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By securing Michael Cohen’s cooperation, the special counsel scored a motivated witness with intimate knowledge of Trump’s business and personal life

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In the process, the special counsel is beginning to expose the lies and obfuscations that people around Trump, and the President himself, erected to try to hide multiple, unexplained ties to Russians in, and before, 2016.
He is offering implicit explanations along the way for the President’s oddly solicitous relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And Mueller is now crossing a red line Trump once warned could prompt his firing — by probing his business empire.
By securing a cooperation agreement with Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen[1], Mueller Thursday scored a motivated witness who has intimate knowledge of Trump’s past business and personal life.
And by sponsoring a court document detailing Cohen’s confession and by having his team spend 70 hours acquiring additional testimony, Mueller is signaling his new star witness may have more to tell and there may be more grave revelations to come.
In fact, Thursday may have been the most significant day yet in the Mueller probe that has cast a long shadow over Trump’s presidency.
The cooperation agreement could offer documents, other evidence and testimony that could take Mueller deep into Trump’s family and personal circle.
Cohen’s admission that he had lied to Congress about a Trump effort to seal a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, deep into the presidential campaign in 2016, raised a flurry of troubling questions that Mueller is yet to answer.
In effect, it told a story of a presidential candidate who was enmeshed in a commercial relationship with a nation that Mueller accused in previous indictments of waging “information warfare” against the United States to disrupt the election and help put Trump into the White House.
The dramatic development came in a week when it became clear that Mueller is aggressively pursuing another avenue in the investigation — the possibility that some other Trump associates may have communicated with WikiLeaks,[2] the website used to display Clinton campaign emails stolen by Russia and used by Trump to attack the character of the Democratic nominee.
“The two big picture questions have been — was there any person who was acting as a link between the campaign and Russia or Wikileaks, and what incentive did Trump have to cooperate with the Russians and why is he so beholden to the Russians?” said Jens David Ohlin, vice dean of Cornell Law School.
“I think we now have potential answers to both those questions.”

What Mueller has not yet proven

Mueller has yet to prove that Trump’s business activities colored his approach to Russia. He has not directly contradicted Trump’s fervent denials of collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
Furthermore, it is not known whether Mueller has documentary evidence to implicate the President in any wrongdoing, or is simply relying on Cohen’s testimony. Many legal experts doubt he would wager on a witness like Cohen, who has admitted lying, without supporting evidence.
But there is no clear indication that Trump broke the law. And, despite Thursday’s developments, there is no sign that a political situation in Washington that still makes impeachment an unlikely prospect has changed.
Trump, just after landing in Buenos Aires for the G20, showed that the investigation was still on his mind despite the upcoming conference.
“This is an illegal Hoax that should be ended immediately,” the President tweeted late Thursday.
But Thursday’s developments must also be seen in the context of Mueller’s work so far.
In a series of indictments, he has built a picture of a sophisticated Russian hacking operation, an attempt to infect America’s political dialogue with lies and distraction on social media and indicted and convicted a number of Trump associates and advisers over lying to his investigation.
He may now be trying to establish that Trump and those around him were well aware of Russia’s activity despite their vehement claims there was no collusion.
Some observers believe that the rich detail in Mueller’s legal filings is one way of painting a picture of Russian interference and the behavior of Trump world in case the President finds some way to block his eventual final report.
There are immediate and longer term political and legal consequences from Cohen throwing himself firmly in Mueller’s camp.
His claims, made under oath and with the certainty of a long jail sentence if he is being untruthful, directly contradict Trump’s assurances that he has had no deals or business relationships with Russia.
If that is the case, Trump has brazenly lied to the American people.
In another damaging blow, Cohen said he lied for political reasons.
“I made these statements to be consistent with Individual-1’s political messaging and to be loyal to Individual-1,” Cohen said in a document filed with the court, referring to the President.
His statement raises another question not answered in the document.
Did the President know that Cohen was lying to Congress, or did he coerce him to do so? If he did, such a move would surely rise to the level of the kind of abuse of power that would be part of any articles of impeachment.
The President slammed Cohen as “weak” on Thursday and said he was lying to Mueller to spare himself a long jail sentence after admitting to tax and financial fraud. He made the remarks to reporters before heading off to the G20 summit in Argentina, in an unsolicited statement that appeared to show his unease.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani also blasted Cohen.
And he tried to scotch a question that buzzed around Washington immediately after the Cohen news: Did Trump tell a different story about his hopes of building a Trump tower in Moscow in written answers to the special counsel than what Cohen has testified, a version of events Mueller clearly believes?
Giuliani said that there was “no contradiction” between Trump’s responses to Mueller and Cohen. And he suggested that by waiting to move on Cohen until the President turned over his answers to his questions in recent days, he might have been setting a trap.
“Their sneakiness didn’t work if that’s what they were trying to do,” Giuliani said.

Trump’s defense may have backfired

Yet Trump’s own self-defense raised another question that could weaken his position and cause trouble for his legal team.
He said that he was justified in seeking business opportunities in Russia while running for President because he might not have reached the White House and should not therefore be penalized by losing a chance to make money.
“There would be nothing wrong if I did do it. I was running my business while I was campaigning,” Trump told reporters.
“There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gone back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
Trump’s comment left the impression he was using his platform as a presidential candidate as a vehicle to enrich himself rather than to serve the American people.
More troublingly, the possibility that he could be seeking favorable treatment from Russia could offer a motivation for a change made to water down a hostile stance towards Russian in the platform at the Republican National Convention.
And the fact that he lied about not having business links with Russia after pursuing the deal offered Moscow leverage over him when he became President, opening the possibility of a serious national security threat if he was viewed as compromised.
Trump might have also undermined a possible avenue of defense, that Cohen was the primary actor in the search for a Trump Tower Moscow deal, when he said: “I decided not to do the project, so I didn’t do it. “
Some Trump supporters warned against irresponsibly jumping to conclusions and questioned Cohen’s credibility.
“The sky is falling all of a sudden because there is another plea deal. Who knows how this is going to play out in terms of the credibility of Michael Cohen,” said Jim Schultz, a former Trump White House lawyer on “Cuomo Prime Time.”
The White House was braced for some kind of Cohen bombshell ever since he appeared in Washington to meet Mueller’s prosecutors earlier this month.
What must most worry them now, and other people close to Trump who could be implicated by the Russia organization, is what he has said in consultations that have now stretched over three full days.

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Houston Recalls Legacy of George Bush, Its Lone Star Yankee and Senior Booster

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HOUSTON — Inside the airport that bears his name, George Herbert Walker Bush looks, at a distance, as if he’s wearing a cape.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue at the Houston airport shows Mr. Bush, who , Barbara Bush[4], who died in April at the age of 92. After Mr. Bush’s death on Friday, Houston lost its two most famous residents in the span of seven months.

“George H.W. Bush served with valor and integrity as the 41st president of the United States,” Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said in a statement. “But to Houstonians he was one of our most esteemed and relatable neighbors. He and his wife, Barbara Bush, were our sports teams’ biggest fans, and boosters for everything Houston.”

This was the man whose most memorable quote in years had to do with men’s hosiery. In 2012, as his fondness for wearing bright eye-catching socks was going strong, he explained that he simply “likes a good sock.” At his wife’s funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Mr. Bush wore a pair of socks with a colorful stack-of-books design, a tribute to Mrs. Bush’s advocacy work for family literacy.

In Houston and its surrounding suburbs, Mr. Bush had not only an airport in his name but a park, a high school and a few more life-size statues. Above Buffalo Bayou, a bronze statue of Mr. Bush looks out into the distance with his hand in his pocket, gazing at, of all things, James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s tennis partner at the Houston Country Club. The statues of the two close friends face each other in the downtown park, separated by about 100 yards, in Houston’s oddest and longest-running staring contest.

“All I can do now,” Mr. Bush told The New York Times in 2011 about the statue, “is hope that the pigeons will be kind and gentle.”

Charles C. Foster, a Houston immigration lawyer and a longtime friend of the Bush family, came up with the idea for the George H.W. Bush Monument, which was unveiled in 2004. Mr. Foster recalled the day he sat in Mr. Bush’s office at 10000 Memorial Drive and asked for his blessing for the project.

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Mr. Bush in 1970, when he was a congressman.CreditAssociated Press

“He looked at me and he sort of looked up at the ceiling,” Mr. Foster said. “He pointed to the ceiling and said, ‘Shouldn’t you wait until I’m up there?’ And then he said, pointing downward, ‘Or perhaps down there?’”

In 1990, Mr. Bush helped turn the eyes of the world to Houston.

As president, he brought thousands of reporters and foreign dignitaries to Houston that summer for the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations, an annual gathering of the world’s economic powers. The summits had been held in a number of global cities — London, Tokyo, Paris, Venice — and Mr. Bush made the case that his adopted hometown belonged among such world-class company.

Houston was scrappier back then. The city was rebounding from an oil bust in the 1980s that crippled the economy, and it tried hard to present its best, and cleanest, face to the cameras and the visitors, picking up millions of pounds of trash, repaving roads and enlisting the aid of 12,000 volunteers.

“That was huge for Houston,” Mr. Foster said of the 1990 summit. “When the president had a chance, he could have picked some mountain retreat. But he picked his hometown. He was well aware of the chip on our shoulders that we didn’t feel like Houston got the recognition that it should.”

Now, with 2.3 million residents (compared with 1.6 million in 1990), Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, known as much for its diversity as its energy-capital status. George Bush High School, part of the Fort Bend school district, is 43 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black, 12 percent Asian and 4 percent white. More than 90 languages and dialects are spoken in the district.

Early Saturday morning in the upscale Tanglewood area, Houstonians paused at the gates at South Post Oak Lane and North West Oak Drive — the entrance to the gated community where Mr. Bush lived. Someone draped an American flag in the center of the gates, decorated for the holidays with Christmas wreaths.

Shirley Matthews, 66, a lifelong Houstonian who lives nearby, walked up and took a picture of the memorial for her mother. “He was just a good person,” she said. “He wasn’t perfect. But it’s family, and we love each other.”

References

  1. ^ died at his home here on Friday (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ Read the obituary of George H.W. Bush. (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ the funeral for his wife (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Barbara Bush (www.nytimes.com)

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A Close Race, a Mysterious Ballot and Control of Alaska’s House at Stake

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With a crucial legislative seat in Alaska teetering toward a tie earlier this month, lawmakers in Juneau braced for the possibility of a coin toss deciding control of the state’s House of Representatives. Then a mysterious extra ballot emerged that threw the process into further disarray.

Amid several counts, the latest coming on Friday afternoon, a single ballot drew scrutiny across the state.

The state’s review board certified the race, between Kathryn Dodge, a Democrat, and Bart LeBon, a Republican, as a tie earlier this week, with exactly 2,661 votes going to each candidate. The extra ballot, for Ms. Dodge, could have settled the race for the Fairbanks-area district seat.

Later on Friday, the mystery appeared to have been solved — but the standoff over who won the election continued.

Samantha Miller, a spokeswoman for the state elections office, said that workers at Fairbanks’s No. 6 precinct told officials that a woman had come into the polling place to request a special needs ballot on behalf of her husband, who was outside in a vehicle.

The woman came back into the precinct. Her husband had made a mistake, she told the precinct worker, and needed a new ballot. She left behind the one he had already marked, thus making it a spoiled ballot.

The precinct chair told the worker who took the spoiled ballot to put it into a secrecy sleeve, “and that they would deal with it later in the day,” Ms. Miller said.

But instead, the spoiled ballot was put into a compartment with other questioned ballots.

Typically, Ms. Miller said, spoiled ballots are destroyed once they are accounted for. So, because the mystery ballot was found to be spoiled, it will not be counted, she said.

Still, that left the question of what happens if the recount that began on Friday afternoon ends in a tie — again.

Ms. Miller said that both candidates had five days to file a legal challenge to the results. And if the court decided the recount went as it should have, and the race was still a tie?

The prevailing candidate would be determined “by lot,” Ms. Miller said. “It could be a coin toss or some other way of deciding, as long as it’s random.”

It would not be the first time an Alaska race was determined by coin toss.

In 2006, State Representative Bryce Edgmon[1], a Democrat from Dillingham, beat the incumbent, Carl Moses. Mr. Moses’s name was drawn, so he got to make the call: Heads.

The state’s elections director at the time flipped an Alaska Mint medallion — the side with a walrus being heads and the side with the state seal being tails. It landed state seal side up.

Ms. Miller would not speculate about when the recount would be complete, but said both candidates were present, along with observers and officials.

Mr. LeBon did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Sara Harriger, a spokeswoman for Ms. Dodge, said in a statement that during Friday’s recount, one additional vote was found for Ms. Dodge and a challenged ballot was allowed for her opponent, Mr. LeBon, which meant that the tally stood at 2,662 apiece. Still tied.

Ms. Dodge said in a statement that she believed every legally cast ballot should be counted. “I just want everyone watching this process to take away a sense of confidence in our democratic system and a commitment to cast their votes in future races,” she said, “and knowing that their votes will matter.”

Ms. Dodge had said earlier on Friday that legal action “unfortunately” seemed probable.

“It’s certainly not what any of us expect when we set out to campaign, to find ourselves in a squeaker of this nature,” she said. “I hope we don’t have a coin toss. I don’t know quite what to say, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an appropriate way to settle an election.”

In Alaska, the repercussions of this race will be felt into the next legislative session, though party control of the House in Juneau will be far from clear-cut.

Political coalitions in Juneau do not always come down to party-line votes like in other state houses. Even if Ms. Dodge wins the race, Democrats would still not have an outright majority, and so members of the House will still be tasked with negotiating a coalition majority.

References

  1. ^ Bryce Edgmon (akleg.gov)

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3 Killed After Pickup Truck Fleeing Border Patrol Hits Tire Spikes and Crashes

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Three people in a packed pickup truck were killed on Thursday afternoon after the driver ran over tire spikes and crashed on a Southern California highway while trying to flee Border Patrol officers, the authorities said.

The officers turned on their vehicle’s emergency lights and began chasing the pickup truck on Interstate 8, near Boulevard, Calif., at around 4:20 p.m., according to the United States Customs and Border Protection. The authorities said they believed that the pickup truck had been illegally driven over the southern border and had crashed through an “iron bar vehicle barrier.” They said they identified it by matching a piece that was missing from the truck to one agents had spotted on the ground near the border, though they did not elaborate.

The pickup truck reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour, weaving between cars and bypassing others on the side of the highway, before it drove over spikes that the Border Patrol had placed on the road, the California Highway Patrol said. About a mile later, the truck spun out of control and flipped over, ejecting the nine people who were riding in the truck’s bed, the authorities said.

A woman inside the truck, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was killed, as were two people riding in the bed, the police said. Seven people who had “multiple serious injuries” were taken to the hospital, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said.

The driver, a United States citizen whose name was not released, was the only person wearing a seatbelt, the agency said. The California Highway Patrol took the man into custody, but it was not clear whether he had been charged. The identities of the passengers in the truck have not been released either.

“The investigation into the smuggling incident is ongoing,” the spokesman said in an email, “and the Border Patrol is fully cooperating with the CHP in their investigation of the collision.”

About an hour after the crash, the Border Patrol stopped another vehicle that officers believed had crossed over the border with the pickup truck, the agency said. The driver of that car was also arrested.

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