CBC News / YouTube Donald Trump talks possible impeachment Michael...
CBC News / YouTube

Donald Trump has always wanted to be No. 1—in business, sexual prowess, politics, mental acuity, and overall fame—and now he is. Special counsel Robert Mueller personally dubbed Trump “Individual 1” in the charging documents he filed against Trump’s longtime lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen.

Trump averaged more than one mention per page in that 9-page document, snagging 12 mentions in all. It’s a stunning achievement for a sitting pr*sident but he didn’t seem all that thrilled with it. In fact, his legal team was reportedly informed about the Cohen plea, though not the specificities of the charge, Wednesday night. That’s what apparently led to Trump’s Thursday morning dose of rage tweets about Mueller’s “Ridiculous!” and “illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt” shattering “so many innocent lives.”

Trump also got a nice mention in the draft court filing that Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi leaked to several outlets early this week. The document stated that Stone, “who CORSI understood to be in regular contact with senior members of the Trump Campaign, including with then-candidate Donald J. Trump,” asked Corsi to contact WikiLeaks for information about any as-yet unreleased campaign materials presently in the organization’s possession. According to the draft plea, which Corsi declined to take this week, Corsi ultimately got back to Stone on August 2 to report: “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.” Friend, in this case, refers to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who ultimately started dumping the Podesta emails in early October. Anyway, Trump didn’t seem to like getting a Mueller shout out in the Corsi document either. The Washington Post reported:

The inclusion of Trump by name infuriated Trump’s legal team, which obtained a copy of the draft the week before Thanksgiving. In response, the president’s attorneys delayed submitting his written answers to Mueller and formally complained to both the special counsel’s office and the Justice Department, according Giuliani.

Complaint noted. Trump’s name stayed apparently.

So Mueller’s 0 for 2 in the past couple weeks with Trump. That said, it’s been a pretty damn productive week for Mueller, even if it didn’t go exactly as planned. Really, who could’ve imagined that boy genius Corsi would widely distribute a document to news outlets that completely and totally incriminated him? That probably wasn’t a part of the Mueller plan. And even though some people have speculated that Mueller lured Paul Manafort into a trap—knowing he would breach his cooperation agreement with the special counsel by leaking intel to Trump’s lawyers—I would hazard to guess that Mueller originally hoped Manafort was forthright in his stated intent to cooperate, even as he and his team took a hope-but-verify approach. But whatever lemons Team Mueller was handed, they appear to have squeezed from them some pretty damn sweet lemonade.

In fact, over the last fortnight, Mueller has been masterful. Early last week, Trump finally turned in his written answers related to the Russian collusion inquiry following a months-long cat-and-mouse game that often seemed doomed. Those questions from Mueller reportedly included an explicit query about Trump’s discussions with Cohen regarding the Moscow real estate deal—the one Cohen pleaded guilty to lying about to Congress this week. Around the same time that Trump submitted his responses, Mueller’s team began secretly pounding out the details of a guilty plea with Cohen, according to Vanity Fair. Although it’s unclear exactly when Team Mueller grew wise to the fact that Manafort was cheating on them with Trump’s lawyers, one imagines they were likely on to Manafort by the time Trump turned in his homework and Team Mueller started nailing down the Cohen deal.

All of that stealth maneuvering set up Trump and his lawyers for two shocking developments this week, when Mueller yanked Manafort’s cooperation agreement on Monday and dropped the Cohen plea deal on Thursday.

In the first instance, the Wall Street Journal reported Trump’s legal team had no advanced warning whatsoever about the Manafort implosion, and they were also caught entirely off guard when they learned about Cohen’s admission the night before he pleaded guilty. Boom x2. Although they were notified on Wednesday night that something was coming, they had no idea what a blow was in store for them until the story blew wide open the next day. The Post writes:

Trump’s legal team did not learn until Thursday that Cohen had sat for dozens of hours of interviews with Mueller’s office, according to a senior administration official.

Seventy-plus hours to be exact. Boom x3.

As I noted on Thursday, Trump and his lawyers bet on the wrong cooperator. At least as far as the Russia probe was concerned, Manafort appeared to be the bigger linchpin to Mueller’s collusion case. And he was willfully information sharing with Team Trump. But Mueller now has 70-plus hours of intel from Cohen, who technically was less intricately tied to Trump’s campaign than Manafort and much more woven into the fabric of Trump’s family business. That means Trump Organization—Trump’s red line for Mueller—is not only in the mix, it is now central to the Russia probe.

As is “Individual 1.” And that moniker is no accident. As Former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi explained Friday on MSNBC, it’s incredibly difficult for multiple people to “lie easily, simultaneously, about the same thing without central coordination.” Figliuzzi said his working theory of the case is that there’s “a ringmaster here,” creating alignment and coordination of statements to Congress, to Mueller, and to the public. Lying in order to back up Trump’s public statements about the Moscow Trump Tower deal is exactly what Cohen pleaded to this week—it was a guilty plea Mueller didn’t exactly need as a matter of law unless he planned on using Cohen’s testimony in support of establishing a certain fact pattern.

And whenever there’s a concerted effort to lie about something, the question is inevitably, why?

“There’s a reason why we’re seeing the president referred to as Individual number 1,” Figliuzzi intuited, “it’s because he’s soon to become Defendant number 1.”

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


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