Do a series of small lies point to a bigger deception? The question is prompted by revelations that President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received secret payments from a Russian oligarch. The small lies are about Cohen’s payment of hush money to the porn actress Stormy Daniels. The bigger deception is the Russia conspiracy: the claim, as yet unproven, that the Kremlin help Trump to win the presidential election.
Cohen gave $130,000 to Daniels, so she wouldn’t go public with her claims of an affair with The Donald. This was done two days before the election to keep the Stormy story off the front pages as voters went to the polls. The first ‘small’ lie concerns this money. Trump said he knew nothing about it — Cohen said he’d never told the boss. That position was exploded in a (seemingly) blundering interview by Rudy Giuliani, newly hired as one of the president’s lawyers. He was trying to parry the accusation that the $130,000 was an illegal contribution from Cohen to Trump’s campaign. It was all ‘perfectly legal’,Giuliani said, because Trump repaid Cohen. Unfortunately, just the month before, Trump was asked by reporters on Air Force One if he had known about the porn star’s hush money and replied ‘No…I don’t know.’
The second ‘small’ lie was about how Cohen funded the $130,000 payment. Cohen said he had taken out a ‘home equity line of credit’. Mortgaging the family nest-egg to spare his patron embarrassment…what a great guy! But it was later revealed that Cohen was getting $35,000 a month from the Trump Organisation. Now information has emerged that he got $500,000 from a Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg. Vekselberg has been questioned by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin. The oligarch is said to be very close to Vladimir Putin. Could it be that these payments were part of a Russian slush fund designed to prop up Trump during the election campaign? Trump and Cohen will deny it – but they won’t be helped by their previous ‘small’ lies.
Meanwhile, Giuliani’s outburst about the Stormy Daniels payment has fuelled longstanding gossip that he has a drinking problem. ‘I’m not drinking for lunch,’ he said, denying this. ‘I may have a drink for dinner. I like to drink with cigars.’ A cable news anchor, Joe Scarborough, had said that the former mayor of New York didn’t get a big Cabinet job because he was ‘drinking too much…losing it…falling asleep five minutes into meetings’. Giuliani replied: ‘I’m not sleeping now…I’m wide awake…I’m a lot more aware and intelligent than Joe has ever been and a lot more accomplished. Joe hasn’t been knighted by the Queen of England.’
Giuliani has been at it again, agreeing with an interviewer at the weekend that Cohen would have paid other women for Trump ‘if necessary’. ‘The agreement with Michael Cohen, as far as I know, is a longstanding agreement that Michael Cohen takes care of situations like this then gets paid for them sometimes.’ Cohen’s main job has indeed long been thought to be clearing up Trump’s ‘women messes’. Candour about this from someone now on the president’s legal team might be expected to cause dismay in the Oval Office — or perhaps there is method in Giuliani’s erratic behaviour. There may be more women paid hush money — almost certainly there are more women – and even, it is rumoured, abortions paid for by Cohen. If that is true, hints now would soften the impact of such stories later. Expect these claims to emerge in due course.
The details about Cohen’s payments from a Russian oligarch were published by Stormy Daniels’ pitbull lawyer, Michael Avenatti.
How he got hold of such damaging information is a mystery. It looks very much like a leak of the Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, filed by banks with the Department of the Treasury. Many other payments are listed, including some by a drugs company that wanted – and then got – a meeting with Trump. Cockburn has heard that a foreign government – not Russia — made a similar arrangement with Cohen. Expect that details will emerge of this claim, too.
All of this points to Cohen’s central role as a fixer and bagman for Trump. The president’s personal lawyer first came to prominence in this role in the dossier by the former MI6 officer, Christopher Steele. Steele said that Cohen went to Prague to meet Russian officials before the election – a claim roundly denied by Cohen at the time. ‘I have never been to Prague in my life. #fakenews,’ he tweeted. Last month, the McClatchy news service said Mueller had evidence that this wasn’t true. Cockburn understands there are records that, if verified, would indeed show Cohen went to Prague – if so, Trump’s ‘women messes’ will be the least of his troubles.