Donald Trump ran into a trifecta of bad news before noon on Thursday, all seemingly related to his Trump Tower business ventures.
First, his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen made a surprise appearance in federal court to plead guilty to lying to Congress in the Russia investigation, a strong indication that he is still cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller (although they have no official agreement). President Trump, to non one's surprise, lashed out in anger, calling Cohen a “weak man.”
Cohen admitted he had lied to Congress about a potential Trump Tower Moscow deal he attempted to negotiate, even after Trump had secured the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, which directly contradicts what the candidate claimed during the campaign.
Cohen told the Senate Intelligence Committee last year that there was little discussion of a Trump Tower in Moscow within the Trump Organization while Trump was running for office. But Mueller's prosecution team found that “the Moscow Project was discussed multiple times within the company” during the spring of 2016, and that those discussions included the political candidate known as “Individual 1” (whose identity is no secret), along with Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, who helped run the company.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the New York Times that what Trump told the special counsel in writing last week is precisely what Cohen admitted to in open court today. “This was Cohen’s deal,” Giuliani stressed in an interview with the Daily Beast on Thursday, attempting to distance Trump from his former longtime lawyer. “It was abandoned — from the president’s point of view—[in mid-2016] before he was elected,” he said of the Trump Tower project in Moscow.
Since the FBI raided his office last spring, however, Cohen -- who was a senior executive at the Trump Organization from 2006 until early in 2018 -- has clearly emerged as one of the biggest threats to Trump’s presidency.
Another raid that happened thousands of miles across the Atlantic while Cohen was appearing in a Manhattan courthouse may also concern the president.
The Frankfurt headquarters of Deutsche Bank, which agreed to loan Trump as much as $640 million for the renovation of Chicago Trump Tower, was raided on Thursday. At a time when most U.S. banks refused to loan money to Trump due to his string of bankruptcies, that loan was signed off by former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's son, who loaned Trump more than $1 billion for various real estate projects before the elder Kennedy suddenly retired from the bench earlier this year. Both Deutsche Bank and prosecutors said the raid is related to the Panama Papers, and so far the president's name has not been mentioned -- except by way of speculation. According to a BBC report, the current investigation began in August and "focuses on activities between 2013 and the start of 2018.”
It was reported last December that Deutsche Bank had provided records to Mueller’s investigation after receiving a subpoena. At the time it was believed the subpoena was issued in connection with Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who was convicted on a series of fraud charges in October. Manafort was back in the news this week when prosecutors alleged that he had “committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters," thereby breaching his plea agreement with Mueller.
In another curious coincidence that may or may not be related, the law offices of Edward Burke, a Chicago alderman and former Trump tax attorney, were raided on Thursday. Burke's law firm represented Trump's businesses — including the same Chicago Trump Tower that secured funding from Deutsche Bank — for 12 years.
With Deutsche Bank hit with yet another money-laundering probe, one former Trump lawyer raided by the feds and another one apparently ready to spill the beans, Democrats -- poised to take control of the House of Representatives in January -- are already chomping at the bit to investigate.
"All these developments make clear the counterintelligence imperative for the House Intelligence Committee, in the new Congress, to continue to probe the Trump Organization's financial links to Russia and determine whether the Russians sought financial leverage over Trump and his associates, or hold any such leverage today," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., incoming chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
One close confidante raided by law enforcement is bad; three is a trifecta of awful. When the law raids, it pours.
Republicans in Congress, for their part, appear focused on deflecting negative scrutiny away from a president who is coming under increased pressure.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. -- once a Trump critic and now an avid defender -- dismissed Thursday's news about Cohen lying to Congress, telling CNN's Manu Raju it was a “process crime." Other Republicans, according to Raju, are "downplaying the news" or shrugging off the question of how much Trump himself knew about the Trump Tower Moscow project.