CNN is reporting that, according to their sources, Donald Trump’s written response to special counsel Robert Mueller denied that Trump had any knowledge about two critical areas. Trump claimed that he didn’t know about the infamous Trump Tower meeting between his campaign team and Russian operatives. He also denied that Roger Stone had provided him with any knowledge of the information provided by Russia to WikiLeaks. These questions are critical to both the case against Trump in terms of conspiring with Russia and in misleading the Mueller investigation.
Shortly after Donald Trump submitted his written responses to questions provided several weeks ago by the special counsel, Mueller stepped forward to accuse Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort of lying to investigators and breaching the terms of a plea agreement. The timing suggests there is a connection between Trump’s responses and information provided by Manafort, though it isn’t clear at this point what that connection would be. For Mueller to have accused Manafort based on some difference between his statements and those of Trump would suggest that Mueller immediately accepted Trump’s statements as the definitive Truth. Which seems … unlikely. It’s more likely that the special counsel had other sources of information directly related to the information being provided by Trump and Manafort, information that definitely contradicted Manafort and may have also contradicted Trump.
The Trump Tower meeting is one of those issues where it is known that Mueller was pressing to get an answer from Manafort. Lanny Davis, the attorney for former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, previously indicated that Cohen would testify that Trump had knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting at the time it took place. However, Davis later walked back some of his statements and the details of Cohen’s actual testimony to the special counsel aren’t known. Reports on congressional testimony provided by Cohen indicated that he did not give a definitive answer on Trump’s knowledge of the meeting. Of Trump’s team, Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner were actually at the meeting with Russian agents. If Manafort denied knowledge by Trump, it would seem this statement was unlikely to be contradicted by either Trump Jr. or Kushner. However, there were certainly other people aware of the meeting. Cohen had indicated there was a “pre-meeting meeting” in the halls of the Trump offices, which were attended by several other people. There were also several days between when Donald Trump Jr. received the first emails and when the meeting was conducted. Several people—including former Trump adviser Steve Bannon—have suggested that Trump Jr. would never have had the meeting without notifying Trump.
On the WikiLeaks front, a Tuesday article in The Guardian stated that Paul Manafort actually visited with Julian Assange on at least three occasions, including in March 2016. That would put Manafort squarely in the middle of the pipeline being formed between Russian hackers and WikiLeaks as a distributor of stolen information. It positions Manafort as a key figure in the whole conspiracy. However, the response that Trump provided wasn’t apparently about what he knew about WikiLeaks … but what he learned from Roger Stone.
On Wednesday, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani confirmed that the Trump legal team had a joint defense agreement with Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi. That agreement may well also include Stone, as it seems that Stone knew in advance that this question was on Trump’s “homework.”
Roger Stone: I never discussed any of this with Donald Trump. It’s one of the questions that Mr. Mueller wants the President to answer—one of the written questions. I’m highly confident that his answer will be that he knew nothing about it. We just never discussed it.
However, Stone previously stated that he had spoken to Trump about WikiLeaks and other issues, and emails from both Stone and Corsi indicate that they were in direct communication with Assange or other sources inside WikiLeaks.
The two written questions that have been revealed show where Mueller is in this investigation: still focused on conspiracy with Russia during the 2016 election and on Trump’s efforts to obstruct investigation into that conspiracy. There may be other areas under examination, from Trump’s fake charity to how he escaped bankruptcy through money laundering. Similar issues certainly became a large part of Mueller’s case against Paul Manafort, and the efficiency with which the investigation waded into Manafort’s finances and easily identified his attempts to evade taxes and misrepresent foreign lobbying should be frightening to Trump. But Mueller seemed determined to nail down the answers on the core issues: conspiracy and obstruction.
Which certainly suggests the declaration that Manafort lied to the investigation is a big, bright shot across Trump’s bow.