The Russia Connection

The Report, Episode Fourteen: The Fixer Flips

By Susan Hennessey, Benjamin Wittes
Friday, November 1, 2019, 12:29 PM

Today, we released the fourteenth episode of Lawfare’s narrative audio documentary, The Report, which recounts the story Robert Mueller lays out in his 448-page report.

This episode, the second to last, charts the evolution of the president’s relationship with his former personal attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen. When Cohen finds himself in hot water, Trump’s confidants reach out to him to let him know that “the boss loves you” and to keep him on the team. But after Cohen starts to cooperate with investigators, the President strikes a very different tune.

The first seven episodes of The Report unpack Volume I; they tell the story of Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign’s interaction and involvement with those efforts. Episode 1 covers the Russian social media operation and the activities of the Internet Research Agency. Episode 2 focuses on the Russian hacking campaign; the stealing of documents and emails from the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and figures associated with the Clinton campaign; and the leaks of stolen materials timed to affect the U.S. election. Episode 3 covers the Trump campaign’s involvement in the distribution of hacked materials. Episode 4 tells the story of Trump Tower Moscow, which Donald Trump sought to build even as he was denying having any business in Russia, and Trump Tower New York, where Russian representatives showed up promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Episode 5 recounts the stories of three men associated with the Trump campaign and their various ties to Russia: George Papadopoulos, Carter Page and Paul Manafort. Episode 6 details backchannel attempts by the Russians to influence the Trump campaign and transition team on policy matters—an effort to reboot U.S.-Russia relations one secret meeting at a time. Episode 7 covers the special counsel’s charging decisions—which individuals Mueller decides to prosecute, whose prosecutions he declines, and the reasons for his decisions.

We turned to Volume II in Episode 8, which offers the necessary legal and factual context to understand this second half of the report on possibly obstructive activity. Episode 9 details national security adviser Flynn’s lie to federal investigators about his phone call with the Russian ambassador and the White House response to learning of that lie. Episode 9 also charts the president’s turbulent relationship with FBI Director James Comey, which led the two men to a fateful Oval Office encounter. Episode 10 covers Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse from the Russia investigation, Trump’s reaction to the recusal, and the sudden firing of Comey. Episode 11 explains Trump’s furious reaction to the news of Mueller’s appointment and the development that the president was now personally under investigation. Episode 12 shows Trump’s attempts to cover up two damaging stories: one revealing his son’s troubling exchange with a Russian lawyer and one detailing the president’s demand to Don McGahn that he get rid of Mueller. Episode 13 details President Trump’s campaign to influence three of his associates who might reveal information about the President’s behavior to Mueller’s team.

This episode covers Trump’s attempts to influence another potential witness to his conduct: his former lawyer Michael Cohen. When Cohen is called to testify before Congress, with the help of Trump’s attorneys he drafts a false statement that repeats the Trump team “party line” about the Trump Tower Moscow project.

The president knows that Cohen, more than almost anyone else, has had a front-row seat to Trump’s conduct. Congress wants to hear from Cohen and the President’s lawyers take the lead in workshopping a statement to give to Congress that minimizes the Trump campaign’s missteps. Cohen goes before Congress and regurgitates the lies endorsed by Trump’s team. But Cohen is not out of trouble yet. The fixer finds himself in serious criminal trouble with federal law enforcement in New York and Trump is nervous. A host of Trump affiliates get in contact with Cohen and make allusions to a powerful weapon in Trump’s arsenal: a presidential pardon.

But Cohen then begins to cooperate with the government and the president sours on his beloved fixer. With Cohen no longer on the team, the president unleashes a storm of tweets assailing Cohen and threatening his family.

The Report has now surpassed two million downloads. We hope you’ll continue to subscribe, rate and share it widely.

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