Mueller investigation: Probes involving Trump associates are becoming difficult for the president to ignore

Analysis: As people like his former long-term lawyer Michael Cohen refuse to fade away, the White House may need a new strategy for dealing with them

Chris Stevenson
New York
Saturday 15 December 2018 02:27
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Former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen leaves court after being sentenced to three years in prison

The interview that Michael Cohen gave ABC News on Friday morning should show Donald Trump one thing; that until he surrenders to begin a three-year prison sentence next March, he is unlikely to go away.

Cohen said that he was “done being loyal” to the president having been sentenced over a number of charges, including campaign finance violations for arranging payments during the 2016 election to silence women who have claimed to have affairs with Trump.

“I’m done with the lying,” the president’s former lawyer said. “I’m done being loyal to President Trump. My first loyalty belongs to my wife, my daughter, my son and this country.”

Cohen has implicated Trump in his criminal conduct, although the president has said he has done nothing illegal and the payments are a civil matter at worst.

Asked why he should be believed, Cohen said: “Because the special counsel stated emphatically that the information that I gave to them is credible and helpful. There’s a substantial amount of information that they possess that corroborates the fact that I am telling the truth.”

Up until now, as Mr Trump’s former associates – including former campaign manager Paul Manafort – have faced convictions or agreed plea deals with special counsel Robert Mueller, the president has sought to distance himself and move past the news as quickly as he can.

While his anger at the Mueller-Russia probe has run into hundreds of tweets, individuals such as Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Manafort appear relatively rarely.

Trump’s White House did the same on Friday, as it sought to play down another reported federal investigation, this one into spending for the president’s inauguration in 2016 and whether some of the inaugural committee’s donors made contributions in exchange for political favours and access to the Trump administration. Any such behaviour, according to The Wall Street Journal, which broke the report of the investigation, would be a potential violation of federal corruption laws.

When asked if there were any “improprieties” with the inauguration funding, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said: “The president of the United States has one job at the inauguration. It’s to show up … This charge has nothing to do with the president of the United States, and it has nothing to do with this administration.” The inaugural committee said it was unaware of any investigations.

However, if Cohen is pledging to be a thorn in the side of the president, the mounting investigations become difficult to ignore.

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Mueller’s probe into election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign appears to be gathering pace, with Flynn another one to be criticised by the special counsel’s office on Friday.

Mueller’s team was responding to the suggestion from Flynn’s lawyers that he had lied to federal investigators – a crime he is due to be sentenced for next week – as he had not been made aware that it is a crime.

As the various elements of the probe such as hearings and sentencing begin to come thick and fast, the Trump White House cannot deal with them individually. The news cycles overlap and any strategy to compartmentalise them becomes less tenable.

Trump has denied any guilt in all elements of the investigations involving his associates, declaring “no collusion” and calling Mueller’s probe in particular a “witch hunt”. But as the latest developments fill the news day after day, the president can seemingly no longer try to ignore them.

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