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The decision by President Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen to plead guilty to making false statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee has been described as nothing short of a “bombshell” capable of taking down the Trump administration.
This impression has only been bolstered by Trump tweeting about it, essentially calling Cohen a Judas and saying he “lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”
The political discernment behind those tweets will be debated for some time to come, or at least until the next news cycle starts in about three hours. Regardless, they did make the president sound like a man who had something to be afraid of.
And therein lies the great problem with the tweets: At least from what we know so far from court documents, fear is probably not the correct reaction.
Author and commentator Paul Sperry, best known of late for his work with the New York Post, analyzed what we know so far about the indictments in an article published Monday by RealClearInvestigations.
Contrary to the en vogue media theory that Cohen’s guilty plea is — at long last — the falling domino that will topple the entire Trump administration, Sperry wrote that what we know thus far from the Cohen filings is actually exculpatory for the president even as Cohen is admitting he lied about how long he was involved in proposed Trump real estate project in Moscow.
“The nine-page charging document filed with the plea deal suggests that the special counsel is using the Moscow tower talks to connect Trump to Russia,” Sperry wrote.
“But congressional investigators with House and Senate committees leading inquiries on the Russia question told RealClearInvestigations that it looks like Mueller withheld from the court details that would exonerate the president. They made this assessment in light of the charging document, known as a statement of ‘criminal information’ (filed in lieu of an indictment when a defendant agrees to plead guilty); a fuller accounting of Cohen’s emails and text messages that Capitol Hill sources have seen; and the still-secret transcripts of closed-door testimony provided by a business associate of Cohen.”
And this includes the putative link to Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the indictment everyone seemed to be mesmerized over.
“On page 7 of the statement of criminal information filed against Cohen, which is separate from but related to the plea agreement, Mueller mentions that Cohen tried to email Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office on Jan. 14, 2016, and again on Jan. 16, 2016,” Sperry wrote.
“But Mueller, who personally signed the document, omitted the fact that Cohen did not have any direct points of contact at the Kremlin, and had resorted to sending the emails to a general press mailbox. Sources who have seen these additional emails point out that this omitted information undercuts the idea of a ‘back channel’ and thus the special counsel’s collusion case.”
“Page 2 of the same criminal information document holds additional exculpatory evidence for Trump, sources say. It quotes an August 2017 letter from Cohen to the Senate intelligence committee in which he states that Trump ‘was never in contact with anyone about this (Moscow Project) proposal other than me,’” he continues.
“This section of Cohen’s written testimony, unlike other parts, is not disputed as false by Mueller, which sources say means prosecutors have tested its veracity through corroborating sources and found it to be accurate.”
Mueller also doesn’t take issue with Cohen’s statement that he “ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia.”
Other sources seemed to indicate that there was less than there might appear in the Cohen plea.
“Though Cohen may have lied to Congress about the dates,” a Capitol Hill investigator told Sperry, “it’s clear from personal messages he sent in 2015 and 2016 that the Trump Organization did not have formal lines of communication set up with Putin’s office or the Kremlin during the campaign. There was no secret ‘back channel.’”
“So as far as collusion goes,” he continued, “the project is actually more exculpatory than incriminating for Trump and his campaign.”
Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen. The Mueller investigation can be a very tight ship when it wants to be and we don’t know everything the special counsel has. We likely won’t know everything until we see Mueller’s final report.
However, what Sperry seems to have collected is a whole lot of evidence that, to quote the inimitable Peter Strzok, “there is no big there there.”
While Cohen was involved with a go-between named Felix Sater who claimed he had some connections with the Russian leader, “the project never went anywhere because Sater didn’t have the pull with Putin he claimed to have. Emails and texts indicate that Sater could only offer Cohen access to one of his acquaintances, who was an acquaintance of someone else who was partners in a real estate development with a friend of Putin’s.”
The Kremlin was never involved with the project in any manner, according to Sperry’s sources, and no one traveled to Russia to try and make the deal happen. In other words, Sater was less connected than that dodgy lawyer who took part in the infamous Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr. Both seem to have gone nowhere.
But tell that to the media.
“The actual texts of the plea deal and related materials filed last week in federal court do not jibe with reports and commentary given on several cable news outlets and comments of Democrat leaders,” Sperry wrote.
“CNN said the charging documents, which reference the president as ‘Individual 1,’ suggest Trump had a working relationship with Russia’s president and that ‘Putin had leverage over Trump’ because of the project.
“’Well into the 2016 campaign, one of the president’s closest associates was in touch with the Kremlin on this project, as we now know, and Michael Cohen says he was lying about it to protect the president,’ said CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.
“’Cohen was communicating directly with the Kremlin,’ Blitzer added.”