Marcy Wheeler notes that Thursday night's BuzzFeed News bombshell isn't just about Trump ordering Cohen to lie to Congress, it's about why he did that, and the answer, according to Wheeler, is that Putin has had the Sword of Damocles dangling over Trump's head for years now.
The BuzzFeed article makes it clear that [Felix] Sater’s GRU contact got back involved after Cohen’s conversation with Peskov’s assistant.
All of which is to say that when Cohen called [Dmitri] Peskov’s assistant, he would have told her that he was speaking on behalf of Donald Trump, that Trump remained interested in a Trump Tower in Moscow (as he had been in 2013, the last time Putin had dangled a personal meeting with Trump), and that on Trump’s behalf Cohen was willing to discuss making a deal involving both a sanctioned bank (whichever one it was) and a former GRU officer.
So it’s not just that Trump was pursuing a real estate deal while running for President. He was pursuing a real estate deal involving a sanctioned bank — possibly one sanctioned for its involvement in Crimea — and involving someone with ties to the intelligence agency that was preparing to hack Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.
Cohen told Peskov’s assistant Trump was willing to negotiate that deal while running for President. The assistant wrote all that down (how Mueller knows this is an interesting question on its own right). And then she or Peskov passed on at least the content of the notes to get Putin’s office to contact Sater.
And all that happened before Trump performed unexpectedly well in the Iowa caucuses on February 1.
Of course, if that ever came out, Trump would be done. And Trump has been fearing that for years now.
Last year, I argued that — pee tape or no — the kompromat Putin has on Trump consists of a series of receipts of Trump formally communicating his willingness to enter into a conspiracy with Russia, receipts that would be devastating if Putin released them.
What Cohen plea deal makes clear is that Putin pocketed the first of those receipts — a receipt showing Trump’s willingness to work with both sanctioned banks and the GRU — even before the first vote was cast. Even before GRU hacked its first Democratic target (though APT 29 had been spying on the Democrats since the previous summer).
Discussing a real estate deal is not, as Trump has repeated, illegal. If that’s all this were about, Trump and Cohen might not have lied about it.
But it’s not. Even before the GRU hacked John Podesta, even before Don Jr told his June 9 visitors that his dad would consider lifting sanctions if he got elected, Michael Cohen let a key Putin deputy know that Trump would be happy to discuss real estate deals that involved both partnering with the GRU and with sanctioned banks.
And Putin has been sitting on that receipt ever since.
It's a solid theory. Unfortunately, the BuzzFeed News report from Thursday is not quite as solid.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for the special counsel is disputing BuzzFeed News’ report. https://t.co/BEoMKiDypn pic.twitter.com/GWWfGtyhaE— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) January 19, 2019
For the Mueller team to actually comment on this piece is exceedingly rare. Of course, that might be part of the plan to contain what essentially is a major Mueller probe leak, and this could just be sussing out the holes. After all, it's not like Mueller was going to say WELL YEAH YOU GOT US CASE CLOSED or anything.
We'll see where this goes.