
Rather than speculating about what we don’t know about Trump and Russia, it’s worth stepping back to see how much we do know.
We know that Russia orchestrated a massive theft of information from the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, and used that information to help Donald Trump win the election.
We know that Trump publicly asked Russia to do exactly what it did — to hack Clinton’s emails — and we know that Trump repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin, at considerable political cost, in the aftermath. We know that Trump associates, like Roger Stone, appeared to have advance warning of the release of the hacked emails.
We know that the willingness to cooperate with the Russians wasn’t an idiosyncratic musing of Trump’s, but suffused the top ranks of his campaign: Trump’s inner circle — including Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. — eagerly took a meeting with Russian operatives promising dirt on Clinton. And we know Trump himself dictated the statement lying about the purpose of the Trump Tower meeting.
We know, from Trump’s own testimony, that he fired the director of the FBI to end his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. We know that Trump has wanted to fire both his attorney general and his deputy attorney general because he feels they’ve failed to protect him from this investigation. Tellingly, the Trump administration has moved from arguing that the president did not obstruct justice to arguing that by definition, the president cannot obstruct justice.
We know in that in 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said of the Trump organization, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” We know that in 2014, Eric Trump added, “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” We know that from 2003 to 2017, “buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales — totaling nearly $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City.”
We know that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, had ties to the Kremlin and was deeply in debt to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch closely connected to Putin. We know Manafort was in communication with Deripaska’s team during the election, and that he asked, of his powerful position in Trump’s campaign, “How do we use [it] to get whole?”
We know that Russia’s efforts to help Trump went far beyond hacked emails — they included social media campaigns to inflame racial divisions on his behalf, armies of bots meant to elevate news stories helping him and hurting Clinton, and even efforts to compromise state voting machines.
We know that the Trump campaign interfered in the Republican National Committee’s drafting of its platform to soften the language on Russia and Ukraine. We know that Kushner sought a secret communications channel with Russians so the US government couldn’t hear their negotiations. We know that Trump has personally fought both his administration and his party to stop sanctions punishing Russia for electoral interference.
We know that there is no single issue that has bedeviled the Trump administration as long or as much as Trump’s connections to Russia. We know that since the election, Trump has bucked both his party and decades of American foreign policy to try to protect Russia from sanctions, pull American support back from both NATO and the European Union, and forge a closer personal relationship with Putin. We know Trump insisted on the Helsinki meeting with Putin over the objections of his staff and despite the absence of any clear agenda.
Imagine it’s 2012 and someone described to you everything we would know in 2018. Would this sound like a hazy, unclear state of affairs? Or would it sound like we actually knew more than enough — indeed, a terrifying amount?
The big picture on Trump and Russia
In New York magazine, Jonathan Chait published an interesting, if speculative, vision of a worst-case scenario: that Trump is, and has been for decades, a compromised Russian asset. The circumstantial evidence Chait amasses for this theory is chilling in its quantity, even if it remains far from proving the theory.
But Chait’s piece, like much in this debate, reflects the view that we are still largely in the dark about the true nature of the Trump organization’s relationship with Russia. We’re not. At this point, we know an enormous amount about the connections between Trump and Russia, about Russia’s role in the 2016 election, about the Trump Organization’s efforts to hide its contacts with Russians, about Trump’s efforts to impede the investigation into the subject, and about Trump’s treatment of Russia and Putin and NATO since getting elected.
“Every single time we’ve heard of that the Russians reached out to offer something — dirt on Hillary Clinton, access to another trove of emails, secret meetings, back channels — the common theme of every single individual in Trump’s orbit was, ‘Yes. Help us out,’” says Susan Hennessey, a former National Security Agency official and the executive editor of Lawfare. “That is the really astounding picture that has emerged.”
It is not entirely clear to me how different the various stories that could yet be told really are. In the most innocent version of the tale, the cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia came because Trump telegraphed what he wanted to Russia, and Russia telegraphed what it wanted to Trump, and both sides did the other’s bidding.
How different is that, really, than an email between Putin and Trump agreeing to cooperate during the election and then forge a closer partnership once Trump took the White House? What, precisely, rides on the question of whether the communication was private or public?
Similarly, the case that Trump sought to obstruct the investigation has passed an almost comical point of definitiveness. He fired the FBI director investigating him, publicly demanded his attorney general do more to protect him, and lied to the public about key events. So what are we still waiting to learn? What is it that we don’t yet know that would mean more than what we’ve already found out?
What we don’t know is what to do
Learning the truth is important for its own sake, and there is much left to find out. But the obsessive focus on what we still don’t know reflects a hope, among Trump’s opponents, that Mueller will find something, reveal something, bait Trump into doing something, that will trigger consequences of some kind. The truth is there is nothing so automatic in the system, no reason to believe further revelations would call forth that kind of response.
The big issue, at this point, isn’t what we don’t know; it’s that we have no idea what to do with what we do know.
The Trump campaign coordinated — privately or publicly or both — with Russia to steal documents from Democrats and win the election. In the aftermath, as president, Trump has pursued a pro-Putin foreign policy and fought efforts to investigate or punish Russia’s crimes in 2016. What is the remedy for that? And even if there was one, who has the incentive and credibility to impose it?
Congressional Republicans know their future is tied to Trump’s survival. Anything that weakens his administration weakens their 2018 reelection prospects, their ability to fill judgeships, their ability to pass tax cuts. Their political lives depend on Trump’s political strength.
While it’s an interesting counterfactual to imagine the way the GOP would be reacting if all of these revelations were attached to President Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign, it is fantasy to imagine they will do anything save protect Trump to the best of their ability.
Congressional Democrats don’t have the power to do anything right now, and as such are focused on taking back Congress in 2018. But even if they win the election, their priority will turn to retaking the presidency in 2020, and that’s going to mean focusing on health care and Social Security, not Russia and the 2016 campaign.
For that precise reason, the 2018 and 2020 elections cannot and will not act as a clear vehicle for accountability on Trump and Russia. From Supreme Court justices to tax policy to Obamacare’s future to environmental regulations, there is too much at stake in any given election, and there are too few choices available to voters, for them to answer a problem as complex and unusual as this one.
As for the rest of the legal system, keep in mind: There’s nothing necessarily illegal about Donald Trump publicly asking Russia to hack the Clinton campaign’s emails, just as there’s nothing illegal about him pursuing a stunningly pro-Putin foreign policy in the aftermath of receiving Russia’s aid. The actual hacking of the emails was illegal, but who’s going to hold Russia accountable for it? The Trump administration that asked for, and benefited from, their help?
The ridiculousness of both the question and the answer makes the point. Mueller’s indictments were announced just before Trump and Putin’s summit, and it first led to talk of whether Trump might cancel the meeting (of course he didn’t), and then speculation over whether and how he might confront Putin over Russia’s actions.
But everyone knows that Trump’s actual response to Russia’s intervention on his behalf has been gratitude and solicitousness — what other response is there to a world power doing exactly what you asked of them in a time of political need?