The most significant scoop in the past few days broke on CNN on Thursday night: according to sources, Michael Cohen is alleging that then-candidate Donald Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which Russians were offering damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, authorized the meeting, and Cohen is willing to tell this to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The significance of this bit of information is that, if it can be verified by other witnesses, documents, or other methods, might not be the smoking gun for collusion but would be a hugely consequential piece of evidence that contradicts much of the existing defense that has been offered by President Trump and others close to him. Why? Look at this tweet from House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff:
Schiff’s timeline leaves out a lot of events (there’s only so much you can do with 280 characters), but the basic implication of his sequence of events is correct: Donald Trump’s alleged advance knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting changes everything we thought we knew at the time, as well as everything he said and did after the meeting: every time he said “No collusion,” every time he tried to float another suspect for the DNC hacks, the time he called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, his decision to fire Jim Comey, Donald Jr’s testimony to the congressional committees investigating Russian election interference… all of those events and comments become suspicious with the benefit of hindsight. If prosecutors can prove this advance knowledge, it could also have a significant impact on Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation into the president.
Curiously, the Trump legal team’s defense hasn’t been to deny the allegation, but to attack Michael Cohen’s credibility as a potential witness for the government. (President Trump denied the story in a Friday morning tweetstorm.) Of course, what Giuliani does not address in that barb is the fact that Donald Trump hired Michael Cohen to work for him, and to take care of sensitive and unsavory matters like paying off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to effectively buy their silence during the 2016 election.
Besides the president, the person who is possibly most at risk from this revelation is Donald Trump Jr. based on the released transcript of his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September of 2017. Note this exchange on page 29, which he said to the committee under oath that would directly contradict what Cohen is alleging:
Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell have both alleged that witnesses lied during their testimony to the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee, though it is not clear if either of them have spoken of the president’s son in this context. If the Democrats win control of the House in November, this explosive issue could be revisited in the new year, culminating in possible prosecutions. In the meantime, the controversy could wind up sidelining Donald Trump Jr. as a surrogate campaigning and fundraising for Republicans for midterms.
As far as the other people who were present for the Trump Tower meeting, we don’t know what – if anything – Jared Kushner may have said about it. Paul Manafort’s criminal trial in Virginia begins next week, so there may be a chance of this subject coming up.
This is coming up in the context of the special master allowing access to more evidence seized by federal agents during the raids on Michael Cohen’s home, office and hotel room last April, although it is not clear in what context this allegation surfaced. Now that prosecutors have access to at least some of the evidence, it would be fair to assume that they are that much closer to getting an indictment against Cohen.
If this information about the Trump Tower meeting surfaced as part of the evidence collected for the investigation handled by the Southern District of New York, then it becomes highly relevant to Robert Mueller’s separate and more expansive investigation. In other words, the two legal storylines are beginning to converge over this one hugely explosive issue. Lanny Davis – who provided CNN the audio recording of the Trump-Cohen phone call – denied that the leak came from Cohen’s end.
Perhaps the most consequential and ultimately dangerous revelation of the Trump-Cohen recording is Cohen’s mentioning of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer. The Wall Street Journal reported that Weisselberg has been called to testify as a witness before the grand jury that is hearing the Southern District of New York’s criminal case against Cohen. According to experts, Weisselberg, who was first hired as an accountant by Donald Trump’s father in the 1970s, has intimate knowledge of the family and organization’s finances, including the president ’s net worth. To paraphrase a cliché being used by Trumpologists on television networks, Weisselberg is a man who knows where the bodies are buried. And now, he will have to answer questions about the president and the company’s finances under oath.