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How Devin Nunes screwed the pooch again

How Devin Nunes screwed the pooch again

by digby


My Salon column this morning:

As President Trump was getting ready to take off for the annual G-20 meeting in Argentina he let fly at his former lawyer and Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen, calling him a liar and characterizing him as weak for cooperating with the government. He made a point of complimenting "others" (obviously former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and their mutual longtime pal, Roger Stone) for refusing to do so, an unprecedented comment coming from the man who is formally in charge of the US Department of Justice. But as Salon's Amanda Marcotte laid out in this recap of the week's events,  he was sore at the surprise guilty plea Cohen had entered on Thursday in which he admitted to lying about his dealings with Russia on Trump's behalf during the presidential campaign. After all, he was jetting off for a long-anticipated reunion with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Bueno Aires and this latest news was bound to make that just a tad uncomfortable.

As it happened, Trump canceled the scheduled meeting with the Russian president, citing the ongoing confrontation with Ukraine but nobody believed it. He was uncharacteristically sullen and subdued at the summit, although he and Putin did manage to squeeze in some face time after all. (Nobody knows what they spoke of, as usual, although it's not hard to guess.) He signed the new NAFTA deal and had a meeting with Chinese premier Xi Jinping which he is boasting resulted in  the greatest trade deal in history but which experts say, aside from an agreement to control the export of fentanyl, is really just an agreement to keep talking. Like the North Korean "deal" it's all a lot of talk and flattery to make Trump feel like a real president.

It was obvious his heart wasn't in it. He was still obsessing over the Cohen plea on Saturday morning:


He ended up canceling his planned press conference, for which he should be grateful. Those never end well for him. It would almost certainly have featured many questions about the current state of the investigation, including the very interesting memorandum filed by Michael Cohen's attorneys on Friday night in anticipation of his sentencing this week. In what is perhaps the first of its kind in the whole Russia scandal, it appears to have been done by competent defense lawyers.

First of all, it explains why Cohen didn't seek a cooperation agreement of the kind taken by others like Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos and the aborted Manafort deal. It turns out that he has been talking to Mueller since before he pled guilty in the hush money case and has been speaking with the office of Special Counsel regularly ever since. Not only that, but he's continuing to cooperate with the US Attorney of the Southern District of New York as well as New York State Attorney General in an investigation into the Trump Foundation and something to do with the New York tax authorities. He's been very busy.

And the reason he didn't ask for a formal cooperation agreement was that his lawyers apparently convinced him that the smarter move was to cooperate willingly and preemptively so as to begin his sentence as soon as possible. The memorandum suggests that the prosecutors have been convinced that he will continue to cooperate and that he plans to do so. Whether that's true or not, now that he's pled guilty to lying, most observers feel he's "locked in" on the Russia conspiracy side of the Mueller investigation. And what he lied about is substantial, regardless of Trump's characterization of it as "lightly looking at doing a building in Russia" as he was talking up the Russian president on the campaign trail and the Russian government was sabotaging his opponent on his behalf.

His defense is probably relying on the case of John Dean who, for all his cooperation, was never granted immunity, pled guilty to obstruction of justice and was sentenced to one to four years in federal prison. He never went to jail, however, and was instead held in a "safe house" used for mafia witnesses so he could testify against the other Watergate conspirators. He ended up having his sentence reduced to time served which was four months. He got his life back and is now considered one of the good guys, something Cohen clearly wants to achieve for himself.

This guilty plea for to lying to congress has also opened up a huge can of worms for a whole lot of people who came before the congressional committees.  Cohen admits that he “remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1 [Donald Trump]” in advance of giving testimony which he now admits was false. There is a lot of evidence that others did the same thing. In fact,  the GOP Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Richard Burr of North Carolina said that they have referred "a lot" of them to the Justice Department for doing so. It's an open question as to whether or not they also were conferring with the president's staff and legal counsel before they testified.

But you can't solely blame the White House staff, if a lot of people lied to the committee, particularly the House Intelligence Committee which acted as agents of the president and have helped all along to engineer the cover-up.  As Salon's Sophia Tesfaye pointed out this week-end, the unethical behavior of the GOP leadership led by Devin Nunes pretty much told anyone who testified that they could lie with impunity. Indeed, the partisan "report" they issued exonerating the president exonerated them as well since they never referred any of these witnesses to the Justice Department.

But that doesn't mean they are in the clear. The incoming Chairmen of both the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff D-CA and the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler D-NY made it clear on the Sunday morning shows that they plan to release all the testimony t the Special Counsel's office, which the Republicans have refused to do. Ironically, because of Nunes and his fellow Trump henchmen's willingness to scheme with the White House on behalf of the president they may have created a sense of false security for witnesses such as Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Eric Prince, all of whom could soon find themselves in the kind of hot water Cohen just got himself out of.

Both chairmen had ominous words for Trump and his circle. Nadler rightly pointed out that Trump keeping the Moscow Trump Tower deal gave the Kremlin "leverage" over the president and wondered if they still were using it. Schiff said Trump and his business were obviously "compromised." And, of course, many more questions still remain.

Keep in mind that the partner in that Trump Tower deal that everyone associated with it lied about was a man named Felix Sater. And this is what he told Michael Cohen when they were putting together the deal:

I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putin’s private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy, our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.
Perhaps this was just "salesmanship" as Michael Cohen originally claimed. But no one has ever adequately explained the line of thinking that says a Trump Tower deal in Moscow would get Trump elected? I'd guess Schiff and Nadler will be calling Felix Sater back in to fill in the blanks.