The whites of his eyes by @BloggersRUs

The whites of his eyes

by Tom Sullivan

Sentencing memos filed Friday night implicate the sitting president in election law crimes and conspiracy to obstruct justice. They hint at much more to come. Perhaps the most looming overarching question is, were all the president's men lying to cover up something bigger or is it just second nature?

With Michael Cohen, at least, the latter is the case. The Southern District of New York filing against Cohen calls for "a substantial term of imprisonment." SDNY knocks down arguments Cohen attempted at making himself appear sympathetic. Cohen's cooperation, such as it was, “warrants little to no consideration as a mitigating factor.”

The portrait of Cohen that appears in SDNY's 40-page document is that of a career petty criminal motivated by greed and a desire "increase his power and influence." When the expected White House position he expected did not materialize, Cohen sought to monetize his relationship with "Individual 1" (Trump) by marketing himself for having special insight in and access to the president. Those proved negligible.

The president's former personal attorney overstated his assistance to federal prosecutors and only cooperated to save himself, not out of contrition. "Cohen managed to commit a panoply of serious crimes, all while holding himself out as a licensed attorney and upstanding member of the bar," the memo explains.

"Willful" tax evasion and bank fraud are Cohen's everyday crimes. Making false statements to Congress, making illegal campaign contributions in the hush money to Trump's former mistresses and conspiring with the now-president to conceal them carry broader implications than the amount of time Cohen will spend behind bars. SDNY states plainly, "In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1."

More intriguing is the Mueller counterpart to the SDNY memo. Mueller goes easier on Cohen owing to his cooperation with SCO, but adds this regarding Russian attempts to infiltrate the Trump campaign:

For example, in or around November 2015, Cohen received the contact information for, and spoke with, a Russian national who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.” The defendant recalled that this person repeatedly proposed a meeting between Individual 1 and the President of Russia. The person told Cohen that such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well,” referring to the Moscow Project, because there is “no bigger warranty in any project than consent of [the President of Russia].” Cohen, however, did not follow up on this invitation.
Cohen thought another person in Trump's orbit with better Russian connections was handling that.

The Russians' interest in Trump is another matter. Trump's interest in Russia was erecting a Trump tower in Moscow. He had conferred with Cohen about setting up a meeting with the Russians in September 2015 or earlier. Trump has repeatedly denied having Russian business connections.

Mueller adds, "Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within it." Mueller by now knows with whom Cohen coordinated making false statements to Congress. Cohen had help. The helpers likely engaged in a conspiracy to lie to Congress and obstruct justice.

Mueller also filed a sentencing memo in the case against Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chair. Another document was filed under seal. Manafort engaged in decade-long series of financial crimes, but details there are murkier. Aaron Blake adds at the Washington Post:

Friday’s filing in that case doesn’t shed much light on what Mueller knows, but it is noteworthy how much of Manafort’s allegedly lying pertain to his business colleague in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the U.S. government has said has ties to Russian intelligence.

Mueller’s team says Manafort lied about a meeting with Kilimnik and also about Kilimnik’s role in “a criminal conspiracy” to get two witnesses against Manafort to alter their testimony.

Much of the document is redacted, but the sheer volume of Kilimnik in it leads to an obvious question: Why was Manafort trying to protect him? And could this link somehow play in the broader collusion probe? Was Manafort really worried about a foreign national being in trouble, or was he worried about Mueller connecting some dots that he didn’t want connected?

The documents added no new details on the June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Trump campaign officials, family members, and Russian emissaries.

Former New York Times investigative reporter Kurt Eichenwald focuses on the financial crimes elements revealed in the memos: Cohen's payments to Trump's women (P1) and, in particular, Trump's repayments to Cohen (P2) and how they were configured. Those payments invoiced to the Trump Organization as fees for services, Eichenwald suggests, implicate Trump (if he knew about them) and his company in "conspiracy, money laundering, fraud AND campaign finance violations."

Trump, who long feared close examination of his business dealings and has refused to release his taxes, now finds the Trump Organization (the name now seems loaded) under a microscope. His office will not shield it from prosecution, should that come.

For a whole lot of nothing, the president and his cronies have expended a lot of effort and risked substantial legal exposure to hide it, not to mention innumerable "NO COLLUSION" tweets. The full extent of this iceberg has yet to be publicly measured.

Trump's own Department of Justice believes he participated in conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The news will badger incoming House Democrats to take a stand on whether to impeach Trump based on these DOJ findings. There are, however, more shoes to drop in the Mueller probe.

Whatever darker secrets lie behind the pedestrian crimes remain hidden for now. Pulling the trigger on impeachment before they see the whites of his eyes may risk missing their mark. Republicans in the Senate need irresistible public pressure and/or pangs of vestigial conscience to do the duty they seem for now able to ignore.

Let's hope the country lasts that long.