The Russian Connection: Teaming Up

Last night Politico reported Special Counsel Robert Mueller has teamed up with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on the case of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Part of the reason for the duel investigation is the possibility that Trump will pardon Manafort and others of federal charges involving the Trump campaign’s conspiring with the Russians to interfere with the 2016 election.

The cooperation is the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is intensifying. It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes.

The two teams have shared evidence and talked frequently in recent weeks about a potential case, these people said. One of the people familiar with progress on the case said both Mueller’s and Schneiderman’s teams have collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering.

No decision has been made on where or whether to file charges. “Nothing is imminent,” said one of the people familiar with the case. [..]

State and federal prosecutors believe the prospect of a presidential pardon could affect whether Manafort decides to cooperate with investigators in the federal Trump investigation, said one of the people familiar with the matter.

While Trump has not signaled any public intention to pardon Manafort or anyone else involved in the Russia investigations, the president has privately discussed his pardon powers with his advisers.

Mueller’s team has been looking into Manafort’s lobbying work and financial transactions, including real estate deals in New York.

The reporter who wrote the story, Josh Dawsey, joined Rachel Maddow last night to discuss the implications of this alliance.

The Financial Times reported (behind a pay wall) Russian lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin who attended a meeting with top Trump campaign aides last year has testified to a grand jury as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling,

In other news about the investigation, Trump’s long time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen sent a letter to the House intelligence committee rebutting claims that were made against him in the infamous Trump Dossier. From Spenser Ackerman at The Daily Beast

In an Aug. 14 letter first reported by The New York Times and acquired by The Daily Beast, Cohen seeks to rebut the unproven claims in the dossier alleging his own role in a Trump-Kremlin relationship during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Cohen’s letter is concerned entirely with refuting the dossier’s claims about himself, not its broader allegations about Trump. Despite calling the document “libelous” and saying “any repetition of its allegations by the Committee should be rejected,” Cohen’s letter repeats several of its claims.

Though Cohen holds out the possibility of additional document presentations to the committee—in addition to two that the letter says Cohen already gave House investigators—Cohen says “we do not believe that an interview or testimony concerning these allegations is warranted.”

The letter produced by Cohen attorney Stephen Ryan comes days after the same committee obtained November 2015 emails between Cohen and Trump Organization business associate Felix Sater discussing an ultimately scotched real-estate deal in Moscow that Sater mysteriously believed could “get Donald elected,” with Sater pledging to “get all of Putin[’]s team to buy in on this.”

In addition to Cohen’s longstanding denials that he has never visited Prague, in contradiction of a dossier claim that he traveled there for meetings “with Kremlin officials in August 2016,” Cohen denies as “entirely false” a claim that he played a role in an “ongoing secret liaison relationship” between Trump and the Russian leadership.” The dossier cited an unnamed “Kremlin insider” highlighting the “importance of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen” in that alleged relationship.

This week, however, Cohen confirmed that he emailed Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in January 2016 seeking “assistance” in pushing the proposed Trump Tower Moscow deal along. “As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance,” Cohen emailed a generic Kremlin press email. Peskov said that he didn’t reply to Cohen’s email.