BipHoo Company / Flickr Mueller raised possibility of presidential subpoena...
BipHoo Company / Flickr

This week brought more pages of court filings from the special counsel’s office than any week since the Russia investigation began. Since those documents are essentially the only occasion when the public gets a peek into the actions and knowledge of Robert Mueller’s team, what came in packets centered on Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, and Paul Manafort provided at least a few signposts along what can seem a very obscure path. But what they’re all put together, what do those signs really say? Actually … quite a lot.

Paul Manafort

The Paul Manafort document, which was last to arrive, probably tell the least about the greater story of the Trump campaign and Russia. This court filing was strictly the special counsel’s statement in support of the declaration made last week that Manafort had breached his plea agreement by repeatedly lying to investigators. Most of what it related were lies that Manafort told concerning his Russian contact, Konstantin Kilimnik. Much of what Manafort lied about in his interactions with Kilimnik remains redacted. However, one signal that the special counsel sends en clair is that Manafort continued to have contact with the White House long after he said any contact was cut off. Add that to the admission that Manafort’s legal team was continuing to share information with Trump’s legal team, and it seems very much—very, very much—as if the special counsel is making it clear that he’s aware of collaboration between Trump and Manafort in an effort to put one over on the investigation.

However, the most important information in the Manafort document may be what’s not there. Earlier in the day, Rudy Giuliani stated that one of the things that Mueller was going to say that Manafort lied about concerned the Trump Tower meeting. In short, according to Giuliani, Manafort told investigators that Donald Trump had no knowledge of that meeting. If investigators had evidence to show that Manafort was lying on that topic, it would not only go a huge distance toward showing that Trump had engaged in — at the very least — obstruction, it would also show that both Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner lied both to Congress and investigators.

But there was nothing about the Trump Tower meeting in the document. So, does that mean that Mueller believes that Trump knew nothing? That, as Trump tweeted, the document somehow absolved him? No. Because here is the single most important sentence of the entire Manafort filing.

We separately submit a motion to permit filing under seal the factual material that relates to pending investigations or uncharged individuals.

Anything that Mueller had to say about Trump’s knowledge of Trump Tower, or anything related to charges that we have not already seen, was explicitly not in the court filing that was made visible to the public. That information was filed separately, under seal. That means that anything that was in the public filing was something Manafort either didn’t care about, because that part of the investigation is complete, or … he wanted it seen. Like how he wanted it known that the White House—Manafort passing of notes had not gone unnoticed.

Nobody at the White House should be feeling the least bit of relief over the Manafort filing. But for the rest of us, couldn’t that judge let us know at least how many pages are in the sealed document? Give us something to dream about.

Michael Cohen

The biggest and clearest message from the Friday afternoon twin filing of sentencing documents concerning Cohen was also the simplest: Donald Trump knowingly ordered Cohen to make payments in felony violation of campaign finance laws. That information didn’t come from the kinder, gentler document turned in by the special counsel’s office, but was part of the considerably harsher—to Cohen—document from the US attorney for the Southern District of New York.

With respect to both payments, [Cohen] acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1

Just like that, Individual-1 became Unindicted Co-Conspirator-1.

The SDNY was less than impressed with Cohen’s cooperation which, so far as they were concerned, came late in the day and was incomplete. Cohen eventually fessed up and provided information related to the charges he was facing, but that happened only after he was confronted with evidence that showed, in legal terms, that his gooseus was cookedus. Cohen’s cooperation was also less than complete. When confronted with information concerning other crimes not on his list of indictments, Cohen clammed up. Put it all together, and the SDNY’s willingness to see Cohen’s sentence reduced might be best described as “slight” and “grudging.” As a result, it’s likely that Cohen will face at least four years in jail for his various fraud, campaign finance, and tax-related charges. And while Cohen is tabulating time for those campaign finance charges, everyone should be, and is, aware that Donald Trump is absolutely equally guilty of those crimes under the law.

Robert Mueller’s document concerning Cohen is both nicer to Cohen and full of juicy “ooh ahh” moments for those who have been following the Russia investigation. Mueller credits Cohen for not only confessing his sins to the special counsel and admitting the occasions when he lied, but also letting the SCO know that he had lied even more than they realized. And on interesting topics.

The defendant, without prompting by the SCO, also corrected other false and misleading statements that he had made concerning his outreach to and contacts with Russian officials during the course of the campaign.

In fact, the things that Cohen discussed with the special counsel’s office were essentially all about connections between Trump, or the Trump campaign, and Russia. If nothing else, this document made clear that this isn’t just the focus of Mueller’s investigation, it’s essentially the only thing they’ve been working up to for the last year and a half.

The statement, which is far from exhaustive but intended to provide the court with examples of the kind of cooperation that Cohen provided that should earn him a reduced sentence, documents contacts between Trump and Russia on several fronts across the period from 2015 to 2018. There’s the “Moscow Project,” which is shorthand for the project conduced by Cohen, Felix Sater, Donald Trump Jr, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump, and Russian counterparts in an effort to plant Trump’s name on the tallest building in Moscow. The discussion of the Moscow Project explains how that deal would have been “highly lucrative” for Trump, and makes it clear that the negotiations were much more extensive, detailed, and complete than Trump was ever willing to admit. In essence, Donald Trump had a billion dollar payday waiting for him in Moscow, just waiting for his signature, as soon as he had done his job of hurting Hillary Clinton — an no, Mueller didn’t say it that way. Explicitly. But he did say that Cohen’s information on the Moscow Project was consistent with other evidence that the special counsel investigation had collected. That has to be worrisome for Trump.

Cohen’s document also contains at least two incidents in which following this pattern:

… 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.

These are incidents in which Trump instigates a meeting with the Russian government, not the other way around. Cohen’s ongoing activities regarding the Moscow Project means that it was always out there, constantly bringing him and other Trump insiders into contact with Russian officials and oligarchs holding out bags of money.

It’s safe to say that, based on the documents provided by Mueller, Cohen is unlikely to collect any additional time for the crimes under consideration by the special counsel’s office. But Cohen’s big-ticket items were all with the SDNY. So … four years of wearing orange would seem to be in his future.

Michael Flynn

Flynn’s sentencing documents were filed earlier in the week and have already received a thorough, or perhaps moderately obsessive, or even very obsessive level of review. In part, that’s because the document was so heavily redacted that guessing what was beneath all that black ink became a combination of Mastermind and Scrabble with a side order of Magic 8-ball.

Flynn provided “substantial assistance” on what appears to be at least four matters, two of them being criminal cases pursued by someone other than the special counsel’s office. There were indications in the documents that Flynn may have not just provided the special counsel with testimony but may have handed over recordings — either some he made on his own, or recordings made while “wearing a wire” for the investigation.

The attorneys assigned to work on Flynn’s case at the special counsel’s office were a high-powered pair of international conspiracy specialists who have busted money-launderers and terrorist cells around the globe. Their presence on his case seems to indicate that Flynn’s testimony was mostly centered on how the campaign communicated with Russia. And in fact, that’s what’s visible in the brief, unredacted sections of the document.

But the biggest thing that’s clear from the Flynn document is that Robert Mueller is very happy with Michael Flynn. Very, very happy. Happy enough that he’s willing to wash Flynn clean of a multitude of sins and send him on his way with no jail time at all, should the judge agree. The document repeatedly praises the fullness of Flynn’s cooperation, shows that he submitted to at least 19 interviews, and also discussed the fact that he cooperated early. That last point is particularly important because, as the document states, Flynn’s cooperation convinced others—others of whom we are likely unaware—to also come into the special counsel and spill the beans.

In summary

At the end of the week, we know that:

  • Donald Trump was directly implicated by the SDNY in the commission of at least two felonies.
  • Trump reached out to the Russian government on at least two occasions in an attempt to expand his contacts.
  • The “Moscow Project” began earlier, ran longer, and was more substantial than Trump has ever admitted.
  • There are still investigations underway and targets who have not been indicted — a lot of them.

That last point may be the biggest frustration of the week, everyone would love to have a document laying out the whole Trump-Russia scheme and listing the charges against the whole Trump crime family. But that will have to wait. Just as he has all along, Mueller is moving slowly, deliberately, and with great thoroughness. And the space around Trump is getting smaller, and smaller, and …

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


  1. Let’s hope investigations begin when the Democrats take over in January. Perhaps it’s time to call Ivanka, Jared & Demon Spawn Jr. in for a little chat.


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