Donald Trump has long insisted that he didn’t have or pursue any business deals in Russia. Those claims were false: during the 2016 campaign, the future Republican president and members of his inner circle tried to complete a major real-estate deal in Moscow. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, business associate, and purported “fixer,” was a key player in the process.
We learned two months ago that Cohen lied to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project – a detail that emerged from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation – which ultimately worsened Cohen’s prison sentence. It was a striking development: this was the first time the president’s private business dealings in Moscow became a documented part of Mueller’s investigation.
Last night, however, the story took an even more dramatic turn with this report from BuzzFeed.
President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.
Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.
And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.
As the story goes, after the election, Trump hoped to “obscure” his involvement in the proposed Moscow project, so he instructed Cohen to deceive lawmakers about when the negotiations ended.
At face value, that’s an awfully interesting thing for the president to have been concerned about.
The standard response from the White House’s allies in response to Cohen-related revelations is that the president’s former lawyer is untrustworthy. Perhaps. But in this case, according to BuzzFeed’s report – which hasn’t been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News – the special counsel’s office “learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”
It was at that point that Cohen confirmed what Mueller’s team had uncovered.
It’s not lost on anyone that if the president directed his fixer to lie to Congress, it would take Trump’s troubles to a new, perilous level.
The Washington Post reported this morning that Democratic leaders in Congress reacted to the reportedly revelations “with fury.”
Democrats said that if the report is accurate, Trump must quickly be held to account for his role in the perjury, with some raising the specter of impeachment.
“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date,” wrote Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”
At issue, of course, is whether the president obstructed justice – an allegation that led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and was the first article of impeachment filed against Richard Nixon before he was forced to resign in disgrace.
In fact, the timing is fortuitous. Just this week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked William Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, “If there was some reason to believe that the president tried to coach somebody not to testify or to testify falsely that could be obstruction of justice?”
Barr replied, “Yes.”
In that same hearing, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked the attorney general nominee whether it would be obstruction if a president “persuaded a person to commit perjury.” Barr replied, “Yes.”
Today is likely to be an interesting day.