本帖由 ccc 于 2017-07-24 发布。版面名称：渥太华华人论坛
Surprise Michael Cohen guilty plea signals something big may be brewing in Mueller probe
In the 18 months that special counsel Robert Mueller has been probing Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, there has been one, big Watergate-style question hanging over Washington.
What does he know and when will he show it?
The events of the past few days suggest a two-part answer — quite a bit, and very soon.
Robert Mueller, seen in this 2008 file photo, has been investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
This morning in Manhattan, Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen made a surprise appearance in U.S. District Court to plead guilty to a new charge of making false statements to Congress.
Cohen, who is cooperating with Mueller's office, had already copped to several crimes in Trump's service. They include:
Making a $130,000 US hush-money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels.
Arranging for a friendly tabloid publisher to buy and bury the story of an ex-Playboy model who also claimed to have had an affair with the man who is now U.S. president.
Both actions count as illegal campaign contributions, and Cohen faces four to five years in jail.
But today's plea goes to the heart of what Mueller has been probing over the past year-and-a-half — whether Trump had undisclosed ties to the Russian government, and whether his campaign colluded with the Kremlin to boost his chances in the 2016 vote.
The nine-page charge sheet details how Cohen "misled" two U.S. Congressional committees when he claimed that a planned Trump real estate venture in Moscow fell apart at the very beginning of the campaign in January 2016. It also indicates he lied when he said he never succeeded in making contact with Vladimir Putin's office.
Cohen now admits that discussions carried on into June 2016, and that the Russian President's office did respond to his request for help in securing land and financing for the project; a gaudy, glass tower that would soar above every building in Moscow and have Trump's name at the very top.
He also reveals that plans were afoot to send Trump to Russia mid-campaign to hammer out a deal and perhaps meet with Putin.
Some of this simply confirms what was already reported in the Washington Post a year ago, and fleshed out in a Buzzfeed investigation this past spring.
However, Mueller now appears to have a witness who will testify that the president lied when he claimed that he had no business dealings in Russia and that discussions about the project ended at a very preliminary stage.
That shouldn't come as a shock, given that Trump has dissembled and deceived more than 3,800 times in the two years since the election.
Yet paired with some other recent developments, it suggests that Mueller is rapidly building both collusion and obstruction of justice cases against the U.S. president.
Last week, Jerome Corsi, a right-wing conspiracy theorist and political gadfly, shared a document that Mueller's office had prepared as part of possible deal for his testimony. The draft suggested that Trump might have had prior warning of Wikileaks' October 2016 dump of Hillary Clinton campaign emails — stolen by Russian hackers — via Corsi's communications with his longtime friend and advisor Roger Stone.
And then on Monday, it emerged that Mueller's cooperation deal with Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort has unravelled because he reportedly lied and breached his plea agreement.
(CNN) NO COLLUSION, Donald Trump will tell you -- or, really, anyone -- if you ask about the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and the possibility that members of the Trump orbit colluded with the Russians to help him win.
And Trump is right! There is no definitive proof that he colluded with the Russians to throw the election his way. There's no smoking gun.
But, boy oh boy, is there a lot of smoke. So much smoke that it is choking the Trump administration's ability to do almost anything.
Consider what we learned Thursday morning when former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the nature and length of his interactions with Russians regarding the potential construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Cohen had previously said that conversations about the possibility of a Trump-named development in Moscow ended in January 2016 -- coinciding with the beginning of the presidential primary season. On Thursday, Cohen admitted he had lied about that timing -- he had multiple conversations about the project until June 2016, briefed members of the Trump family about the progress of those conversations and even agreed to travel to Russia to discuss the project and raise the possibility of Trump doing the same.
Cohen said in court that he made those false statements in order to be consistent with Trump's political messaging and to be loyal to Trump.
That information runs directly counter to Trump's repeated assertions during the 2016 campaign -- and after he became president -- that he had no business dealings in Russia.
Here's Trump in July 2016, just one month after Cohen stopped talking about Trump Tower Moscow:
"I have nothing to with Russia, I have nothing to do with Russia. And even -- for anything. What do I have to do with Russia? You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida. Palm Beach is a very expensive place. There was a man who went bankrupt, and I bought the house for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions. So I sold it. So I bought it for 40, I told it for 100 to a Russian. That was a number of years ago."
And here is in October 2016:
"What do I know about the Russians? What do I know about the Russians? Then they said he borrows money from - I don't borrow money from the Russians. I promise you I've never made - I don't have any deals with Russia. I had Miss Universe there a couple of years ago other than that no. I had nothing to do."
And this from February 2017:
"And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia. President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election. He then, called me up extremely nicely to congratulate me on the inauguration, which was terrific. But so did many other leaders, almost all other leaders from almost all of the country. So that's the extent."
Now, even in light of Cohen's plea deal Thursday, Trump wasn't outright lying in any of those quotes. He didn't have active business dealings with Russia when he spoke in July 2016. But man, he is cutting it very, very close. If he's not outright lying, then he's not telling anything close to the full truth either.
Speaking of lying, that's what Trump accused Cohen of doing in his plea deal.
"He's a weak person," Trump said before taking off for the G20 summit in Argentina. "He was convicted with a fairly long-term sentence with things unrelated to the Trump Organization. What he's trying to do is get a reduced sentence." (Cohen previously pleaded guilty in the Southern District of New York to a series of crimes including willful breaking of campaign finance law.)
A former Trump campaign adviser and longtime Republican consultant said it's "not surprising" that Michael Cohen "would never take a bullet for Donald Trump," after the onetime Trump ally was found guilty of lying to Congress and turned on the president.
The turmoil comes amid claims Trump conducted himself in a corrupt manner in regard to a now-failed bid to build a "Trump Tower" in Moscow in 2016.
Michael Caputo, who worked for several top Republicans including the late 1996 vice presidential nominee Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), said that the person on the "other side of the transaction" for the tower "contradicted" Cohen.
Caputo said Russian-American oligarch Felix Sater's recollections clashed with Cohen's regarding the project.
"He's trying to save his skin," Caputo said of Cohen, adding that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is "trying to terrorize people like Cohen, [Paul] Manafort and [Jerry] Corsi" to get them to admit things that aren't true.
He said Manafort -- Trump's former campaign chairman -- and Corsi -- an associate of longtime Trump friend Roger Stone -- aren't willing to say what Mueller wants to hear, but Cohen is.
There is perhaps no witness more threatening to Donald Trump right now in the Russia collusion probe than the man who once claimed he would "take a bullet" for the celebrity billionaire-turned-president of the United States.
Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty in a U.S. Federal Court on Thursday, admitting to lying to Congress last year about a Trump Tower real estate deal in Moscow that was in the works in 2016.
Cohen testified before the Senate intelligence committee in August 2017 that he broke off talks on the so-called Russia project in January of 2016, months before the Iowa caucuses and the first Republican presidential primary. But prosecutors discovered the business project was actually discussed well into June of that year.
Trump's former right-hand man now admits the Trump-Russia business talks continued through that summer, and he says Trump and some of his family members knew about it.
Cohen's new statement came as part of a plea deal he cut with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible Trump campaign involvement with Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The deal is a coup for Mueller's team — and not just because of Cohen's 10 years of service as Trump's fixer.
Here are a few key takeaways:
1) This is now a Mueller case
Robert Mueller, seen in this 2008 file photo, has been investigating allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, including possible collusion with the Trump campaign. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Remember, this is Cohen's second time pleading guilty. Back in August, he pleaded guilty to federal charges involving his campaign work.
Those earlier charges, which would ultimately appear to implicate Trump in campaign finance violations over payouts to adult-film star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playmate Karen McDougal, had been handed off to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. That's because they didn't directly pertain to Mueller's investigation into Trump-Russia matters
This time is different. Thursday's development brings Cohen into Mueller's fold.
"The other thing this tells us is that Mueller believes that lies to Congress concerning Russia-related matters are within the scope of his inquiries," said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. "You can imagine that poses a problem for other people who potentially lied to Congress about this sort of stuff."
2) Trump's family is implicated
Donald Trump Jr. arrives at Trump Tower in New York City on Jan. 18, 2017. The president's son has yet to be interviewed by Mueller. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)
Cohen informed the court he "briefed family members of Individual 1 within the Company about the project" in Moscow. In the court documents, "Individual 1" is understood to mean Trump and "the Company" is an apparent reference to The Trump Organization. The president's children are a sensitive area for him, and he is fiercely protective.
Legal experts say Trump's eldest son, Donald Jr., might have particular cause for concern given Mueller's obvious interest in the veracity of testimony before Congress.
Asked by the Senate judiciary committee in May about conversations regarding a potential Moscow deal, Donald Trump Jr. said he knew "very little" about the negotiations, though he did state his belief that Cohen was negotiating with Felix Sater, a Russian-born convicted felon and Trump associate, "in 2015."
"I wasn't involved," he insisted at one point. Democrats accused him of making false statements.
Several close associates of the president's, including Cohen, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and author and birther conspiracist Jerome Corsi, have already talked to Mueller.
"The fact that so many people around Don Jr. have talked to Mueller except for Don Jr., that sort of leaves him hanging on the branch," said Julie Grohovsky, a former prosecutor who worked in Mueller's office at the U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C.
"I would be very, very worried if I were Don Jr."
3) Cohen is a 'big get' as a co-operating witness
Donald Trump listens as Cohen delivers remarks on his behalf during a campaign stop in in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, back in September 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Over the summer, Cohen was said to be in talks with Mueller. At the time, he was not named as a co-operating witness. Now the former Trump loyalist has pleaded guilty as a co-operator.
Page 4 of the plea agreement says it is conditional on Cohen continuing "to respond and provide truthful information."
Given Cohen's years of service with Trump, Grohovsky believes few witnesses would be more crucial to Mueller's investigation than Cohen, and few people could put the president in greater peril as a witness to how Trump has done business over the last decade.
Cohen has reportedly spent more than 70 hours speaking with Mueller's team.
"He's huge. He's a big get. He was in the room for many things that happened," Grohovsky said of Trump's former personal attorney. "If it's true that some of the things he taped, or had documents to reference, obviously his testimony is important. He can point the Mueller team to other people in the room. He can prove a meeting occurred and produce an airline ticket or a hotel reservation."
If Cohen manages to co-operate — unlike Manafort, who allegedly breached his plea deal — he might be able to avoid a prison sentence.
As for President Trump, Grohovksy took his attack on Cohen as a "liar" to be evidence of "full-blown panic mode" over news that one of his closest associates has flipped.
"What we're seeing is somebody who is seeing the noose is tightening," she said.
4) The timing might not be a coincidence
Mueller played this out well, legal experts say. Just last week, President Trump submitted written responses to the special counsel's queries related to his dealings with Russians and possible Kremlin interference with the election.
"It seems the timing of this was linked to Trump's answers to the questions, just because the two things happened so close in time," said Harry Sandick, a former assistant U.S. attorney with the Southern District of New York.
The timeline means Mueller never had to tip his hand to Trump's legal team or signal what information he'd already gathered.
Not only did the special counsel likely wait until after the midterm elections to announce the plea deal with Cohen — thereby avoiding any possibility he could be accused of interfering with the outcome of the election — Mueller also appears to have waited until after Trump's answers could be reviewed by his team.
And those answers were submitted under penalty of perjury.
5) Another Kremlin brick in the wall
Trump ally and published conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi has been interviewed by Mueller. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
Cohen's latest statement about pursuing a real estate project with the Russians adds another brick to Mueller's foundation as he builds a case about Russian interference in the election and possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. There was already the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting in New York City, which established that Donald Trump Jr. willingly sat with a Kremlin-linked lawyer who had promised dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
More recently, court documents revealed that Mueller's team believes Corsi tipped off Trump adviser Roger Stone in August 2016 about WikiLeaks planning to dump "very damaging" material about Clinton that was stolen in a Russia hack.
"Now we're seeing there were just so many different connections between Russia and the Trump campaign," Sandick said. "It's not just one link, it's multiple links, and it's becoming harder for someone who looks at this with an open mind to say there's nothing going on here."
Special counsel Robert Mueller is recommending no prison time for retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, citing the former national security adviser’s “substantial assistance” in his ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“Given the defendant’s substantial assistance and other considerations set forth,” the special counsel wrote, “a sentence at the low end of the guideline range—including a sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration—is appropriate and warranted.”
Flynn, whose sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 18, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition period from Election Day 2016 to Trump's inauguration in January 2017. As part of his plea agreement, Flynn agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.
Under federal guidelines, the retired Army lieutenant general’s crime carries a penalty of up to six months in prison. But court observers say if Flynn satisfactorily cooperated with the special counsel, he could avoid prison time.
Upon learning of Mueller’s sentencing suggestion, a source close to Flynn said his family is relieved and happy tonight that the special counsel is recommending no prison time for him.
“Jail time wouldn’t be a good thing for him,” the source told ABC News.
Mueller has wasted no time bringing into court other cooperating witnesses, such as George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser, and Paul Manafort, once Trump’s campaign chairman, to face penalties for lying to his investigators or not fully cooperating.
Papadopoulos is currently serving a 14-day sentence after a judge denied his 11th-hour appeal to delay a prison sentence. Manafort faces sentencing in two separate cases early next year after his plea agreement deteriorated last month.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, departs Capitol Hill following a closed door meeting, June 21, 2017.
Mueller's assessment of the value of the cooperation by Flynn – who had at times testified in Congress as Defense Intelligence Agency director alongside Mueller when Mueller led the FBI – is likely to influence U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan’s handling of the sentence. One knowledgeable source said the bulk of Flynn's cooperation with the special counsel occurred immediately following his December court appearance.
To date, there have been scant details from Mueller's team about the extent of Flynn's cooperation, including how many times he was interviewed, what he disclosed and whether he fully cooperated to their satisfaction.
In his Tuesday memo, Mueller revealed that Flynn “participated in 19 interviews with the [special counsel’s office] or attorneys from other Department of Justice offices,” the content of which notably included “firsthand information about the content and context of interactions between the transition team and Russian government officials.”
“His early cooperation was particularly valuable because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events and issues under investigation by the [special counsel’s office],” Mueller wrote Tuesday.
Mueller noted that many of the investigations “in which [Flynn] has provided assistance are ongoing.”
A distinguished military officer with decades of government experience, Flynn – who’s now retired – forged a close bond with President Trump during the 2016 campaign as an adviser and surrogate.
Except for a handful of public appearances and speeches, the former DIA director has kept a low profile over the past year. A source close to Flynn said that after one campaign appearance for a Republican in California, the retired intelligence officer was advised not to make any further political appearances before the midterms and his scheduled sentencing this month.
Susan Walsh/AP Photo
President Donald Trump passed Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as he arrives via Air Force One at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, Feb. 6, 2017.
Friends and relatives have said Flynn, who at 2016 campaign rallies led chants of "Lock her up!" about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, is eager to face the judge and accept his fate following his dramatic guilty plea almost exactly one year ago.
Flynn’s downfall has caused him deep pain, friends and family said, after a three-decade career and launching a private consulting firm in retirement, the Flynn Intel Group, where he grew closer with his son Michael Jr. after years of war deployments overseas.
Trump said last year that Flynn was a “fine man,” but he had to dismiss his national security adviser 21 days into the new administration because he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador in Washington during the transition.
“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful,” Trump tweeted after Flynn pleaded guilty a year ago.
The special counsel has until Friday to submit similar sentencing memos for Manafort and Michael Cohen, who spent a decade as the real estate tycoon's personal lawyer.
By Alana Abramson and Ryan Teague Beckwith
11:45 PM EST
Over the past year, Michael Flynn sat down with federal investigators 19 times, answering questions and providing evidence. On Tuesday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller shared just a small amount of what he told them in a legal filing that should spook the White House.
A year and three days since President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, Mueller filed two brief legal documents calling for him to spend no time in prison over it.
In the filings, Mueller, a decorated Marine veteran, pointedly noted that Flynn — unlike “every other person who has been charged” in the special counsel investigation — had a long record of military and public service, which made his initial lies to the government all the more confounding.
But the tone of the filing was much different from Mueller’s filings on former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who reported to a federal prison camp last week, and former campaign chair Paul Manafort, who Mueller said breached a cooperation agreement.
After a daylong buildup of anticipation to the filing of the Flynn sentencing document, it turned out to say little that wasn’t already known. In January of 2017, Flynn lied to the FBI about a conversation he had with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak just a month earlier, falsely telling investigators that he hadn’t discussed sanctions with him. That conversation took place the day the Obama Administration announced it was imposing sanctions on Russia for attempting to interfere in the election, raising questions about whether he violated the Logan Act, which bars private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments about official disputes. He also lied about discussing a United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlements with Kislyak.
Two months later, Flynn failed to fully disclose the nature of his work in Turkey when registering with the government as a foreign agent, omitting the fact that he had worked on a project at the direction of the Turkish government while advising the Trump campaign on national security issues. Additionally, he failed to disclose that he authored an op-ed on behalf of the Turkish government about the attempted coup, falsely stating he wrote it of his own volition.
Flynn had revealed during his court appearance last year that he was cooperating with the Special Counsel’s office, but the filings reveal both the extent and the implications for the probe as a whole. Mueller noted that Flynn later worked extensively with the special counsel’s investigation, likely prompting other witnesses to be more forthcoming.
“His early cooperation was particularly valuable because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events and issues under investigation,” Mueller wrote.
But several parts of the addendum were blacked out in the publicly available version, including a section describing a criminal investigation, a second investigation that is entirely redacted, a portion describing interactions between the Trump transition team and Russia and a brief description of one way that Flynn cooperated.
Some of Trump’s allies were quick to declare victory for the President. “Everyone’s going to focus on what has been redacted,” Rep. Mark Meadows told Fox News. “But let’s look at what’s not in there. There is no suggestion that Michael Flynn had anything to do with collusion. He was with the transition team, he was part of the campaign, and yet there’s no mention of collusion. I think it’s good news for President Trump tonight that this is what it’s come down to.”
Washington (CNN) Michael Flynn's lawyer had it right back in March 2017 -- his client certainly has a story to tell.
That special counsel Robert Mueller clearly agrees but is not ready to share the former national security adviser's tale with the American people cannot be anything but bad news for President Donald Trump and those around him.
Mueller told a judge in a key filing Tuesday that Flynn, a retired general who was a key foreign policy aide during the Trump campaign, provided "substantial" help to his probe into Russia election interference in 2016.
That help was so significant and timely, Mueller said in heavily redacted documents, that Flynn should serve no jail time for lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russia's envoy to the US and his business ties with Turkey.
Tuesday's documents did little to add to Mueller's mosaic of ties between Trump world and Moscow, given his reticence to prejudice other investigations. But what the filing did have in common with Mueller's past practice was the sowing of new intrigues, open loops and what have become known as "breadcrumbs" that offer tantalizing clues about the direction he is headed.
Mueller's filing to a district court in Washington had been seen as a potential window into his tightly held investigation of whether members of Trump's orbit had cooperated with Russia's interference effort in 2016 and another criminal investigation.
It provided few definitive answers, but its line after line of blacked-out text offered eloquent testimony on the breadth of the Mueller investigation and appears to dispel expectations that he is nearly ready to wrap up. That's because he withheld the most crucial details that would have blown open the case to protect ongoing and future inquiries and potential prosecutions.
"What I think here is Flynn provided information that is allowing Mueller to make a criminal case against someone," Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, told CNN's Don Lemon on Tuesday.
"We don't know who that is. We can speculate or not speculate. But there is certainly somebody out there who has a criminal case that could be coming," he said.
Many of Mueller's previous court filings have embroidered a rich narrative about what he knows about the effort by Moscow's spy agencies to disrupt the presidential election, which eventually developed into a preference for Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a Russia hawk.
Mueller has sought to establish that multiple people around the President had contacts with Russians and their sympathizers and were dishonest about those communications.
Last week, Mueller made a case that Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen was negotiating to build a Trump Tower in Moscow into June 2016 -- long after it was clear that his boss would win the GOP nomination and in contravention of the President's statements that he had no business ties with Russia.
Cohen's own lawyers argued in their filings that he had kept Trump up to speed on his contacts, a factor that raised questions about the President's denials that he knew about other links between people in his inner circle and Russia.
A mystery criminal investigation
The most interesting disclosure was that Flynn had helped with what appears to be at least one separate, unidentified criminal investigation that is distinct from the probe into Russian election interference and any links to Trump's 2016 team.
All references to that avenue of inquiry were blacked out -- an omission that is likely to spark fierce speculation about what he is referring to and who may be in his sights.
There was also an unmissable line in the Flynn sentencing memo that will be viewed as a sign that the special counsel is aiming at administration officials who are more senior, even, than a former national security adviser.
He wrote, while noting Flynn's exemplary military service over a long career, that nevertheless "senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards."
That hint should certainly worry Trump and his top aides.
Throughout the filing, Mueller stressed the value of Flynn's work in lifting the lid on what had gone on in the Trump campaign and the transition period before he was fired a few weeks into the administration, for what the White House said was lying to Vice President Mike Pence over a telephone conversation in which he had discussed sanctions with Russia's then-ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak.
"His early cooperation was particularly valuable because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events and issues under investigation by the (special counsel's office)," the memo said.
"Additionally, the defendant's decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate," Mueller wrote.
These remarks cannot be considered outside the context of Trump's Twitter praise for associates such as Roger Stone, who have refused to cooperate with Mueller, and criticism for those such as Cohen, who have agreed to divulge what they know in the hope of reduced sentences.
Mueller appears to be sending a message to other witnesses that full disclosure will be rewarded while attempts to thwart him -- for example, by former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, whom he has accused of lying in contravention of a cooperation agreement, will be severely punished.
A new challenge for Trump legal team
There was no immediate reaction to Mueller's filing by Trump or his legal team.
But it is likely that the President's defenders will use the redacted documents to stick to their consistent line that the special counsel has still yet to offer any conclusive evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Yet given the vast quantity of redacted evidence in Mueller's latest filing, it appears more likely that the special counsel will find -- or already has identified -- evidence to suggest such a conspiracy did take place.
The documents left unsaid who has the most to fear from Mueller.
But there were few officials in the Trump campaign who were more influential or closer to the candidate and President-elect himself.
After Tuesday's developments, there is certain to be fresh speculation about the potential jeopardy of key figures including Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The Flynn sentencing memo is not the only shoe to drop this week. On Friday, the special counsel is due to explain in another court filing why he believes that Manafort has lied to his investigators -- behavior that he contends should end a court-mandated cooperation agreement with the former uber lobbyist.
Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump's former lawyer, has been sentenced to three years in prison for crimes including campaign finance violations and lying to Congress.
Cohen apologized for his actions and told U.S. District Judge William Pauley III that "blind loyalty" to Trump led him to "cover up his dirty deeds."
Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty to making false statements in 2017 to the Senate intelligence committee about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. He earlier pleaded guilty in August to eight separate counts, including campaign finance violations that he said he carried out in co-ordination with Trump.
At that time, Cohen said he secretly used shell companies to make payments of $150,000 US and $130,000, respectively, to silence former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult-film actress Stormy Daniels for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election. The women have claimed they had affairs with Trump after the real estate mogul married his third wife, Melania.
Pauley characterized Cohen's offences — which included evading $1.4 million in taxes related to his personal businesses — as a "veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct."
Cohen was sentenced to three years for the payments, and two months for lying to Congress, but the penalties will be concurrent. The court is fined him $50,000 for both cases and ordered three years of supervised release after imprisonment,
He was ordered to surrender on March 6.
Trump has derided Cohen for co-operating with prosecutors, calling him a "weak person," and has downplayed the extent of their professional relationship.
Earlier this year, Cohen said he arranged hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, left, and Karen McDougal, former Playboy Playmate of the Year, who have both said they had sexual encounters with Trump. (Matt Sayles/Associated Press, Evan Vucci/Associated Press, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty for Playboy)
"Recently the president tweeted a statement calling me weak and it was correct, but for a much different reason than he was implying," Cohen said in court. "It was because time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds."
Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of four to five years in prison, saying he should receive some credit for his co-operation with special counsel Robert Mueller, but noted that he had not entered into a co-operation agreement with New York authorities.
Cohen's 'credible' information
Cohen's lawyer Guy Petrillo argued for more leniency, stressing that Cohen co-operated despite not knowing the future of the Mueller investigation and whether "the most powerful person in our country" would try to shut down the probe.
Since 2017, Mueller has been investigating allegations of co-ordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign. The two investigations were interconnected — one run by federal prosecutors in New York, the other by the special counsel.
At the sentencing hearing, a prosecutor in Mueller's office, Jeannie Rhee, said Cohen "has provided consistent and credible information about core Russia-related issues under investigation." She didn't elaborate.
Cohen was accompanied to court by his wife, daughter and son.
He is among a number of people in Trump's orbit who have pleaded guilty to criminal charges. The list also includes his former presidential campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and Manafort's colleague, Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who was released last week after serving a short prison sentence.
Trump appeared in Moscow in October 2013 during a news conference for the Miss Universe pageant, which was run by his company. He sought to build in Moscow at various times through the years without success. (Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA)
While Trump has mused about not being opposed to offering a presidential pardon to Manafort, Cohen's prosecution at the state level would make him ineligible for a pardon.
The president has assailed the various investigations, while Russia has denied trying to interfere in the 2016 election for the purposes of sowing discord and improving Trump's prospects.
Trump said the potential Moscow project was well documented, and he emphasized that the plan was abandoned. But the voters weren't fully aware of its existence.
On the subject of the payments, Trump insisted he only found out about them after they were made, despite the release of a September 2016 recorded conversation in which Trump and Cohen can be heard discussing a deal to pay McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair.
Trump has derided Cohen for co-operating with prosecutors and turning state's evidence, which is often a feature of the criminal justice system.
"It's called flipping and it almost should be illegal," said Trump.
Trump was asked earlier this month why he retained Cohen for about a decade.
"Because a long time ago he did me a favour," said Trump.