I’m going to borrow Bess’s cadence for this one – I don’t think she’ll mind.
Friday started out like any other day for the Trump administration. John Kelly was on the verge of resigning in disgust. The President was holed up in the bathroom rage-tweeting at 6:30 in the morning about “Leakin’ Lyin’ James“, “Crooked H.“, “Conflicted Rod“, Brennan, Clapper, Bruce Ohr and “his lovely wife Molly“. Larry Kudlow was ironing one of his Gordon Gekko costumes in preparation for a series of damage control TV cameos made necessary by John Bolton’s ill-advised decision to have the Canadians kidnap Huawei Technologies CFO Wanzhou Meng last weekend literally at the same time the U.S. and China were having dinner in Buenos Aires. The stock market was in free fall after a disappointing jobs report lent credence to the notion that the sugar high from Trump’s debt-binge-fueled foray into late-cycle fiscal stimulus is wearing off.
All in all, pretty standard stuff! That is, until “Rex Tillerson” started trending on Twitter, the same platform Trump used to dismiss his first Secretary Of State who, according to John Kelly (that would be the same John Kelly who is resigning), was on the toilet when he learned that the man who he once called a “moron” for suggesting the U.S. should increase its nuclear arsenal by a factor of ten because he didn’t like the look of a downward-sloping line chart, had decided to remove him from Mahogany Row.
Tillerson on Thursday delivered his first public remarks about the President while speaking at a charity event in Texas, where he is now retired and still richer than Trump. Here’s what he said, while speaking at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston:
So often, the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want you to do, and here’s how I want you to do it. And I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, I understand what you want to do. But you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’
Now you might be asking yourself: Is there a video? Happily, the answer is “yes”. And here it is:
Trump was not amused at the prospect of a room full of people at a cancer benefit event laughing at his expense and so, he responded as all presidents respond when the nation’s former top diplomat publicly accuses them of “violating the law” and running afoul of international treaties – he jumped on social media and called him a lazy dullard.
“Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed”, Trump seethed, 52 minutes before the closing bell on Wall Street, where the Dow was down some 600 points. “He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough”, Trump continued, adding that Rex was “lazy as hell.”
Time traveling back roughly four hours, Trump announced (on Twitter) that he’s nominating William Barr for Attorney General, a move made necessary because Trump forced out Jeff Sessions for the high crime of recusing himself from a probe into whether the President conspired with a hostile foreign power to rig the 2016 election and also for refusing to investigate the above-mentioned “Lyin’ Leakin’ James” and “Crooked H”. Trump could have simply bumped up the Deputy AG, but that won’t work because that’s “Conflicted Rod”/”Mr. Peepers” who personally signed off on the FBI raid that doomed Michael Cohen, who has since morphed into a cooperating witness in the same collusion probe and who last week implicated Trump in open court for the second time in four months. Of course Trump has an Acting AG, in Matthew Whitaker, but that’s untenable because by sheer happenstance, Matt Whitaker (who Trump says he “didn’t know” before this month), is on exactly the same page with Trump when it comes to Mueller, “Leakin’ James” and “Crooked H”. In fact, in July of 2016, Whitaker wrote an Op-Ed for USA Today called “I would indict Hillary Clinton.” In May of 2017, he wrote an Op-Ed for The Hill called “James Comey served faithfully, but the president made the right decision“. In June of 2017, Whitaker told WMAL radio that Trump did not obstruct justice by firing Comey. Two months later, Whitaker penned an Op-Ed for CNN called “Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far“. So you can see why some lawmakers think Whitaker shouldn’t be the guy overseeing the Mueller probe.
What about William Barr, then? Is that somebody who should be supervising the Mueller probe? Well, of course not. Here’s the Washington Post to explain:
Barr may not regard Mueller as being as out of control as he thought Walsh was, but he has criticized political donations made by Mueller’s prosecutors. He has also suggested that the evidence for investigating potential Trump campaign collusion with Russia wasn’t as strong as it was for investigating Hillary Clinton on Uranium One, a deal approved when she was secretary of state. In other words, Barr doesn’t seem to regard the investigation as particularly warranted in the first place, and he has shown a willingness to believe it’s politically tainted (suggesting, like Trump, that Mueller’s team has too many Democratic donors).
Who is “Walsh”, you ask? Walsh is Lawrence Walsh, special counsel for the investigation into the Iran-contra scandal who Barr (then Attorney General for George H.W. Bush), wanted to fire so badly that he once told Bush he “had an itchy trigger finger.”
Ok, so that’s that. Now let’s jump to roughly 5:00 PM after the stock market was done crashing. Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York decided Michael Cohen doesn’t deserve the Michael Flynn leniency when it comes to sentencing. Specifically, Cohen deserves to spend more than three years in prison despite what the government described as the “significant steps” Cohen took to assist the special counsel probe.
Two separate filings (both of which are embedded in full below) paint competing pictures of Cohen’s value as a witness. Cohen sat down with Mueller on more than half dozen occasions and here, according to Mueller, is what came out of those meetings:
The defendant has provided, and has committed to continue to provide, relevant and truthful information to the SCO in an effort to assist with the investigation. The defendant has met with the SCO for seven proffer sessions, many of them lengthy, and continues to make himself available to investigators. His statements beginning with the second meeting with the SCO have been credible, and he has taken care not to overstate his knowledge or the role of others in the conduct under investigation. The defendant’s assistance has been useful in four significant respects. First, the defendant provided information about his own contacts with Russian interests during the campaign and discussions with others in the course of making those contacts. For example, and as described above, the defendant provided a detailed account of his involvement and the involvement of others in the Moscow Project, and also corrected the record concerning his outreach to the Russian government during the week of the United Nations General Assembly. The defendant also provided information about attempts by other Russian nationals to reach the 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. Second, Cohen provided the SCO with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign.
All of that sounds absolutely horrible for Trump, but Sarah Sanders doesn’t see it that way. “The government’s filings in Mr. Cohen’s case tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known,” she haplessly claimed in a statement released on Friday.
Although Mueller’s filing is generally complimentary of Cohen’s cooperation, New York prosecutors saw things a little differently. Here’s a passage from their filing:
Cohen’s criminal violations of the federal election laws were also stirred, like his other crimes, by his own ambition and greed. During and after the campaign, Cohen privately told friends and colleagues, including in seized text messages, that he expected to be given a prominent role and title in the new administration. When that did not materialize, Cohen found a way to monetize his relationship with and access to the President. Cohen successfully convinced numerous major corporations to retain him as a “consultant” who could provide unique insights about and access to the new administration. Some of these corporations were then stuck making large up-front or periodic payments to Cohen, even though he provided little or no real services under these contracts. Bank records reflect that Cohen made more than $4 million dollars before the contracts were terminated.
Believe it or not, that wasn’t the end of it for Trump on Friday. Another Friday filing from Mueller details Paul Manafort’s efforts to mislead the special counsel on several issues, including his contacts with Trump and his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian with ties to Moscow’s intelligence service. The filing is heavily redacted, but it’s embedded in full below as well.
Again, Sarah Sanders attempted to suggest that none of this has anything to do with Trump. “The government’s filing in Mr. Manafort’s case says absolutely nothing about the president,” she said Friday evening. That, despite the fact that on page 4 of the filing, Mueller writes this:
The defendant breached his plea agreement by lying to he FBI and special counsel’s office about … his contact with Administration officials.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of day Donald Trump has had.
And if you’re wondering how he was feeling about things as of 6:00 PM ET, here’s your answer (written in the third person as per usual):
Totally clears the President. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018