There are days when the quick headlines do not tell the whole story. Such an occasion is with us this week. A reporter from Real Clear Investigations actually read the plea deal the Mueller group came up with for Michael Cohen who was caught doing, well something he shouldn’t be, and lo and behold, it’s what is NOT in the documentation that is far more interesting than what is.
The nine-page charging document filed with the plea deal suggests that the special counsel is using the Moscow tower talks to connect Trump to Russia. But congressional investigators with House and Senate committees leading inquiries on the Russia question told RealClearInvestigations that it looks like Mueller withheld from the court details that would exonerate the president. They made this assessment in light of the charging document, known as a statement of “criminal information” (filed in lieu of an indictment when a defendant agrees to plead guilty); a fuller accounting of Cohen’s emails and text messages that Capitol Hill sources have seen; and the still-secret transcripts of closed-door testimony provided by a business associate of Cohen.
On page 7 of the statement of criminal information filed against Cohen, which is separate from but related to the plea agreement, Mueller mentions that Cohen tried to email Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office on Jan. 14, 2016, and again on Jan. 16, 2016. But Mueller, who personally signed the document, omitted the fact that Cohen did not have any direct points of contact at the Kremlin, and had resorted to sending the emails to a general press mailbox. Sources who have seen these additional emails point out that this omitted information undercuts the idea of a “back channel” and thus the special counsel’s collusion case.
Page 2 of the same criminal information document holds additional exculpatory evidence for Trump, sources say. It quotes an August 2017 letter from Cohen to the Senate intelligence committee in which he states that Trump “was never in contact with anyone about this [Moscow Project] proposal other than me.” This section of Cohen’s written testimony, unlike other parts, is not disputed as false by Mueller, which sources say means prosecutors have tested its veracity through corroborating sources and found it to be accurate.
Also notable, Mueller did not challenge Cohen’s statement that he “ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia.”
So, according to all the people doing the analyzing, it looks like there was no backchannel between the Trump operation and the Russian government before the 2016 election. More and more that seems to be the case.
So, in the end, Mueller’s got nothing.