A number of interesting facts emerge from the documents filed by special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday in the cases against Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, but the submissions have one thing in common: both implicate unnamed members of the Trump administration.
In a sentencing memo filed in the case against Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Mueller notes topics about which Cohen has provided information. Mueller states that Cohen provided “relevant and useful information concerning contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 time period.” The document does not identify any of these persons by name. Considering that Mueller’s mandate is to investigate links between Russia and the Trump campaign relating to interference in the 2016 presidential election, this statement is significant. The term “relevant” suggests that the contacts relate to the focus of the investigation, that is, election interference. And the term “useful” implies that the information has advanced the investigation in some meaningful way.
Mueller’s sentencing memo against Cohen also says that Cohen has provided “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.” It is clear from the context of the document that “Company” means the Trump Organization. “Core” to Mueller’s investigation, of course, is election interference.
As both of these references indicate, although Cohen’s convictions relate to campaign finance violations, fraud, tax offenses, and lying to Congress, his cooperation seems to be bringing Mueller closer to Trump’s inner circle.
Similarly, the memo filed in the case against Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, references members of the administration. In this document, Mueller accuses Manafort of lying about having contact with administration officials.
The special counsel states that although Manafort said that he had not had any contact with officials while they were serving in the administration, other evidence refuted his claim. A text exchange from May shows that Manafort authorized a person to speak with an administration official on his behalf. In addition, a Manafort colleague said that Manafort had been in communication with a senior administration official through February. Manafort’s own electronic documents, obtained by the government in a search, showed additional contacts with administration officials. This contradiction came despite Manafort’s incentive to cooperate in hopes of earning leniency in his sentencing.
Despite the risk to his best chance to earn a reduction in his potential prison time, Manafort lied about these contacts, among other things. Why would he lie about communicating with administration officials? Is it because they were coordinating their stories to obstruct the investigation? People tend to obstruct an investigation only if the truth is something that they want to hide.
The Manafort document indicates that he lied about other matters as well, including Konstantin Kilimnik, his Russian business associate and his co-defendant in a conspiracy to tamper with witnesses.
In court filings, Mueller has referred to Kilimnik as having ties to Russian intelligence that were active through the 2016 election. Manafort’s relationship with Kilimnik is intriguing in light of the allegations of coordination with Russia to interfere with the election. Consider that Manafort came to work for the Trump campaign for free at a time when his business was failing, he was heavily in debt and was desperate for cash. Shortly thereafter, Manafort sent Kilimnik an email message suggesting that they offer a private briefing about the Trump campaign to a Russian oligarch. Manafort also queried how he could use his new position as campaign chairman “to get whole.” And shortly before the Republican convention, the GOP platform was changed to weaken support for Ukraine, a position that favored Russia. Are these the matters about which Manafort has lied to Mueller? And are these matters related in any way to his communications to administration officials?
None of the crimes of which Cohen and Manafort were convicted involve interference with the election, but these documents indicate that Mueller is edging ever closer to identifying links between Russia’s efforts and members of the Trump administration.