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Six Tips for Preparing for the Mueller Report, Which May or May Not Be Coming
Being investigative journalists means weâ€™re constantly asking questions. But these days, it also means people are asking us questions. One we hear a lot nowadays: â€œWhen is the Mueller report coming â€” and what will it say?â€ Our answer: We donâ€™t know. But weâ€™ve realized that perhaps we can be more helpful than that. We donâ€™t have insider information on special counsel Robert Muellerâ€™s office. (Sorry!) But we have spent lots of time investigating the president and his businesses. And we thought weâ€™d share some of the perspectives weâ€™ve gained. Here are six things to keep in mind.Â Donâ€™t predict. We donâ€™t know what Mueller will report, when he will report it or even whether weâ€™ll be able to read it. Thatâ€™s because Congress changed the law after special prosecutor Kenneth Starrâ€™s salacious tell-all on President Bill Clinton. When Mueller is done, he has to give a report to Attorney General William Barr. But Barr can choose to keep the report confidential. Barr only has to give a summary to Congress. If Barr doesnâ€™t make Muellerâ€™s actual report public, Democrats will almost surely subpoena it. Then get ready for a fight. Stop focusing on â€œcollusion.â€ â€œCollusionâ€ has come to be a kind of shorthand for ... basically doing something bad with Russia. But the term is both too vague and too narrow. For one thing, â€œcollusionâ€ is not itself a clearly defined crime. It is a crime to commit a conspiracy against the United States â€” for which there is a high bar: proving an intent to undermine the government. Remember: We already know a lot. We already know Trump had a hidden conflict of interest involving Russia during the campaign. Despite publicly denying it, Trump was negotiating to develop a tower in Moscow while he was running for president. That means Trump had interests involving Russia â€” which voters didnâ€™t know about â€” that could have been influencing his policy positions. Thatâ€™s all problematic on its own. Â We also know that Russian government interests hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee, handed them to Wikileaks, and that at least one Trump ally, Roger Stone, was in touch with Wikileaks. Donâ€™t expect answers to everything, or even most things. Thatâ€™s not Muellerâ€™s job. He is a prosecutor. His job is first and foremost to look for crimes. And while he can, and has, looked beyond Russian interference in the election, heâ€™s unlikely to dig into everything. And, of course, there are lots of areas worthy of scrutiny beyond Russia: Trumpâ€™s businesses, his inauguration, his hush money payments and more. Mueller is not alone. There are lots of active investigations looking into all these issues. A partial rundown of just the ones we know about: Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating the inauguration and other matters, the New York attorney general is investigating the Trump Foundation, and the District of Columbiaâ€™s attorney general and the state of Virginia are suing Trump over emoluments. There are also a whole host of coming congressional investigations. The final judgments on Trumpâ€™s actions will be political, not legal. (Caveats apply.) Â Whatever Mueller ultimately files, he is very unlikely to charge the president with a crime. Since Watergate, the Department of Justice has had a policy that a sitting president should not be indicted. And Mueller is a stickler for the rules. Having said that, Trump does face significant legal jeopardy. For example, former presidents can be indicted. So can Trumpâ€™s own company. So: Stay tuned. Stay patient. And while you wait for the report, check out our conversation with On The Media â€“ theyâ€™ve created a handy â€œBreaking News Consumersâ€™ Handbook Mueller Edition.â€
Aired 10 months ago 36:47
Trump, Inc. Goes Beyond Collusion
In this Trump, Inc. podcast extra, we talk about what we know, what we donâ€™t know and what we still want to know after Attorney General William Barr gave his summary of special counsel Robert Muellerâ€™s report. Collusion was never the only thing. For the last year and a half, we have been looking at the conflicts of interest that pervade President Donald Trumpâ€™s administration. That trail has led us from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, to Panama, India and, yes, Russia, where we reported on how Trumpâ€™s associates appealed to the Kremlin for help at the same time the Kremlin was preparing an attack on the 2016 elections.
Aired 9 months ago 34:35
'Harm to Ongoing Matter'
On Thursday, the â€œTrump, Inc.â€ team gathered with laptops, pizza and Post-its to disconnect â€” and to read special counsel Robert Muellerâ€™s report. What we found was page after page of jaw-dropping details about the inner workings of the administration of President Donald Trump, meetings with foreign officials and plots to affect our elections. But we also found rich details on how Trump ran his business dealings in Russia, itself the subject of our recent episode on his Moscow business partners. It backed up a lot of our earlier reporting: The deal with Andrey Rozov, a relatively unknown developer whose claim to international prominence was the purchase of a building in Manhattanâ€™s garment district, did go further than agreements with other developers. The type of development they were hoping for would need signoff from Russiaâ€™s powers that be â€” namely, President Vladimir Putin â€” potentially putting Trump in the position of owing favors to a hostile foreign power. And the deal went on longer than the Trump campaign wanted the public to know, with the then-candidate rebuffing Michael Cohenâ€™s concerns about the accuracy of his portrayal of his relationships with Russia. Here are a few of our takeaways: The deal was biggerâ€¦ The Mueller report puts the terms of Trumpâ€™s most infamous Trump Tower deal side by side with a failed prior deal with the family of Russian pop star Emin Agalarov. In doing so, it proposes an answer to why Trump chose to move forward with Rozov: he offered Trump a much better deal. In fact, Cohen said the tower overall "was potentially a $1 billion deal.â€Â Under the terms of the agreement, the Trump Organization would get an upfront fee, a share of sales and rental revenue, and an additional 20% of the operating profit. The deal offered by the well-known Agalarov developers, in contrast, would have brought in a flat 3.5%. Weâ€™d tried to reach Rozov to talk about the deal for our earlier reporting. He never responded. For Trump, this agreement promised to be the deal of a lifetime. There were more Russian contactsâ€¦ The report says Cohen and Felix Sater, a fixer who brought the Trump Organization together with the potential developer for the Moscow deal, both believed securing Putinâ€™s endorsement was key. There was also plenty of outreach from Russians, many of them offering to make that very connection. But even as the two were figuring out how to pitch the tower plan to Putin, at least three intermediaries who claimed to have connections to the Russian president were reaching out to Trump and his associates. They promised help with Trumpâ€™s business interests and his campaign, the report says. One was Dmitry Klokov, whom Cohen looked up online and mistakenly identified as a former Olympic weightlifter. Klokov, in fact, worked for a government-owned electric company and was a former aide to Russiaâ€™s energy minister. He told Cohen he could facilitate a meeting with a â€œperson of interestâ€ â€” that is, Putin â€” and also offered help creating â€œsynergy on a government level.â€ But Klokovâ€™s overtures for talks on matters beyond mere business interests were rebuffed by Cohen. The report also clarified that it was Sater who approached the Russian developer with the idea of a Trump Tower Moscow â€” and later brought his pitch to the Trump Organization. This sequence of events raises new questions about whether the tower deal, which Trump had wanted for decades, was part of the Russian governmentâ€™s multiple intelligence approaches to Trump and his advisers at the time. One other figure in our previous Trump Moscow episode surfaced again in the Mueller report: Yevgeny Dvoskin, a Russian national with a U.S. criminal record and alleged ties to organized crime. Dvoskin is now a part-owner of Genbank, a small Russian bank sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury. He grew up in Brighton Beach at the same time as Sater, who, in 2016, called on Dvoskin to invite Trump and Cohen to Russia for an exploratory visit. To arrange the invitation, Dvoskin asked for copies of Cohenâ€™s and Trumpâ€™s passports, which Cohen was happy to provide. The Mueller report says that Trumpâ€™s personal assistant even brought Trumpâ€™s passport to Cohenâ€™s office, but that it is not clear whether it was ever passed on to Sater. Sater declined to comment for the podcast. Genbank and Dvoskin did not respond to earlier requests for comment. And there was more cover-upâ€¦ Mueller describes continued efforts to mislead investigators and the public about the Trump Moscow deal and associatesâ€™ contacts with Russian officials. Many of the details are gleaned from Cohenâ€™s cooperation. Cohen confronted Trump after he denied having business ties to Russia in July 2016 and pointed out that Trump Tower Moscow was still in play. â€œTrump told Cohen that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet and said, â€˜Why mention it if it is not a deal?â€™â€ according to the Mueller report. To maintain Cohenâ€™s loyalty during the investigation, multiple Trump staff members and friends told him the â€œbossâ€ â€œloves you,â€ according to the Mueller report. â€œYou are loved,â€ another associate told him in an email. Cohen also said the presidentâ€™s lawyer told him heâ€™d be protected as long as he didnâ€™t go â€œrogue.â€ The report concludes that active negotiations in Moscow continued into the summer of 2016. Cohen told Muellerâ€™s team that the project wasnâ€™t officially dead until January 2017, when it was listed with other deals that needed to be â€œclosed outâ€ ahead of the inauguration. After admitting to lying to Congress about when the Moscow deal fizzled, Cohen told Mueller about the â€œscript,â€ or talking points heâ€™d developed with Trump to downplay his ties to Russia. He also said he believed lawyers associated with his joint defense agreement â€” including attorneys for the president â€” edited out a key line about communications with Russia from his congressional testimony. The offending line: â€œThe building project led me to make limited contacts with Russian government officials.â€ You can contact us via Signal, WhatsApp or voicemail at 347-244-2134. Hereâ€™s more about how you can contact us securely. You can always email us at email@example.com. And finally, you can use the Postal Service: Trump, Inc. at ProPublica 155 Ave of the Americas, 13th Floor New York, NY 10013 â€œTrump, Inc.â€ is a production of WNYC Studios and ProPublica. Support our work by visiting donate.propublica.org or by becoming a supporting member of WNYC. 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