(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)
Donald Trump is looking for a Chief of Staff, but he really should try to find a competent team of lawyers. The big surprise at Michael Cohen’s sentencing was not the three years the president’s former fixer is going to spend in prison, but the collaboration agreement of AMI, David Pecker’s company, which admitted participating in a ‘catch and kill’ plot, in concert with the Trump-campaign, to mislead American voters by keeping information about Trump’s affair with a playmate, Karen McDougal, out of the press. The explicit intent was to prevent damage to the candidate, making payments to Ms. McDougal a campaign finance violation, and ‘cooperation in the future’ is mentioned, which indicates that there is more to come from AMI. Similarly, Michael Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels and his reimbursement by the Trump organization spells trouble. Only Trump, his eldest children, and Allen Weisselberg were authorized to sign checks for the Trump organization. Since Weisselberg is cooperating with the investigation one of the others probably forked the money, fraudulently booked as a legal retainer, over to Cohen.
And while the campaign finance violations make Trump complicit in two felonies, the biggest threat to his presidency is still coming from Robert Mueller. Cohen told investigators that in November 2015 he was already approached by a Russian who offered ‘synergy’ between his government and the Trump campaign. Since then, there have been contacts between Michael Flynn and Putin, between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Kislyak, between Jeff Sessions and Kislyak, between Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, between Don Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort and Natalia Vesilnitskaya, and between George Papadopoulos and Carter Page and assorted Russians. Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi had advance knowledge about emails the Russians stole from the DNC that were published by Wikileaks, and Kushner tried to set up a secret backchannel with the Russian government. During most of the campaign Trump was trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, while the Russians were preparing a massive intervention in the elections on his behalf. For reasons Mueller will reveal all of the above lied about their Russian contacts.
Trump’s defense against the felony and upcoming conspiracy accusations is a prime example of legal acrobatics. Since he can no longer maintain that payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels were a simple private business transaction, and the criminal features of his campaign’s collusion with the Russians are coming more into focus, he uses the protections of the office he stole against the investigations of the theft itself, by maintaining that the president cannot be indicted and that the need to constantly deal with the Mueller probe distracts him from governing the US.
Proof of the latter was on display during a televised meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in the Oval Office, where Trump tried to bully the Democrats into giving him $5 billion to build ‘The Wall’ and was rebuffed in a way he probably never experienced before. Pelosi said to his face “you don’t know what you’re talking about,” and Schumer made the president assume sole responsibility for a potential government shutdown. Later that day Pelosi didn’t hesitate to question Trump’s manhood.
Yesterday NBC broke the news that Trump was the third man in the room when Cohen and Pecker first discussed the ‘catch and kill’ scheme. Manhattan prosecutors started a criminal investigation into Trump’s inauguration committee for selling access, and New York’s Attorney General announced a broad investigation into the Trump organization and foundation. No wonder that Chris Christie just turned down the Chief of Staff job.
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