Donald J. Trump was more involved in discussions over a potential Russian business deal during the presidential campaign than previously known, his former lawyer Michael D. Cohen said Thursday in pleading guilty to lying to Congress. Mr. Trump’s associates pursued the project as the Kremlin was escalating its election sabotage effort meant to help him win the presidency.
Mr. Trump’s participation in discussions about building a grand skyscraper in Moscow showed how the interests of his business empire were enmeshed with his political ambitions as he was closing in on the Republican nomination for president. During the early months of 2016, when the business discussions were taking place, he was publicly pressing for warmer relations between the United States and Russia and an end to economic sanctions imposed by the Obama administration, policy positions that might have benefited his family business.
Court documents made public by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, detailed new accusations against Mr. Cohen, the president’s former fixer, who already pleaded guilty this year to committing campaign finance violations and financial crimes. Mr. Cohen was the point person at the Trump Organization for negotiating a deal for the Moscow project, and on Thursday he admitted lying to congressional investigators about the duration of the negotiations and the extent of the involvement of Mr. Trump — who is identified in the court documents as “Individual 1.”
After pleading guilty in a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday morning, Mr. Cohen said that he made the false statements to Congress out of loyalty to the president and to align with Mr. Trump’s “political messaging.”
Mr. Cohen’s cooperation with the special counsel’s investigation raises the possibility that he might have information about the central focus of the inquiry: whether President Trump or any of his associates conspired with Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 election. And it was the second time that Mr. Cohen has imperiled the presidency; he said in court in New York in August that Mr. Trump directed hush money payments during the 2016 campaign to conceal potential sex scandals.
The Trump Tower discussions were occurring as Russia ramped up its sabotage campaign, the information provided on Thursday by Mr. Cohen showed, though the documents do not say whether any of Mr. Trump’s advisers were aware of the Russian disruption effort. According to a grand jury indictment made public this year, Russian intelligence operatives hacked the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman in March 2016. That same month, an obscure professor whom Mr. Mueller’s team has identified as a likely cutout for Russian intelligence began courting a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos.
Mr. Cohen admitted that the discussions about Trump Tower Moscow went on for at least six months after he had told Congress they had ended. They lasted until at least June 14, 2016, when Mr. Cohen met in New York with an associate who had been trying to arrange his trip to Russia, and told him he would not be traveling “at that time,” court documents said. Mr. Cohen also discussed the deal in a 20-minute phone call with a Russian government employee.
That same day, The Washington Post reported that Russian operatives had infiltrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee — the first public evidence of Moscow’s campaign to disrupt the election.
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Mr. Cohen said on Thursday that he discussed the status of the project with Mr. Trump on more than the three occasions he had previously acknowledged and briefed Mr. Trump’s family members about it.
Some of those exchanges, which continued until January 2016, included the president’s children Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., both of whom are executives at the Trump Organization, according to three people familiar with the documents that the company turned over to Mr. Mueller’s team.
In one email exchange in 2015, Ms. Trump made a suggestion about the architecture, according to two of the people familiar with the messages.
Donald Trump Jr. appeared to have replied to only one message, saying “Cool” in response to an update about the project, the people said.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen discussed Mr. Trump himself traveling to Russia after the Republican National Convention, though that trip never materialized.
Mr. Trump defended his role in the Trump Tower Moscow discussions, brushing aside concerns that he was advancing his business interests at the time he was hoping to become president.
“There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?” he said to reporters as he left Washington for the Group of 20 meeting in Buenos Aires.
“We decided — I decided ultimately — not to do it,” he said, adding, “There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it.”
Fox’s Pete Hegseth Promoted Senate Candidate on Show After Being Paid By Michigan GOP
We don’t really need more evidence to know that Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth is a Republican shill. After all, this is the guy who responded to the March for Our Lives by mocking teenage victims of gun violence and stating on-air that he had donated to the National Rifle Association in the wake of Parkland school massacre.
Now, Media Matters for America is reporting that last May, the Livingston County Republican Committee in Michigan paid him over $10,000 to be a keynote speaker at a Lincoln Day Dinner featuring GOP Senate candidate John James. Those payments were issued to Premiere Speakers Bureau, which represents Hegseth, over a period of five months this year, Media Matters for America said.
James, who was backed by President Donald Trump, lost to three-term Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in last month’s midterm elections. Before that election, Hegseth, who admits he’s not a journalist, hosted James on Fox & Friends Weekend four times in the lead-up to the campaign. And as the report points out, Hegseth did not disclose to his viewers that he had been paid by the GOP committee.
Per Media Matters for America:
-On September 9, Hegseth told James that his race is “one to watch, for sure, largely because of a strong candidacy you’re running.”
-On October 14, Hegseth told James that “whatever you’re doing is working, according to the polls, and I don’t always believe [polling].” Echoing the candidate’s own talking point, Hegseth later asked James: “What is the most important fresh perspective that is resonating with people in your state?”
-On October 28, Hegseth suggested that James was “closing the gap against his Democratic opponent,” telling him that his message “seems to be resonating in your race” based on “recent poll numbers in the Michigan Senate race” which showed James “trailing by, you know, seven points, which is a lot less than where you were, and if you consider the margin of error, it could even be closer than that.”
Other Fox employees also have used their high-visibility platform to shamelessly promote Trump and other Republicans. The most notorious recent example was an appearance by Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro alongside Trump at a campaign rally in Missouri in early November. Following that event, Fox issued a disingenuous statement claiming it “does not condone any talent participating in campaign events.” The network added that, “This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.”
Media Matters for America also reported that Pirro has received over $200,000 in speaking fees from over a dozen GOP organizations in the past two years.
Fox did not respond to a request for comment by Media Matters for America. My guess is that they don’t have much to say.
Why Trump turned back to tough tariff talk
Auto tariffs were the big takeaway from this weekend’s meeting between President Trump and Chinese leaders. The aim was to de-escalate the trade war, but the real threat to American auto jobs isn’t Chinese tariffs on US-made cars. It’s Beijing’s plan to flood the US with cut-rate cars made with low-paid labor.
After the trade powwow, Trump advisers reported that China will drop or remove its punitive 40 percent tariff on autos imported from the US. Don’t pop the champagne corks: Removing Chinese tariffs on US autos will do almost nothing for our autoworkers.
The big three US automakers will tell you “we build where we sell.” They’ve moved operations to China, because the Asian giant is where the US was in 1925 in terms of car ownership, with plenty of first-time buyers. Ford reports, for example, that only 2 percent of its vehicles sold in China are made here.
Likewise, GM makes more cars in China than it does here, and the company sells more in China. The truth is that GM is more Chinese than it is American.
Back in the United States, the problem ahead is the coming wave of cheap Chinese-made cars. It’s a rerun of what Japan and South Korea did in the 1970s and ’80s. Their low-priced cars killed thousands of jobs in auto-producing states like Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.
Now five Chinese auto companies plan to sell in America within two years. Chinese auto workers make on average $11,000 a year, per Auto Express magazine.
No wonder Chinese negotiators say they want both sides to scrap all tariffs. It’s a trick. Fortunately, Trump doesn’t seem to be falling for it. “I’m a Tariff Man,” the president tweeted on Tuesday. He’s appointed a hard-line, pro-tariff US trade rep, Robert Lighthizer, to spearhead the Chinese negotiations.
It’s a sign Trump appreciates that tariffs are vital to staving off more disasters like the GM plant closings announced last month.
On Nov. 26, GM CEO Mary Barra blindsided the nation, announcing that the company is shuttering four US factories — including the Lordstown, Ohio, plant that makes the Chevy Cruze, and the iconic Detroit-Hamtramck plant that produces the Chevy Volt and other sedans.
The closings will lay off 3,300 production workers and 15 percent of GM’s white-collar workforce. Barra’s justification is that its sedans aren’t selling, and the closings are needed to “stay in front of a fast-changing market.” Investors agreed. GM stock soared.
Though longtime employees can move to other GM plants, many workers will end up in low-paying jobs or unemployed. In towns like Hamtramck, stores will be boarded up and rows of houses will be for sale.
In 2016, candidate Trump pledged to prevent such outcomes. Trumbull County, home of the Lordstown plant, went for Trump after giving President Barack Obama a 22-point margin in 2012.
Hearing GM’s grim announcement last week, Trump immediately called for tariffs. He pointed to the 25 percent tariff imposed on light trucks since 1964, which has guaranteed US dominance of the pickup and SUV markets ever since. “If we did that with cars coming in, many more cars would be built here,” the president tweeted, “and GM would not be closing their plants in Ohio, Michigan [and] Maryland.”
Trump also improved protections for US auto jobs when he renegotiated the trade pact with Mexico and Canada, announced last week. Pending congressional approval, the pact requires that at least 75 percent of a car’s value — meaning parts and labor — originate in North America for the car to be duty-free. That’s up from 62.5 percent under NAFTA.
The move will force companies that assemble in Mexico, like Nissan and Volkswagen, to use North American-made parts. To protect US wages, nearly half of all the parts will have to be made by workers earning at least $16 an hour — a jab at Mexico, which has some of the lowest auto wages in the world.
GM’s Barra is coming to Washington this week with mea culpas. But GM’s future as a company is largely in China and other new, foreign markets. Fortunately, Trump has American auto workers’ backs.
Mueller Exposes the Culture of Lying That Surrounds Trump
When Michael D. Cohen admitted this past week to lying to Congress about a Russian business deal, he said he had testified falsely out of loyalty to President Trump. When he admitted this summer to lying on campaign finance records about payments to cover up a sex scandal during the campaign, he said it was at Mr. Trump’s direction.
Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, former senior Trump campaign officials, lied to cover up financial fraud. George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide, lied in hopes of landing an administration job. And Michael T. Flynn, another adviser, lied about his interactions with a Russian official and about other matters for reasons that remain unclear.
If the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has proved anything in his 18-month-long investigation — besides how intensely Russia meddled in an American presidential election — it is that Mr. Trump surrounded himself throughout 2016 and early 2017 with people to whom lying seemed to be second nature.
They lied to federal authorities even when they had lawyers advising them, even when the risk of getting caught was high and even when the consequences for them were dire.
Even more Trump associates are under investigation for the same offense. They are part of a group of people surrounding Mr. Trump — including some White House and cabinet officials — who contribute to a culture of bending, if not outright breaking, the truth, and whose leading exemplar is Mr. Trump himself.
Mr. Trump looks for people who share his disregard for the truth and are willing to parrot him, “even if it’s a lie, even if they know it’s a lie, and even if he said the opposite the day before,” said Gwenda Blair, a Trump biographer. They must be “loyal to what he is saying right now,” she said, or he sees them as “a traitor.”
Campaign aides often echoed Mr. Trump’s pronouncements knowing they were false. People joined the top levels of his administration with the realization that they would be expected to embrace what Mr. Trump said, no matter how far from the truth or how much their reputations suffered.
For Sean Spicer, the first White House press secretary, that included falsely insisting, on Mr. Trump’s first day in office, that his inaugural crowd was the biggest in history. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who replaced him, dialed back once-daily news briefings to once every few weeks as her credibility was increasingly battered.
For decades, such behavior was relatively free of consequence for those who aligned with Mr. Trump. The stakes in the real estate world were lower, and deceptive statements could be dismissed as hardball business tactics or just efforts to cultivate the Trump mystique.
But in Mr. Mueller, those in Mr. Trump’s orbit now confront a big-league adversary with little tolerance for what one top White House adviser once called “alternative facts.” He leads a team of prosecutors and F.B.I. agents who are methodically and purposefully examining their words and deeds.
Mr. Trump’s own lawyers, wary of how frequently their client engages in falsehoods, are trying to hold the special counsel at bay. Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, has already been forced to pull back his own public remarks about an issue of concern to Mr. Mueller.
In a confidential memo to the special counsel, Mr. Trump’s legal team admitted that the president, not his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., drafted a misleading statement about a Trump Tower meeting in 2016 between a Kremlin-tied lawyer and campaign officials. That statement could figure in the special counsel’s scrutiny of whether the president obstructed justice.
Fearful of more deceptions, the president’s legal team has insisted that Mr. Trump answer questions only in writing. They delivered replies to some of the special counsel’s queries on Nov. 20 after months of negotiation. If unsatisfied, Mr. Mueller could try to subpoena the president to testify.
But the new acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, a vocal critic of Mr. Mueller’s inquiry who now supervises it, would have to sign off. And even if he did, the White House could still mount a legal battle to quash it.
Many witnesses or subjects of the inquiry lack the president’s negotiating power or resources. Some have been stunned by their encounters with prosecutors, who arrive armed with thick binders documenting their text messages, emails and whereabouts on any given date.
Sam Nunberg, a former longtime adviser to Mr. Trump, said he feared that the special counsel was creating the impression of a wide-ranging conspiracy among liars, when witnesses could have dispelled much of the suspicion simply by testifying truthfully.
“People are conspiring against themselves, and they are playing right into Mueller’s hands,” he said. “If Flynn had said he discussed sanctions, he could very well be national security adviser today,” he added. Instead, Mr. Flynn awaits sentencing for lying to F.B.I. agents about various matters, including his talks with the Russian ambassador over whether the new administration would lift sanctions against Russia.
The reasons for the lies vary, but, not surprisingly, people were most often trying to protect themselves. Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s longtime fixer, said in federal court this past week that he had misled Congress about the details of a Trump hotel project in Moscow because he did not want to contradict the president’s own false characterizations of his business dealings in Moscow. He specifically cited his loyalty to Mr. Trump, referred to as “Individual 1” in court papers, as the reason for his crime.
“I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1,” Mr. Cohen told a judge. In a sentencing memo filed late Friday, Mr. Cohen emphasized that in the weeks before he misled Congress about the deal, he remained in “close and regular contact with White House-based staff,” as well as with Mr. Trump’s lawyers.
While the Moscow hotel was never built, Mr. Cohen’s court filing suggested that Mr. Trump at best minimized his knowledge of the proposed venture, both as a candidate and once he had been elected. Nearly two dozen times, Mr. Trump has publicly insisted that he had no business dealings in Russia.
But Mr. Cohen, who discussed the hotel project with the aide to a key Kremlin official in early 2016, said in Friday’s court filing that he kept Mr. Trump apprised of negotiations that continued through June of that year, just before Mr. Trump formally became the Republican nominee.
Mr. Manafort is accused of lying on top of lying. As part of a September plea deal, he acknowledged that he had lied to the Justice Department about his business dealings and that he had also tried to persuade witnesses to lie to investigators on his behalf. On Monday, prosecutors said that he continued to lie after he had agreed to cooperate with them, breaching his plea deal. His lawyers insist he told the truth.
Mr. Trump has been Mr. Mueller’s most vociferous critic, accusing his team of manufacturing lies by threatening witnesses with severe consequences if they refuse to agree with the special counsel’s narrative.
What prosecutors have called lies, Mr. Trump has insisted is truth. What they called truth, he has framed as lies.
Where all this is headed is unclear, but it appears that more allegations of lying are ahead. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which has also been investigating Russia’s interference in the election, has referred other cases to the special counsel’s office involving witnesses who may have lied.
Prosecutors are investigating whether two or more people, including a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, Roger J. Stone Jr., lied about WikiLeaks, the rogue organization that distributed Democratic emails and other documents stolen by Russian intelligence as part of Moscow’s campaign to influence the 2016 election. Mr. Mueller’s team has been trying to determine whether anyone with the Trump campaign conspired with WikiLeaks or the Russian government to bolster Mr. Trump’s chances of winning the White House.
Jerome Corsi, a conservative author, has cast doubt on whether Mr. Stone testified truthfully to Congress about what inspired a Twitter message he posted in the summer of 2016. In it, Mr. Stone predicted, with a missing verb, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
Mr. Corsi said he had helped Mr. Stone concoct a “cover story” for the message so that it would not appear Mr. Stone had advance knowledge that WikiLeaks planned to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign by releasing emails stolen from the computer of her campaign chairman, John D. Podesta. He said Mr. Stone then incorporated those falsehoods into his congressional testimony — an allegation that Mr. Stone vehemently denies.
But in a turnabout, Mr. Corsi said prosecutors had now accused him of lying to them about other communications he had with Mr. Stone regarding WikiLeaks. He claims his only crime is a faulty memory.
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