President Trump was particularly self-congratulatory following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s court filings regarding the prosecution of former Trump associates Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, taking to Twitter to declare last night that the filings “Totally clears the President. Thank you!” and followed that up this morning with an all-caps tweet that reads “AFTER TWO YEARS AND MILLIONS OF PAGES OF DOCUMENTS (and a cost of over $30,000,000), NO COLLUSION!” Meanwhile, this morning the media outlets are abuzz about how the Mueller and U.S. attorney’s filings implicate President Trump in two felonies related to improper campaign finance, as reported in the Inquisitr.
However, these celebrations and overreactions to the reports are a bit premature, as President Trump has not actually been implicated in a crime. According to campaign finance laws, if President Trump didn’t know he was breaking the law by using campaign funds on the eve of the 2016 election to pay off two women with whom he allegedly had affairs, then he didn’t break the law, according to the Yale Journal of Regulation. It is an unusual quirk in campaign finance law that is not in line with most U.S. legislation, which holds the accepted standard that ignorance of the law is no defense for breaking it. Therefore, the burden of proof lies on federal investigators to show that President Trump knew he was breaking the law, which seems like a formidable task and an unlikely pursuit for any of the investigations.
The questionably criminal actions of President Trump directing Michael Cohen to improperly use campaign funds are not a part of Mueller’s investigation, which is focused on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interests, and indeed Mueller’s filing mentions nothing about it, instead focusing its attention on Cohen’s involvement in “the Moscow Project.”
Want more insights into tonight's Cohen and Manafort filings? Have questions for me and former Acting Solicitor General @neal_katyal?
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) December 8, 2018
Mueller’s filing on Cohen states “The defendant’s false statements obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government. If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues. The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Similarly, it was material that Cohen, during the campaign, had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia.”
Regarding Cohen’s cooperation, Mueller says “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.” In the footnote to that statement, Mueller adds “During his proffer sessions, the defendant admitted that this account was false and that he had in fact conferred with Individual 1 about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting. The meeting ultimately did not take place.” “Individual 1” in Mueller’s filings is known to be President Trump.
What this shows is that President Trump, during his campaign to become the next President of the United States, was interested in obtaining the Russian government’s approval to build his Trump Tower project in Moscow at the same time as the Russian government was involved in interference with the 2016 presidential election, and also at the same time that President Trump became publicly sympathetic to Russia and President Vladimir Putin. Mueller can now prove these assertions. It only provides circumstantial evidence to possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, but Mueller has also shown that Cohen, President Trump, and Dmitry Peskov have all lied about their involvement in the Moscow Project. The exposure of these lies suggest that Mueller is on the right track. Mueller may have further evidence of collusion related to this issue that remains under seal as it is part of the ongoing investigation. There is clearly some indication of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, though whether that possible collusion involved election interference is still in question.
Mueller’s filing on the dissolution of the plea agreement with Paul Manafort provides further clues on Mueller’s progress in the investigation. The filing is heavily redacted, indicating the the information provided is part of an ongoing investigation involving other potential conspirators who will likely be indicted. Mueller asserts that he has documentation and Manafort’s admissions in a significant number of ongoing communications with alleged Russian intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik, including the arrangement of a mysterious meeting between Kilimnik and another individual and Manafort and Kilimnik’s collusion in a conspiracy to influence potential witnesses in Mueller’s investigation. These revelations that President Trump’s campaign manager had longstanding communications with Russian operatives, followed by Manafort’s lies regarding that relationship and his actions to cover up his involvement, cast significant doubt on President Trump’s innocence in the collusion case.
To raise even further questions regarding President Trump’s innocence, Mueller also has documented evidence that Manafort remained in contact with the Trump administration even after his imprisonment for a number of indictments largely unrelated to the Russia probe. President Trump’s communications with Manafort even after Manafort’s incarceration is suspicious, at best.
The inclusion of the $125,000 payment involving Manafort and two unnamed firms as something related to the Russian collusion investigation is a more uncertain aspect of the Manafort filing, but is ominous in light of the Moscow Project accusations in the Cohen filing. If Mueller is looking to prove that Manafort has laundered money exchanging hands between the Trump campaign and Russian interests, that would be an explosive piece of evidence in the collusion case.
So, while President Trump is correct in his assertions that Mueller has yet to prove collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the Mueller investigation has already compiled a mountain of circumstantial evidence that indicates collusion, with a significant amount of evidence yet to be presented as the investigation continues. In America, one is innocent until proven guilty, and the same is true for President Trump regardless of what inflammatory emotions he may incite in his detractors. President Trump deserves the benefit of the doubt, but that doubt dwindles with each filing that Mueller makes in court.