Trump confident ex-aides don’t have evidence against him, lawyer says
WASHINGTON — President Trump is confident that neither his former campaign chairman nor his former national security adviser has damaging information about him to offer prosecutors, a White House lawyer told The New York Times.
Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, has been warned to expect an indictment, raising the prospect that the Justice Department special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, will offer him leniency in exchange for incriminating information about Trump.
Mueller is investigating whether anyone close to Trump worked with Russian operatives to disrupt last year’s presidential election.
He has summoned witnesses before a federal grand jury in Washington to gather information about Manafort; Michael Flynn, the retired general and former national security adviser; and other associates of Trump.
At least two news organizations have reported that a federal grand jury has approved the first charges stemming from Mueller inquiry.
The charges are sealed under orders from a federal judge and it’s unclear who’s implicated, CNN reported, adding that arrests could come as soon as Monday. The Wall Street Journal reported that at least one person has been charged, citing people familiar with the matter that it didn’t identify.
“The president has no concerns in terms of any impact, as to what happens to them, on his campaign or on the White House,” said Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer.
Cobb’s remarks echo what those around Manafort have said: that he has no such information to offer. Trump has sought to play down the significance of Manafort’s role with the campaign.
“He likes and respects Mr. Manafort and appreciates the work he did for him during the three months he was with the campaign. He likes General
Flynn personally, but understands that they have their own path with the special counsel,” Cobb said.
“I think he would be sad for them, as a friend and a former colleague, if the process results in punishment or indictments,’’ Cobb added. “But to the extent that that happens, that’s beyond his control.”
Mueller is investigating whether Manafort violated federal tax laws or lobbied on behalf of foreign officials without registering. His team is also investigating Manafort for possible money laundering. Many of the activities Mueller is scrutinizing date back years, well before Manafort joined the Trump campaign.
“Mr. Manafort has said from the beginning neither he nor anyone else in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to undermine the 2016 election,” said Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort. “Finally, everyone seems to be coming to that same conclusion.”
Mueller is also examining Flynn’s financial ties to Russia and whether he concealed lobbying he did last year for Turkey.
The White House has given Mueller’s team documents related to Manafort and Flynn, as well as the firing of FBI Director James Comey and other topics. Trump has instructed all White House staff members to cooperate with investigators, Cobb said.
Mueller has begun interviewing the staff members, but he has not yet asked to speak with Trump. “We’d have to address that in the future if they see a need to talk to him,” Cobb said.
Cobb said none of the White House documents turned over to Mueller showed evidence that anyone colluded with Russia, or that Trump tried to obstruct justice. The president is fully cooperating with the special counsel, he said.
“I think the path that he chose of trying to minimize conflict and maximize cooperation is one that benefits the country as he tries to erase this cloud,” said Cobb, “which I think he will ultimately achieve.”
He did not say when he believed that would happen, but he predicted the end of the investigation was nearing. “I don’t think that it’s far away,” he said.
The developments on Mueller’s investigation come as billionaire Paul Singer, president of Elliott Management Corp., has been injected into the mystery over who paid for the much-discussed Russian dossier on Trump while he was campaigning for office.
The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website, said Friday that it hired Fusion GPS, the research firm that later produced reports on potential ties between Trump and Russia. The firm was recruited as part of an effort to seek dirt on what was initially a sprawling field of 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls.
The Free Beacon, which is backed by Singer, hired Fusion in October 2015 to research Trump and other Republican candidates, The New York Times reported late Friday. But the site’s editor, Matthew Continetti, wrote in a blog post that it had no connection to the salacious dossier on Trump prepared by a former British spy.
Meanwhile, two of the congressional investigations into Russian election interference are becoming mired in partisan sniping as Republicans focus on the origin of the dossier, a thread the White House and its allies have used to try to shift the focus away from Trump.
House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley are demanding answers about who paid for the dossier, which outlined alleged connections between Russia and Trump and his associates, and whether US agencies relied on its unverified accusations to launch a spy investigation.
Some of the allegations in the dossier, including that there were some contacts between Russians and members of the Trump campaign, have since been confirmed.