Whatever you think of Toobin, the truth of this point seems undeniable. I made a similar point myself in the thread about Mueller accusing Manafort of breaching his cooperation deal by lying. Mueller wanted Trump on the record, under oath, before revealing that he had uncovered lies told to him by Manafort and Cohen. Why? Because he wanted to see if Trump would lie to him too.
CNN’s @JeffreyToobin on Cohen’s guilty plea: “It is not a coincidence … that all of this is happening after the President has submitted those statements [to Mueller] under oath.” https://t.co/S8PXVXQtNZ pic.twitter.com/cre2ubVmql
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) November 29, 2018
Imagine the questions that were put to POTUS by Mueller’s office. “Did you ever discuss the prospect of building a Trump Tower in Moscow with Michael Cohen after January 2016?” “Have you or your attorneys met with representatives of Paul Manafort since Manafort agreed to cooperate with the special counsel?” Trump might have answered those questions differently had he known at the time what Mueller knew about the truth of each. As it is, if he answered no to either, he’s at risk of a perjury charge now.
And no, this isn’t a hypothetical:
NEW – President Trump was asked about the Trump Tower Moscow project among a list of written questions by special counsel Robert Mueller, sources familiar with the president’s responses tell @ABC News. No details about his response.
— John Santucci (@Santucci) November 29, 2018
I doubt that a Democratic House would try to impeach him for lying about the last time he discussed the Trump Tower project. Trump will claim he forgot that he and Cohen had talked about it after January 2016 and that will seem plausible-ish considering that he was distracted by a presidential campaign. Impeachment over what can be believably attributed to a memory lapse is a hard sell politically. If there’s evidence that he lied about meetings between Team Trump and Team Manafort over the last two months, though, that’s a big deal. There’s no “memory lapse” excuse there. And the mere fact that the meetings were happening is already so shady that a lie about it will be understood as an attempt to cover up something illicit. The papers are filled today, in fact, with former prosecutors marveling at how sleazy and unprecedented it is for a cooperating witness like Manafort to secretly feed information about a federal investigation that he’s gleaned from his “cooperation” to a potential fellow defendant who, by the way, has the power to pardon him. It reeks of a corrupt quid pro quo. Harry Litman:
Finally, the open pipeline between cooperator Manafort and suspect Trump may have been not only extraordinary but also criminal. On Manafort and Downing’s end, there is a circumstantial case for obstruction of justice. What purpose other than an attempt to “influence, obstruct, or impede” the investigation of the president can be discerned from Manafort’s service as a double agent? And on the Trump side, the communications emit a strong scent of illegal witness tampering (and possibly obstruction as well).
There’s no way to prove what was said between Manafort’s lawyer and Trump’s lawyers, though, right? That’s privileged! Not so fast, says Ken White. It was privileged. But now…
Mr. Manafort, like many of the hapless former luminaries snared in Mr. Mueller’s investigation, had a joint defense agreement with Mr. Trump. Such a pact lets defense lawyers exchange information without waiving attorney-client privilege…
The objectives of a cooperation agreement like the one Mr. Manafort entered with Mr. Mueller are flatly inconsistent with the obligations of a joint defense agreement. So it doesn’t matter whether or not Mr. Manafort explicitly withdrew from his deal with Mr. Trump, because once he began cooperating — or, at least, pretending to — the legal theory supporting the agreement collapsed. Because Mr. Manafort no longer had, on paper, a “common interest” with Mr. Trump, his lawyers’ communications with Mr. Trump’s lawyers could no longer be seen as cloaked with any expectation of confidentiality.
If they revealed client confidences, they waived the attorney-client privilege.
Manafort may have been a double agent for Trump against Mueller in reality, but legally Manafort had become part of the prosecution. Can’t have a “joint defense agreement” between a potential defendant like Trump and a member of the prosecution like Manafort, which means communications between them can’t be shielded by privilege. Which in turn means that, if he wants, Mueller could try to subpoena Rudy Giuliani and other Trump lawyers and find out under oath exactly what was said between Trump’s team and Manafort’s team. Did Trump’s team promise Manafort a pardon? If so, in exchange for what? Was it for sharing what Manafort knew about Mueller’s investigation based on their cooperation sessions? Or was it for lying to Mueller in ways that would help protect Trump? We’re a ways away from Mueller proving anything like that, but if there’s any form of obstruction of justice in this case that really might create political momentum to impeach Trump, that’s what’ll do it. Not Trump firing James Comey, which he was legally entitled to do.
White raised another point on his Twitter feed today. Why would Mueller even bother charging Cohen for lying to Congress about the Trump Tower project? It’s a minor thing, scarcely worth Mueller’s time, when you consider that Cohen’s already pleaded guilty to other crimes in federal court in Manhattan recently. The likely answer, says White, is that Mueller is building to something. Getting Cohen’s information about the Moscow project on the record publicly will make the next step, whatever that may be, more comprehensible to the public.
Though Trump isn’t named explicitly, he and his organization figure prominently and obviously in the charging document and plea. That’s not something federal prosecutors do lightly.
This strongly implies further action against someone.
— OkayMaybeItsRICOHat (@Popehat) November 29, 2018
I’ll leave you with two tweets, one from last year, one from today. The Trump Tower Moscow project ended up not happening but evidently the possibility was cooking well into the summer of 2016. If Trump, now by his own admission, was still pursuing business opportunities in Russia during the campaign, then Russia did have some leverage over him and had an election-timed opportunity to use it. Until the Moscow deal collapsed, the Russian government’s power to approve the project was leverage. Exit question: Is it a coincidence that Trump’s main lender, Deutsche Bank, and his former tax lawyer, Ed Burke, both had their offices raided by authorities within the past 24 hours?
Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
Pres. Trump: I was running my business while campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would get back into business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities? https://t.co/vEE5vZwqpw pic.twitter.com/WBOlMwOqbi
— CBS News (@CBSNews) November 29, 2018