And Trump Became ‘Individual-1’

The investigation into the Kremlin’s interference in the election attributes criminal acts to the U.S. president

It is hard to choose a single tipping point in the long investigation conducted by Robert Mueller into the so-called Russian scheme: the inquiries into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election in an attempt to favor Donald Trump’s victory and the potential collaboration of the then-Republican candidate and the people around him in this plan. However, one of the most important tipping points took place on Nov. 29, when Michael Cohen − who had been Trump’s personal lawyer for years − admitted to lying about the current president’s real estate project in Moscow. Although Cohen claimed at the time that negotiations had ceased in January 2016 right before the Republican primaries, he has now acknowledged that talks actually continued until June of that same year − when Trump was about to become a presidential candidate − and that Cohen informed “Individual-1” of the developments. This was the same individual who, he said, directed him to make payments to two women who allegedly had sexual relationships with Trump in the past, in order to avoid the bad press that infidelity would bring in the race for the White House. Cohen said that “Individual-1” was Trump. The final stages of Robert Mueller’s investigation are tightening the noose around the U.S. president.

The District Attorney’s Office Points to Trump.

In their document from Dec. 7, prosecutors accepted Cohen’s admission, therefore tying the U.S. president to a federal crime. The payments to two women − adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal − constitute an illegal donation, because the goal was to protect the image of a presidential candidate, because it was over $2,600, because it was done by a campaign employee in one case, and the other was a corporate contribution. Trump’s former fixer, Cohen, “sought to influence the election from the shadows,” according to federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. “He did so by orchestrating secret and illegal payments to silence two women who otherwise would have made public their alleged extramarital affairs with Individual-1,” adds the document, in reference to Trump. President Trump sent Special Counsel Mueller his written answers on Nov. 21. The content of the questions are unknown, as well as, consequently, potential contradictions with Cohen. The president admits to making payments, but considers it a “private transaction” that is not an infringement of electoral law.

3 Clouds Are Looming over the President.

At the moment, there are three kinds of charges Trump may face in the framework of this macro-investigation. The first, which is the original reason for the investigation, is the possible collusion with the Kremlin in order to interfere in the presidential election, but for the time being, this one is the most fleeting. The second, the obstruction of justice offense, has to do with Trump possibly lying during the inquiry and any attempt by him to limit the case through pressure, as that alleged by former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by the president in May 2017. The third − and the only one that has crystallized into a clear statement by the prosecution − are the payments to women in order to silence the then-candidate’s alleged sexual affairs during the campaign, which constitutes a federal offense, that of [campaign] finance law violation, since they are considered an undisclosed donation.

Those Who Were Formerly Loyal Ended Up Confessing

For years, Cohen, the lawyer, claimed that he would take a bullet for his biggest client in order to protect him, but that loyalty ended this summer, when he pleaded guilty to the charge of illegal campaign contributions, admitted to lying and decided to cooperate with the justice system. The same happened to former campaign chief, Paul Manafort, who pleaded guilty last September to several of the charges against him and offered to collaborate with the investigation in an attempt to reduce his sentence. (He had already been found guilty of eight crimes in August that were basically financial in nature.) Gen. Michael Flynn − one of the first to be investigated and who had to resign as national security advisor in February 2017 shortly after being appointed due to lying about his Moscow contacts − ended up crumbling several months ago. Special counsel Mueller submitted a report to federal court on Dec. 4, recommending that Flynn should not get prison time in recognition of his “substantial” assistance to the investigation.

At Least 16 of Trump’s Associates Had Russian Contacts

The more than a 1 1/2 year long investigation has brought to light multiple contacts between Russian agents or people close to the Kremlin and Trump’s associates during the campaign and later during the presidential transition process. This Monday, CNN published a count of 16 associates who had such contact. These contacts include the notorious encounter in June 2016 between Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, with the lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who identified herself as being close to Vladimir Putin and promised to supply “dirt” on then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. On December 2016, before Trump had even been sworn in, Gen. Flynn discussed sanctions against Russia for election meddling with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Washington. Recently, Cohen admitted that there had been talks about a real estate project in Moscow until at least June 2016. And Trump adviser Roger Stone met with a Russian man who called himself Henry Greenberg and who also offered damaging information on Clinton in exchange for $2 million. Stone rejected the proposal.

Questions about Possible Impeachment

The illegal payments to silence two women during the campaign, which prosecutors attribute to Trump since last Friday, would qualify as crimes. As a sitting president cannot be indicted − according to the general rule of the Department of Justice − the only way for him to be held accountable before a judge would be through impeachment. With the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives starting in January, the opposition could push the project forward, although it would be an uphill battle in the Senate. But aside from that obstacle, Democrats question the convenience of moving forward with impeachment based on charges currently on the table. As Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler from New York said this weekend, although they would be impeachable offenses, “Whether they’re important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question.” The situation would change if the final conclusions of the investigation identify Trump as being responsible for collaborating with the Kremlin or obstruction of justice.

A String of Indicted People, But Without Proof of Collaboration with Russia

At this stage, special counsel Mueller has filed charges against 33 people (26 of them Russian citizens) and three companies as part of the investigation into the Russian scheme. Those that have been charged include five former Trump advisers (Cohen, Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates and Flynn), but their offenses are not directly connected to coordination with Moscow; rather, many of those have to do with tax fraud or money laundering, lying to the FBI as part of the investigation or working for foreign governments without disclosing the work. Mueller is charged with shedding light on everything that has to do with the Russian scheme, but also any other illegal act he comes across in the wake of the investigation; the payments to Trump’s alleged mistresses is one such example. This is why the case is a headache for the president, even if he repeats ad nauseam that no evidence of collusion has emerged.

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