While President Donald Trump spends this week at his New Jersey golf retreat, legal action continues to churn on a variety of fronts related to the question of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, actions taken by the Trump Campaign, and activities of one of Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyers, as the President on Monday again denounced the direction of the investigation, arguing that Democrats were just as guilty of collusion with the Russians during the last election.
After issuing as series of tweets on Sunday in which he denied wrongdoing by his son, Donald Trump Jr., and denied knowing about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower involving a Russian lawyer offering ‘dirt’ on the Hillary Clinton campaign, the President seems likely to see more developments as he takes his White House break this week.
Here is some of what the President may be keeping tabs on:
1. Second week of the Paul Manafort trial. Last week, the President compared the legal plight of his former campaign manager to legendary gangster Al Capone, who was finally tripped up by the feds on tax evasion charges. Manafort right now is going through a trial in a Virginia federal court on tax evasion and bank fraud charges. So far, the testimony has been mainly from people who worked with Manafort’s finances, detailing illegal actions on his taxes and finances, as five different witnesses have been granted limited immunity in exchange for their testimony in this case. This week could also feature testimony from Manafort’s former right hand man Rick Gates, who not only worked with Manafort during the time that he was paid big money by the government of Ukraine, but also was a top deputy to Manafort on the Trump campaign, and stayed on after Manafort left, ultimately working as deputy chairman on the Trump inaugural committee. Gates has already plead guilty in the Russia investigation, and is cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office. If Gates testifies this week, look for him to get a rigorous cross-examination by Manafort’s attorneys. Again, while this trial is not about Russian interference, even the judge has openly said he knows the feds are trying to use it to pressure Manafort into cooperating against the President.
2. Trump says effort to get Clinton dirt ‘went nowhere.’ The President himself stirred more interest in what he knows about the Russia investigation on Sunday, when he went on Twitter, and fully acknowledged that the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer said to be a Kremlin intermediary, was all about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. The President rejected news reports that he is worried about legal jeopardy for his son, Donald Trump Jr., who along with Paul Manafort, and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, attended that meeting. The President’s tweet was a direct confirmation that the original cover story about that meeting – put out by the White House, Trump lawyers, and Trump Jr. – was not true. This was not a get together about U.S.-Russian adoption policies. This was an effort to get campaign help from intermediaries who said it was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” This was the White House explanation to reporters from August of 2017.
3. Still no deal on a Mueller-Trump interview. While the President keeps saying that it is time to end the Russia investigation, his legal team continues to wrangle with the office of the Special Counsel over possible testimony by the President. One of the President’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, told ABC’s “This Week” that any attempt to subpoena the President would result in an extended legal fight, which might even make it to the U.S. Supreme Court. And Sekulow made clear on Sunday that no final decision has been made on whether the President will actually answer any queries by Mueller’s team.
4. Feds continue to get information from Cohen raid. While the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections goes on, lawyers for the President are also still going through items seized in an FBI raid from earlier this year on ex-Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen. The special master appointed by a federal judge to rule on claims of material that might be considered off limits because of attorney-client privilege continues to churn through those materials – last week she handed over another 531 items to federal prosecutors in New York, while refusing to turn over 1,315 other items, because of their privileged or personal nature. While there is a lot of focus on the Russia probe, the Cohen situation is also a legal matter which can’t be shrugged off by the White House.
5. If you’re wondering, this Cohen review ain’t cheap. The work being done by the special master in the Michael Cohen case, former federal judge Barbara Jones is not pro bono – by any means. Working through her law firm, Jones in the month of June billed $368,081.56 in work, as part of her efforts to rule on privilege claims in the massive amount of evidence seized in the April 9 raid on Cohen. The cost of that work is being split evenly by the federal government and the Trump Organization.
6. NRA tells court it may have to make major cuts. the NRA is now saying that some of its operations could be in financial jeopardy, just two years after spending a record amount of money on the 2016 elections. In court documents filed in a lawsuit the NRA is bringing against the state of the New York, the NRA charges that New York has leaned on major insurance companies to not sell policies to the gun rights organization, and that the NRA might have to curtail its work. “Absent such coverage, it is likely that NRATV would be forced to cease operating; moreover, the NRA could be forced to cease circulation of various print publications and magazines,” the group said in a recent court filing. Meanwhile, there have also been reports raising questions about whether the case of 29 year-old Mariia Butina – jailed on charges of illegal political activity in the U.S. backed by wealthy Russians – that the investigation and her recent arrest spurred a change in leadership at the top of the National Rifle Association.
7. Trump keeps pressing Russia claims against Clinton A day after sparking front page headlines with a series of Sunday tweets about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, the President on Monday returned to Twitter for a familiar argument that Democrats were the ones committing collusion with Russia, not the Trump Campaign. “Hillary Clinton and her team 100% colluded with the Russians,” the President said in his first tweet of the day, as he quoted conservative commentator Dan Bongino from an appearance on ‘Fox and Friends,’ pointing out that a Democratic law firm had funded the research into the “Steele Dossier,” through the opposition research firm Fusion GPS. The President’s first two tweets of Tuesday showed that while he might on a break from the White House, his mind is not taking a break from the Russia investigation.