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Mueller Time
December 7, 2018

Friday's sentencing recommendations for Michael Cohen, President Trump's former attorney, are chock-full of conclusions from federal prosecutors in New York and Special Counsel Robert Mueller that have shocking implications for the former fixer and for Trump himself.

Prosecutors for the Southern District of New York say Cohen committed "serious crimes worthy of meaningful punishment" when he orchestrated "secret and illegal payments to silence two women," and his lies to Congress and financial crimes were part of "a pattern of deception that permeated his professional life."

"Taken together, these offenses reveal a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy," prosecutors wrote. "His motivation to do so was not borne from naiveté, carelessness, misplaced loyalty, or political ideology. Rather, these were knowing and calculated — acts Cohen executed in order to profit personally, build his own power, and enhance his level of influence."

Mueller's team, meanwhile, recommended slightly more leniency, given Cohen's cooperation in the federal investigation. Despite his help, however, Mueller's office explained just how extensive Cohen's deception had been.

The defendant's lies to Congress were deliberate and premeditated. His false statements did not spring spontaneously from a line of examination or heated colloquy during a congressional hearing. They started in a written submission that he chose to provide to both houses of Congress ahead of his appearances. These circumstances show a deliberate effort to use his lies as a way to set the tone and shape the course of the hearings in an effort to stymie the inquiries.

Cohen's lies about the Trump Tower project in Moscow, Mueller wrote, obscured key information, but his cooperation eventually led to several revelations. One eye-popping paragraph says Cohen was in touch with a Russian national who offered the Trump campaign "political synergy" and "synergy on a government level." This person repeatedly sought to set up a meeting between "Individual 1," widely understood to be Trump, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Summer Meza

December 5, 2018

Most nonpartisan legal analysts view Special Counsel Robert Mueller's sentencing memos on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as a potentially ominous omen for Flynn's former boss, President Trump. Mueller refers to three ongoing investigations, and two are entirely redacted. That secrecy combined, with Mueller's recommendation that Flynn spend little to no time in prison because of his "substantial" cooperation including 19 interviews with investigators, suggest to many that Flynn has provided damning evidence about some bigger fish, up to and possibly including Trump himself.

"The defendant provided firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the [Trump] transition team and the Russian government," Mueller's memos state. "Additionally, the defendant's decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the [special counsel] and cooperate."

Still, since "the good stuff is all redacted," as Jonathan Swan notes at Axios, there's ample room for interpretation, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani is looking on the bright side. "Wow big crime for a SPECIAL WHATEVER," Giuliani wrote in a text message to Politico, "maybe a group of Angry Bitter Hillary Supporters who are justifying themselves by the goal justifies the means."

Trump's supporters also downplayed the memos on Fox News Tuesday night. "There is no suggestion that Michael Flynn had anything to do with collusion," Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told Sean Hannity. "I think it's good news for President Trump tonight, that this is what it's come down to. ... Even though they said he substantially cooperated, I think he substantially cooperated to say that there was no collusion." Host Laura Ingraham was slightly more cautious, saying that if this is all Mueller got after having Flynn "in a vice grip for 18 months," then the White House can probably relax. "I mean, unless those reductions are really, like, knock-your-socks-off — maybe they will be — I think this is a big zero." Peter Weber

December 5, 2018

In a sentencing memo filed Tuesday night in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Special Counsel Robert Mueller says due to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's early and "substantial assistance" and numerous interviews, "a sentence at the low end of the guideline range — including a sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration — is appropriate and warranted." In an addendum, Mueller spells out some of the "substantial" cooperation Flynn provided in at least two investigations, one of them the special counsel office's look at Russian election meddling and any coordination with President Trump's campaign.

Information about the other one or more investigations, at least one of them a criminal inquiry, is completely blacked out:

"Most of it, I would suggest, that matters is redacted," CNN's Chris Cuomo said Tuesday night, telling us "that this is not over." Along with the Russia investigation, Flynn has "also been helping with a separate criminal investigation. Against who? About what? We don't know — it's all redacted," Cuomo said. "So common sense tells you the truth: He's got something else working. There will be more to come," and this addendum reads like a warning to people who didn't cooperate.

Cuomo discussed what the memo might mean with former U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal and investigative journalist Michael Isikoff, and they all agreed the lack of jail time is significant. "The $5 million question is what is to come, and boy, that target has to be something big in order for Flynn to get the deal he did," Katyal said.

At Fox News, Shannon Bream notes that the heavy redacting "leads to both sides claiming victory tonight." Watch below. Peter Weber

November 28, 2018

"The Cuomo Prime Time team burned a lot of calories to go through what we're going to do for you right now," CNN's Chris Cuomo said Tuesday night, breaking out his whiteboard to make sense of the flurry of news regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. He connected Russian intelligence's hacking of Democratic emails to Julian Assange, then to Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone. But things got more interesting when Cuomo got to Paul Manafort, President Trump's second campaign chairman.

Manafort is apparently the closest link between Assange and the Trump campaign. Trump's lawyers also acknowledged Tuesday that Manafort's lawyers were sharing information with them about Mueller's investigation after Manafort entered into a plea deal with Mueller, a deal Mueller publicly scrapped Monday, saying Manafort had continued lying to investigators.

"Here's why it's interesting," Cuomo said. "The president has now submitted his answers to Mueller. What if the answers to the questions that the president submitted with the help of Rudy Giuliani and his legal team echo a common understanding with Paul Manafort — a similar story, so to speak — that Mueller knows to be untrue?"

Marcy Wheeler, a national security reporter, is on the same page. If Mueller's team had "no doubt that Manafort was lying to them," she wrote at her Emptywheel blog Monday, "that means they didn't really need his testimony, at all ... They could keep giving Manafort the impression that he was pulling a fast one over the prosecutors, all while reporting misleading information to Trump that he could use to fill out his open-book test. Which increases the likelihood that Trump just submitted sworn answers to those questions full of lies." Peter Weber

October 17, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any involvement by the Trump campaign is still chugging along, quietly, but "Mueller is expected to issue findings on core aspects of his Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections as he faces intensifying pressure to produce more indictments or shut down his investigation," Bloomberg News reported early Wednesday, citing two U.S. officials. "Specifically, Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry," whether there is clear evidence of collusion, and whether Trump tried to obstruct justice.

If Mueller does issue those reports, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein may still prevent them from being sent to Congress or made public. Rosenstein has been privately pressuring Mueller to wrap up his investigation as quickly as possible, and President Trump has been doing so publicly, Bloomberg reports, but a lot could change after the Nov. 6 elections: Notably, Rosenstein and/or Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be gone, giving Mueller a new boss, and Democrats could win control of one or both houses of Congress, changing the political calculus in Washington.

"That suggests the days and weeks immediately after the Nov. 6 election may be the most pivotal time since Mueller took over the Russia investigation almost a year and a half ago," Bloomberg says. "So far, Mueller has secured more than two dozen indictments or guilty pleas. ... And because Mueller's investigation has been proceeding quietly, out of the public eye, it's possible there have been other major developments behind the scenes." Former federal prosecutors say Mueller appears in no hurry to close up shop and probably has several important leads he is still nailing down. You can read more about what Mueller may be up to Bloomberg News. Peter Weber

September 21, 2018

On Thursday, ABC News reported that Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime personal lawyer and "fixer," has spent hours talking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators about Trump's dealings with Russia and whether he had offered Cohen a pardon, which could amount to obstruction of justice.

The ABC News report cited "sources" for its scoop, but ABC's Meridith McGraw captured a tweet from Cohen's account, quickly deleted, seeming to confirm (in the third person) that Cohen had volunteered "critical information to the #MuellerInvestigation without a cooperation agreement."

Journalist Yashar Ali suggested that Cohen had been test-writing a tweet for someone else, and he appeared to be right, when Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis posted the tweet from his own account.

But Davis had a different explanation:

The bottom line would seem to be firsthand confirmation that Cohen is cooperating with Mueller. And that's potentially bad news for Trump. Peter Weber

September 5, 2018

In a letter to President Trump's legal team on Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller said that he would allow Trump to submit some answers in writing about whether his campaign conspired with Russia, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Mueller's letter did not address a second main focus of Mueller's inquiry, whether Trump tried to obstruct justice. On that issue, a person familiar with Mueller's letter told the Post, "he said he'd assess it down the road. ... They're essentially saying, 'We'll deal with this at a later date.'"

Trump's lawyers have spent months trying to avert a Trump interview with Mueller's prosecutors, saying they are concerned the president might inadvertently perjure himself, or at least limit its scope. The letter did not say that Mueller has given up on interviewing Trump. Peter Weber

August 27, 2018

In September, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., will hear a case about the 1956 disappearance and presumed murder of a Columbia University professor, Jesus Galindez, and through happenstance and possibly misaligned stars, the case could prevent Special Counsel Robert Mueller's findings on President Trump, Russia, collusion, and obstruction of justice from being released or even sent to Congress.

"It is a sleeper case," Harvard Law professor Alex Whiting told Politico. "If the D.C. Circuit were to accept the Department of Justice's arguments ... that would have potentially enormous implications for the future of the information from the Mueller investigation. That could close out a path by which that information becomes public." The case pits the Justice Department against Stuart McKeever, a lawyer and author who has extensively researched Galindez's disappearance and possible murder in the Dominican Republic. He wants a judge to unseal a D.C. grand jury's report on Galindez's disappearance, and the Justice Department is arguing that judges don't have "inherent authority" to release most grand jury reports, including, potentially, Mueller's final report.

Hearing the case will be two Republican-appointed judges, including the sole Trump appointee on the D.C. appellate court, and one judge appointed by former President Barack Obama. Its verdict will be mostly irrelevant if Democrats win control of the House in November and can subpoena Mueller's report, Politico explains, but if Republicans keep control and the judges side with the Justice Department, there may be no avenue for Mueller to release his findings, hampering any push for impeachment. You can read more about the case at Politico. Peter Weber

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