Rantt Rundown: Michael Cohen’s Fixer Fund
Day 470 of the Trump presidency
Today, The Wall Street Journal (The WSJ) published a report that indicates we have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to President Trump’s personal lawyer (and fixer) Michael Cohen:
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, gained access to as much as $774,000 through two financial transactions during the 2016 presidential campaign as he sought to fix problems for his boss, public records show.
Those transactions could factor into a broad investigation of Mr. Cohen’s business affairs being conducted by Manhattan federal prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who are examining whether Mr. Cohen violated any laws in his efforts to raise cash and conceal negative information about Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the matter. Those include transactions tied to his credit line and his ownership of real estate and taxi medallions, the people said.
Cohen reportedly obtained the $774,000 through a home-equity line of credit. As we know, Cohen paid $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) in October, 2016 to keep her quiet about her 2006 affair with Donald Trump. As part of the criminal investigation being conducted by federal investigators in the Southern District of New York, Cohen is being probed for potential bank fraud and potentially violating election law by trying to suppress damning information about then-candidate Donald Trump. The WSJ reports:
As part of a broad effort to determine how Mr. Cohen got access to cash and what he did with it, federal prosecutors and the FBI are examining whether Mr. Cohen committed bank fraud by making false statements inflating the value of his assets to obtain loans or by misstating the intended purpose of the loans, these people said.
Investigators also are examining whether he violated federal election law by making unreported campaign contributions exceeding the federal limit of $5,400 to Mr. Trump in that election cycle, as well as possible other crimes stemming from his payments to cover up problems, the people said.
Prosecutors will want to document “every penny” flowing through Mr. Cohen’s accounts during the presidential campaign, said Alex Little, a former federal prosecutor in Washington who is now a defense lawyer and has no firsthand knowledge of the Cohen investigation.
As we saw this week, one of President Trump’s newest legal representatives, Rudy Giuliani told Hannity that this payment was reimbursed and that President Trump knew about it. The following morning, Giuliani claimed that the payment was related to the campaign. Giuliani tried to roll that back in interviews and a statement today. He denied campaign violations and claimed that the President did not know about the payment at the time. President Trump claimed that Giuliani just started this job and would get his facts straight.
Let’s be clear here: President Trump never had his facts straight. The President lied about not being aware of this payment. Then Giuliani admitted he was aware. Now, they’re trying to spin their lies.
Deception is a fragile foundation for a house of cards.
One claim of this is that has remained consistent with Giuliani and Trump is that Cohen was reimbursed through his $35k monthly retainer. Giuliani went as far as to say Cohen was reimbursed up to $470,000 (later revising it down to $420,000).
This is important because Giuliani did mention that the retainer was used to reimburse Cohen for other matters, as The WSJ notes:
Mr. Giuliani this week said the president had reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the Clifford payment through a $35,000-a-month retainer, and indicated Mr. Trump reimbursed Mr. Cohen for other matters as well.
What this looks like: Cohen may have obtained this money to essentially serve as a fixer account to draw from and pay off various issues for Donald Trump. So what was the rest of the money used for? Did Cohen reimburse the National Enquirer for paying former Playboy Model Karen McDougal $150,000 to suppress a story about her affair with Trump? Was more hush money paid out? What other things did Michael Cohen “fix?”
A federal judge expressed deep skepticism Friday in the bank fraud case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, at one point saying he believes that Mueller’s motivation is to oust President Donald Trump from office.
Although Mueller’s authority has been tested in court before, Friday’s hearing was notable for District Judge T.S. Ellis’ decision to wade into the divisive political debate around the investigation.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” Ellis said to prosecutor Michael Dreeben, at times losing his temper. Ellis said prosecutors were interested in Manafort because of his potential to provide material that would lead to Trump’s “prosecution or impeachment,” Ellis said.
But some claimed this is not what it seems.
Also, Mueller’s mandate was expanded in scope lawfully by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Speaking of Rosenstein…
- Rosenstein delivered remarks at the Bar Association of Montgomery County’s Law Day Celebration and made a strong argument for why he isn’t complying with the House Republican’s efforts to obtain an unredacted copy of Rosenstein’s August 2017 memo that expanded the scope of Mueller’s probe.
- As House Republicans make their “demands” for more documents, CNN reported that Nunes didn’t even bother to read the documents he yelled for last time around.
President Trump has ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for drawing down American troops in South Korea, just weeks before he holds a landmark meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, according to several people briefed on the deliberations.
Reduced troop levels are not intended to be a bargaining chip in Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Kim about his weapons program, these officials said. But they acknowledged that a peace treaty between the two Koreas could diminish the need for the 28,500 soldiers currently stationed on the peninsula.
This came as President Trump told reporters, without giving specifics, a date and location are set for the upcoming summit with North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un. (I highly suggest you read this excellent piece from The New Yorker’s Robin Wright on Un’s trip to South Korea, his motivations, and what’s behind his latest pivot.)
- The Trump administration is ending temporary protected status for 57,000 immigrants from Honduras who have been here since 1999.
- The Guardian reported:
The government of Qatar bought a $6.5m apartment in one of Donald Trump’s New York towers soon after the dismissal of a lawsuit that tried to stop the president benefiting from such deals.
Qatar’s mission to the United Nations signed a deal for the condominium at Trump World Tower on 17 January, according to city records. The purchase means that the Middle Eastern state now owns four units in the building, for which it paid $16.5m.
- CBS News reported:
Less than two months ago the State Department hosted members of the White Helmets at Foggy Bottom. At the time, the humanitarian group was showered with praise for saving lives in Syria.
“Our meetings in March were very positive. There were even remarks from senior officials about long-term commitments even into 2020. There were no suggestions whatsoever about stopping support,” Raed Saleh, the group’s leader, told CBS News.
Now they are not getting any U.S funding as the State Department says the support is “under active review.” The U.S had accounted for about a third of the group’s overall funding.
- President Trump spoke at the NRA’s annual meeting in Dallas, Texas.
- The unemployment rate dropped to 3.9%, the lowest rate it’s been at since 2000.
- The news of the swampy behavior of EPA Director Scott Pruitt continued to mount. CNN reported:
A CNN analysis has found that embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt paid himself nearly $65,000 in reimbursements from his two campaigns for Oklahoma attorney general, a move at least one election watchdog has sharply criticized as being recorded so vaguely that there was no way to tell if such payments were lawful.
One force behind Pruitt’s eclectic agenda: casino magnate and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, a major supporter of Israel who arranged parts of Pruitt’s visit.
The Israel trip was canceled days before Pruitt’s planned departure, after The Washington Post revealed his penchant for first-class travel on the taxpayers’ dime. But federal documents obtained by The Post and interviews with individuals familiar with the trip reveal that it fit a pattern by Pruitt of planning foreign travel with significant help from outside interests, including lobbyists, Republican donors and conservative activists.
After taking office last year, Pruitt drew up a list of at least a dozen countries he hoped to visit and urged aides to help him find official reasons to travel, according to four people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal agency deliberations. Pruitt then enlisted well-connected friends and political allies to help make the trips happen.