On Friday afternoon, the Mueller team and the Special Prosecutors Office for the Southern District of New York submitted a series of memos dealing with their investigation on Russian collusion, obstruction, and campaign illegalities. In response, the left wing media went abuzz citing the damning implications of the release. One article by Erica Orden and Marshall Cohen of CNN claimed that “Federal prosecutors said for the first time Friday that Michael Cohen acted at the direction of Donald Trump when the former fixer committed two election-related crimes. . . ” It also claimed that the memos “exposed deeper entanglements than previously known between Trump, his campaign apparatus and the Russian government, . . .” including a claim of “‘political synergy'” between Moscow and Cohen. Meanwhile, The New York Times headlined a prosecutorial charge that “Trump Directed Illegal Payments During Campaign.”
In fact, the memos contained little by way of new material, and some of the cited comments were actually mere corollary references to the President with little indication of illegality on his part.
The memos, available at The Federalist Pages Library, are part of the ongoing prosecutorial wrangling against Trump allies Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. In Cohen’s case, the two memos represent sentencing recommendations by the prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and Robert Mueller. The federal prosecutors recommended “a substantial term of imprisonment” for Cohen while Mueller was much more cryptic stating only that the sentence should “reflect the fact that lying to federal investigators has real consequences, especially where the defendant lied to investigators about critical facts, in an investigation of national importance.”
But of more interest to the media were the comments implicating Cohen in Russian collusion or campaign finance violations on behalf of, or in coordination with, the President of the United States. And although the press is doing its best to spin the published comments, in point of fact, no such allegations were made.
First, any objective analysis of these memos must acknowledge that neither refers to the actions of President Trump. They specifically discuss and detail the actions of Michael Cohen. In those instances where Trump is mentioned, the references are made solely with regard to the Cohen’s actions. The prosecutor’s memo spends some time discussing potential campaign financing violations by Candidate Trump from the standpoint of Michael Cohen. The allegations made regarding the President, if any, are actually those made by Cohen. In other words, there is no independent evidence presented that President Trump actually did anything wrong. There are contemporaneous comments made by Cohen where he claimed he was acting on behalf of candidate Trump and that he was facilitating Trump’s campaign, but these are hearsay comments made by a discredited party sounding like nothing more than boastful and hollow fluffery.
The references to potential Cohen participation in illegal campaign activity present no new insights or information regarding any potential violations on the part of Candidate Trump. The memos spend a considerable time detailing the previously disclosed events surrounding alleged payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. But the narrative provides no new details on the events nor does it provide any information regarding any orders from Candidate Trump. More importantly, the memo does nothing to address the issue of intent on the part of Candidate Trump, a necessary element in any case regarding campaign-finance violations. Specifically, the memo does nothing to clarify whether Candidate Trump desired to silence the women to keep him from falling into a negative light with his wife and in his business dealings, or whether this was primarily a campaign concern as would be required in a successful prosecution of Trump.
The second issue discussed in the Mueller memo is Cohen’s involvement in Trump’s dealings with the Russians and the possibility of cooperation between the two in influencing the outcome of the presidential election. Here, the memos offered no evidence that such activities took place. As a matter of fact, they dealt only with Trump’s legal real estate dealings with Russian nationals.
The Manafort memorandum is even less helpful to a potential case against President Trump because it is so heavily redacted. Just as in the Cohen memos, it deals not provide allegations against Trump. Specifically, the memo makes the case that Manafort engaged in numerous lies after his plea agreement in 2018.
Despite the paucity of information regarding the President and any wrongdoing on his part, the media are doing everything in their power to divine implications that simply do not exist. CNN’s and The New York Times’ comments regarding the President having directed Cohen to commit election related crimes is simply not true. The claim comes from a sentence in the prosecutors’ memo detailing an admission by Cohen. Specifically, the memo says, “In Particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination and at the direction of Individual 1.” (Individual 1 in the memo is Candidate Trump.) As is clearly evident, this sentence provides no independent evidence that President Trump actually directed the payments in question. Rather, it is merely a recitation of the claim made by the already discredited Michael Cohen. And even if Candidate Trump did direct the payments in question, one cannot conclude based on the information gathered, that the payments were illegal as CNN prematurely asserts.
The comment of “political synergy” alluded to by CNN is even more deceitful. This one comes from the Mueller memo describing a Russian national repeatedly offering Cohen the opportunity to arrange for “‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level,'” an invitation that Mueller specifies Cohen “never follow[ed] up on.”
In the end, the media’s enthusiasm over the contents of these memos is overplayed, once again demonstrating their zeal to go after the President no matter how fictitious an allegation may be. Although Friday’s claim by the President that he had been completely vindicated by the contents of the memos is overly enthusiastic, to say the least, the media’s claim that these memos contained anything threatening against the President is downright unfounded.
Once again, we will have to wait for the production of further documents on the part of federal prosecutors before a definitive conclusion can be made. But this much can be gleaned. With the information available, Mueller is no closer to establishing a case against Trump today, than he was one year ago.