Easy interview turns difficult, as Trump rants and opens way to more investigation of his financial affairs
Developments on Day 362 of the Trump Administration:
Trump’s Bad Morning
In a rambling 30-minute commentary, Donald Trump risks additions to his political and legal troubles, as he makes damaging admissions and threatens his agencies.
Trump’s phone call to his favorite program, Fox and Friends, should have been an easy PR venture, given the TV outlet’s unflinching support for the President. But by end of the call, Fox’s three cheerleaders were left with looks of concern, as they tried to end the chat after Trump railed against the Justice Department, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the Trump-Russia investigation.
The encounter began pleasantly enough, with Trump wishing happy birthday to wife Melania, although even the Trump’s upbeat start posed questions.
Apparently oblivious that French President Emmanuel Macron had used his address to the US Congress to criticize Trump and his Administration’s rhetoric and policies, Trump effused:
The people of France were spellbound by what happened with their great president, who just left, Em-man-u-el, and he is a wonderful guy.
He then put out his first deception, claiming that he had converted Macron to support a possible US withdrawal from the Iran deal. (In fact, Macron said on Wednesday that the shifting Trump policies, from Iran to climate change, were “insane”.)
Trump added the bizarre — and false — claim that the Obama Administration gave Iran “$150 billion [with] $1.8 billion in cash — in actual cash carried out in barrels and in boxes from airplanes”.
Railing Against the Justice Department
But the Macron-Iran revision was a minor wave before rougher waters. After struggling with gentle questions about the withdrawn nomination of former White House doctor Ronny Jackson as Veteran Affairs Secretary, Trump worked up his anger against James Comey, the FBI Director he fired in May 2017 in an unsuccessful attempt to halt the Russia inquiry. In another false accusation about Comey’s memoranda of conversations, Trump said that the “liar and leaker…did an illegal act…He said it himself in order to get a Special Counsel against me.” he added:
There’s no collusion with me and the Russians. Nobody’s been tougher to Russia than I am. You can ask President Putin about that.
As one of the Fox hosts carefully noted that a Repubican — Attorney General Jeff Sessions — is in charge of the Justice Department, Trump cut loose:
They have this witch hunt going on with people in the Justice Department that shouldn’t be there — they have a witch hunt against the President of the United States going on — I’ve taken the position — and I don’t have to take this position, and maybe I’ll change — that I will not be involved with the Justice Department. I will wait until this is over. It’s a total — it’s all lies, and it’s a horrible thing that’s going on.
Damaging Statements About Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels
But Trump’s biggest error may have been in answers about his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, whose home and office were raided by the FBI on April 9 in an investigation of Cohen’s business dealings, including payoffs to women who have claimed sexual encounters with Trump.
Trump made one stumble with description on matters where Cohen is his legal representative: “He represents me — like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal he represented me.”
With that sentence, Trump could be seen to have implicated himself in the $130,000 that Cohen gave Stormy Daniels — a porn star whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — in October 2016, 11 days before the Presidential election.
But just before that, Trump set up another trap for himself when he distanced himself from Cohen over most legal and financial matters:
Michael is a businessman. He’s got a business. He also practices law. I would say probably the big thing is his business, and they’re looking at something having to do with his business. I have nothing to do with his business….
I have many attorneys. I have attorneys — sadly, I have so many attorneys you wouldn’t even believe it….He has a percentage of my overall legal work — a tiny, tiny little fraction.
Legal experts immediately noted that Trump had undercut the argument of his legal team that the material seized in the FBI raid on Cohen cannot be used because of attorney-client privilege — since almost all of the material, according to Trump, does not concern him.
By Thursday afternoon, a court hearing the Cohen case agreed, citing the Fox interview.
An Uncomfortable Goodbye
After some wandering chat on topics such as Kanye West, singer Shania Twain, the Electoral College, and North Korea, Trump — close to shouting — concluded with a return to “liar and leaker” Comey and a full assault on the Mueller investigation and the FBI, closing with a vague threat against the Justice Department:
The people that are doing the investigation — you have 13 people that are Democrats. You have Hillary Clinton people. You have people that worked on Hillary Clinton’s foundation. They’re all — I don’t mean Democrats, I mean like the real deal. And then you look at the phony Lisa Page and [Peter] Strzok and the memos back and forth, and the FBI. And by the way, you take a poll at the FBI. I love the FBI, the FBI loves me. But the top people in the FBI, headed by Comey, were crooked. You look at McCabe where he takes $700,000 from somebody supporting Hillary Clinton. He takes $700,000 for his wife’s campaign. And by the way, didn’t even spend that money. They kept some of it because under that law you’re — he took seven. He took $700,000 from a group headed by Terry McAuliffe who was under investigation by McCabe and the FBI and that investigation disappeared. He took $700,000. And you look at the corruption at the top of the FBI. It’s a disgrace. And our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from, but at some point I won’t.
Fox host Brian Kilmeade shifted uncomfortably in his seat, “We could talk to you all day but it looks like you have a million things to do.”
Trump still didn’t depart, making several more interjections before the hosts tried to shut everything down: “Call in again some time.”
Russian Lawyer in Trump Tower Meeting: Yes, I Had Ties With Kremlin
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Trump campaign officials in Trump Tower in June 2016 to discuss delivery of damaging information about Hillary Clinton, finally admits her ties with the Kremlin.
Newly-released e-mails show that Veselnitskaya worked closely with Russia’s chief legal office to block a Justice Department civil fraud case against a well-connected Russian firm.
In an interview to be broadcast Friday, Veselnitskaya acknowledged that she was not merely a private lawyer but a source of information for Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika: “I am a lawyer, and I am an informant. Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.”
Veselnitskaya had previously insisted that she met Donald Trump Jr.; Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner; and campaign chairman Paul Manafort in a private capacity. She wrote in November to the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I have no relationship with Mr. Chaika, his representatives and his institutions other than those related to my professional functions as a lawyer.”
But that claim was undermined by revelations that her talking points for the Trump Tower meetingmatched those in a confidential memorandum circulated by Chaika’s office.
A sheaf of Veselnitskaya’s e-mail correspondence further displayed her close relationship with Chaika.