The President’s father, Fred Trump, had a rule: for some business, you only ever want to meet one person at a time. Then it’s their word against yours. If you have a meeting of three people, then you have two people to give evidence against you. This is the story, anyway, from people who know the Trump family and the Trump family legend. Fred Trump supposedly had links with both the Democratic Party machine and the mob in the New York borough of Queens. If the story about his rule is true, it would have served him well as he built up his property empire – allegedly with methods that might not have borne scrutiny.
Someone deep inside Trumpworld tells Cockburn Donald Trump adopted his father’s rule as his own. ‘He never writes anything down. He doesn’t use email. Conversations are face to face. He meets you alone.’ This, Cockburn’s source says, was how Trump usually gave instructions to Michael Cohen, when Cohen was his lawyer, fixer and bagman. And that is the background – allegedly – to the small bomb just dropped by BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed’s story – which comes from ‘two federal law enforcement officials’ – has Cohen saying that Trump told him to lie to Congress about the effort to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow. The question now is, did the President stick to his own rule and only discuss the Moscow project face to face with Cohen? Or is there other evidence?
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Democrats, predictably, are salivating. Adam Schiff, now chairman of the House intelligence committee, said he would ‘do what was necessary’ to find out if the President had suborned perjury.
The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date. We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true. https://t.co/GljBAFqOjh
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) January 18, 2019
Another Democratic member of the committee, Joaquin Castro, tweeted: ‘If the @Buzzfeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached.’
If the @BuzzFeed story is true, President Trump must resign or be impeached.
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) January 18, 2019
But were all these internal company emails, text messages and documents authored by Trump himself? Unlikely, perhaps, given what we know of the President’s work habits. Or were they written by Cohen and others on the basis of their conversations with Trump? If so, these conversations may well have been carried out face-to-face and one-on-one. Then it might be a case of whom to believe: Trump or his former lawyer?
That might be why Trump spends so much time attacking Cohen on Twitter as a ‘bad lawyer’. Cohen’s credibility is certainly at issue. On this, Cockburn finds a small item buried in prosecutors’ court filings of interest: the $50,000 Cohen billed to the Trump Organization for ‘tech services’ during the campaign. The Wall Street Journal reports that ‘Cohen gave $12,000 to $13,000 in cash stuffed in a Walmart bag’ to the owner of a small tech company to boost Trump’s name in two online polls. The court filings say that Cohen charged – or overcharged – Trump $50,000 for this expense. Quite naturally, Cohen also asked the tech company to establish a ‘Women for Cohen’ Twitter feed that would describe him as a ‘sex symbol’. Whether this was included in the work for which he billed the Trump Organization is not stated in the court record.
All of this might fit Trump’s characterization of his former lawyer as dishonest and untrustworthy. However, the tech company was asked to fix the online poll in early 2015. Are we really to think that Cohen waited until after the election – almost two years – to bill the Trump Organization for this work? Cockburn has another theory: the online poll was a cover for $50,000 in cash used to pay off Russians hackers in Prague. Sources in the ‘intelligence community’ say there is irrefutable evidence that Cohen did go to Prague to meet Russian agents and hackers during the campaign, something he has always denied. If Cohen did not in fact overbill the Trump Organization, if there was treason in Prague, did Cohen discuss it with Trump, one-on-one?