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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of May 6 – 12, 2018

Mueller Investigation

Mueller’s team spoke with Trump’s lawyers in March about possible subjects of interest to bring up in an interview with Trump. Jay Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, drafted a list of 49 questions Trump might be asked, derived from this conversation.

  • The New York Times published the list of questions here. The topics range from the firing of Comey and Flynn, to the Trump Tower meeting and Trump’s businesses.
  • One of the questions is particularly revealing, even foreshadowing a story that broke over the weekend: “What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?” As the blog Law & Crime wrote, “The message was simple, but clear: ‘Mr. President, we’ll be looking into any possible shady real estate with which you may have been involved.’ Boom.”
  • Another interesting question that has the potential to cause more trouble for the entire GOP: “What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?”
  • Despite being drafted months ago, the questions were leaked to the media just last week. Trump tweeted that it was “disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were ‘leaked’ to the media,” implying that Mueller’s team was at fault. However, the delay and timing of the leak has led some to conclude that the questions were leaked by the newest addition to Trump’s legal team, Rudy Giuliani.Various people who have worked with Mueller have also stated that the questions did not come from his team. For example, Mueller’s former assistant, Michael Zeldin, stated that grammatical errors contained in the list proved it was not something Mueller would produce.

During the same discussion, Mueller threatened to subpoena Trump to force his testimony before a grand jury, should he refuse an interview.

  • There is precedent that president can be forced to comply with a subpoena: in 1974, the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that Nixon could be forced to produce Watergate tapes as requested via Special Prosecutor’s subpoena.
  • Rudy Giuliani, the newest addition to Trump’s legal team, has argued that Trump does not have to comply with a subpoena. He wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Trump could take the fifth. This would severely undercut Trump’s claim that he has nothing to hide in the Russia investigation. In fact, at a campaign rally in 2016, Trump stated that “the mob takes the fifth,” implying innocent people have no reason to take the fifth amendment.

Mueller has been asking questions that focus on Roger Stone, specifically on interactions he had with Rick Gates (who is cooperating with Mueller).

Mueller is seeking 70 blank subpoenas in Manafort’s case to force people to testify at his Virginia trial, set to begin on July 10.

The Ukrainian government has ceased cooperation with Mueller and suspended four legal cases against Manafort, in order to secure a missile deal with the Trump administration.

  • Ukraine readily admits they are refusing to cooperate further in order to “avoid irritating the top American officials.” The timing leads some to question whether this amounts to bribery from Trump.

Trump hired former Clinton impeachment lawyer Emmet Flood to lead his White House legal team, replacing Ty Cobb.

For Giuliani’s damaging admissions on TV, see the Stormy Daniels section below.

Michael Cohen

Federal investigators are looking into a large amount of cash that Cohen built up during Trump’s campaign – Cohen took out lines of credit to secure access to as much as $774,000 by February 2016. With the payment to Stormy Daniels, we have to wonder if anyone else might’ve been paid to be quiet to help Trump win the election.

The NYT reports activity in Cohen’s past that looks a lot like money laundering: His companies would buy a building, often in cash. Soon after, they would flip the building in another all-cash deal for four or five times the previous purchase price.

ABC News reported that the Trump campaign has spent $228,000 covering some of Michael Cohen’s legal fees, made in three payments between October 2017 and January 2018.

  • Experts say it is unclear if the payments are legal, as campaign funds must be used for campaign issues, and Cohen has stated that he did not have a formal role on the campaign.

Federal investigators have been monitoring Cohen’s phone(s) with a pen register (not a wiretap as originally reported) since at least weeks before the raid of his office and hotel room.

  • A pen register allows investigators to log all incoming and outgoing calls, at the very least. According to the wikipedia page, when applied to a cellphone, a pen register also allows the collection of call metadata (e.g. time made, length, location), SMS text message content, and various email-related information including addresses communicated with.

Russian interference

Republicans are refusing to take the same pledge as Democrats already have: committing not to exploit stolen materials in their campaigns this fall.

Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA and NSA, said that hysteria in Texas over a 2015 U.S. military training exercise called Jade Helm was fueled by Russians wanting to dominate “the information space.”

  • He “chalked up peoples’ fear over Jade Helm 15 to ‘Russian bots and the American alt-right media [that] convinced many Texans [Jade Helm] was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.’” The success of this campaign, enabled partly by Gov. Abbott, emboldened Russians to expand their operations and target elections.


Conservatives in the House, led by the Freedom Caucus, have drafted articles of impeachment against Rosenstein as a ‘last resort’. Rep. Mark Meadows says he will refer the impeachment articles to the House Judiciary Committee if the DOJ “fails to respond” to his request for more information on Mueller, the FBI, and the 2016 election.

Stormy Daniels

Giuliani went on TV and made two huge errors: He stated that Trump knew of the payments to Stormy Daniels and payed Michael Cohen back the $130,000 – which contradicts Trump’s campaign financial disclosure report & could amount to misusing campaign funds. Second, Giuliani claimed Trump fired Comey because he refused to say that Trump wasn’t a target of the investigation – admitting obstruction.

  • After Giuliani’s appearances, Trump tweeted a confirmation of Giuliani’s statements. However, later Trump told the press that his lawyer did not have the facts straight, adding, “virtually everything said has been said incorrectly” about the payment to Daniels.

NYT reports that Trump knew of the payment to Stormy Daniels months before he denied any knowledge of it on Air Force One. Additionally, Giuliani stated that the total payments from Trump to Cohen totalled about $460,000, but it is unclear what the extra money was for – Daniels was paid only $130,000.

Stormy Daniels filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump for tweeting that the forensic sketch of the man who threatened her in a parking lot in 2011 was a “total con job” and a “nonexistent man.”

  • “The suit alleges Trump’s comment amounts to an accusation that Clifford fabricated the threat and exposed her to ridicule and violent threats. “Mr. Trump used his national and international audience of millions of people to make a false factual statement to denigrate and attack Ms. Clifford,” the complaint says.


Jared Kushner has made yet more ‘mistakes’ in his federal filings: ProPublica reports that his ethics disclosure filing misstated the financials on two Brooklyn loans, bringing the number of the times this particular form has been updated to over 40 since Kushner first submitted it in March 2017.

Trump paid an Israeli spy firm to find incriminating material on Obama diplomats who negotiated the deal with Tehran, in a “dirty ops” campaign.

  • “People in the Trump camp contacted private investigators in May last year to “get dirt” on Ben Rhodes, who had been one of Barack Obama’s top national security advisers, and Colin Kahl, deputy assistant to Obama, as part of an elaborate attempt to discredit the deal.”

To note…

From January 1st, 2018 to April 24th (just 114 days), Republicans ran 12,864 ads on TV mentioning Clinton or showing her photo. The majority came from candidates in Ohio’s gubernatorial primary and West Virginia’s Senate race (those seeking to replace Joe Manchin). More than Hillary, Obama was featured in 18,971 GOP ads this year. Nancy Pelosi was the third most popular Dem used to smear other candidates, with appearances in 9,721 Republican ads.

Summer Zervos, a contestant on the Apprentice who accused Trump of sexual assault, has subpoenaed tapes made during the reality show in her defamation lawsuit against Trump. The subpoena requests all documents, video, or audio that contain discussions of or including Trump and Zervos, as well as any recording in which Mr. Trump speaks of women “in any sexual or inappropriate manner.”