Five takeaways from the bombshell Cohen, Manafort filings

Prosecutors on Friday made a series of bombshell filings in the cases of Michael Cohen and Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortJudge delays Flynn sentencing after sharply criticizing former Trump aide Presidential historian: Trump's actions may be 'definition of treason' if he knew about Russian interference efforts It’s time the UK cracked down on dirty Russian money MORE that carry significant warning signs for President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE.

Federal prosecutors in New York said that Trump directed Cohen, his former personal attorney and “fixer,” to steer money to pay off two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump in order to prevent negative information from surfacing that would hurt his chances in the 2016 election.

Meanwhile, special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE described Cohen’s cooperation in his sprawling Russia investigation as useful and ongoing and in a separate filing accused Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, of lying to investigators about his contacts with Trump administration officials that extended into 2018.

Here are the key takeaways about what the filings mean for Trump and the Mueller investigation going forward:

Focus appears to increasingly be on Trump 

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York said for the first time on Friday that Cohen acted “in coordination with and at the direction” of Trump when he organized payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, women who claimed that they had affairs with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied the alleged affairs.

Prosecutors argue Cohen steered payments to buy the women's stories in order to prevent them from coming to light during the 2016 campaign. Prosecutors also said Cohen coordinated with “one or more members of the campaign” and acted deliberately with the “intent” to influence the election.

The documents do not explicitly mention Trump by name, but make numerous references to a person identified as “Individual-1” who matches the description of Trump, including noting that the person became president in January 2017.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to two campaign finance violations in connection with the payoff schemes, implicating his former boss in dramatic courthouse testimony back in August. But the latest filing suggested that U.S. prosecutors themselves have evidence showing that Trump directed the payments beyond Cohen’s claims.

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Experts widely note that this could signal that Trump is in legal peril, given that an individual who is shown to have directed a subordinate to commit a crime is also implicated in the criminal conduct. Trump has not been charged with a crime.

Cohen and Manafort's White House contacts draw new scrutiny

Cohen has also provided Mueller’s prosecutors with “relevant and useful” information about his contacts with the White House in 2017 and 2018, according to a separate filing made by the special counsel in his case.

This could shed light on to what extent Trump or other officials knew about — or participated in — Cohen’s effort to mislead Congress last year about plans to build a Trump property in Moscow in order to limit congressional Russia probes.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is facing scrutiny on another front. Mueller, who has accused Manafort of lying to federal officials in breach of his plea deal, said Friday that the onetime Trump campaign chief concealed both direct and indirect communications with Trump administration officials that occurred up until spring of this year.

This included a text exchanged from late May in which Manafort “authorized a person to speak with an Administration official” on his behalf as well as “additional contacts” of which Mueller’s team said it has electronic evidence, according to the filing. 

It remains unclear what administration officials Manafort was contacting or what the nature was of those interactions.

Mueller’s investigation is strengthening

It was Mueller who originally passed information to prosecutors in New York on Cohen that led the former Trump lawyer to plead guilty to eight federal charges over the summer. But it wasn’t until last week that Cohen admitted to lying to Congress and agreed to cooperate in Mueller’s probe into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia to interfere in the election.

Cohen appears to be an important witness in the Mueller probe, handing over information that newly lays bare sustained attempts by Russia to reach out to Trump and his campaign.

The special counsel’s office wrote in its own memo Friday that a Russian identifying himself as a Kremlin official reached out to Cohen in November 2015 offering the campaign “political synergy” and repeatedly proposing a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and “Individual 1” — Trump. 

Prosecutors said Cohen did not follow up on the invitation, but it and other fresh details about Cohen’s cooperation signal the special counsel continues to glean valuable insight about interactions between Trump associates and Russia.

Cohen has also provided information to investigators “concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign,” prosecutors wrote, a signal they are looking into issues related to the Trump Organization, where Cohen previously worked as an attorney.

Separately, the Manafort filing suggested Mueller has acquired substantial evidence in various avenues of his probe, enabling the special counsel to promise the court “independent documentary and testimonial evidence” proving Manafort’s lies.

Trump feels the pressure, and is reacting

Trump has long denied there was collusion between his campaign and Moscow, lashing out at the Mueller probe as a witch-hunt against him.

Still, the latest developments have Trump and his White House on defense on numerous fronts at a time when they are separately dealing with major staff shake-ups.

On Friday, Trump claimed the developments “totally” cleared him before launching into a tirade against the Mueller investigation early Saturday, insisting it is time for the “witch hunt” to end.

The White House insisted Friday night that the Cohen filings presented no new information, casting Trump’s former personal attorney as a liar and “no hero.”

Prosecutors in New York are calling for Cohen to face “substantial” prison time, despite his cooperation in the Mueller probe and other ongoing law enforcement investigations.

The White House also claimed that the Manafort filing revealed “absolutely nothing” about the president or collusion and was “devoted almost entirely” to Manafort’s foreign lobbying work. The White House did not address allegations Manafort lied about his contacts with administration officials.

Mueller probe shows no signs it is slowing down

Mueller’s investigation shows no signs of slowing down or letting up, equipped with a new witness in Cohen whom the special counsel says has committed to providing ongoing cooperation.

The latest filing suggested that Cohen’s information has bolstered multiple lines of inquiry at a crucial point, after the special counsel received written answers from the president in response to questions about collusion.

A separate court filing earlier this week also raised the specter that Mueller was far from finished. 

In laying out the “substantial assistance” of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Mueller referenced at least two additional matters under investigation that appear to stem from the original line of inquiry into possible coordination between the campaign and Russia. This included criminal investigation into an unknown subject or entity, the details of it heavily redacted to shield them from public view.