Donald Trump: Besieged by investigators

The image of a siege may not be the worst to describe the situation in the White House these days. No one's going out of stock inside; everyone can go anytime they want; few visitors are denied access. But the US President and his advisers must believe: Outside, the enemy stands and gathers his troops.

Whatever Donald Trump has to hide, he can not hide his anger at the numerous investigations that dig deep into his political life and his business, his friendships and dependencies: she speaks of each of his indignant and unsustainable tweets, of all defiant reactions on the next charge, the next suspicion. The fact that Trump does not seem to be as busy as the work of special investigator Robert Mueller, at least two years after his election, at least suggests that the president sees in it a real danger for himself and his own. Whether he is worried about impeachment, of a criminal charge for his departure or legal consequences for family members – what Trump also fears, he knows that the besiegers are patient and equipped. And that their camp is growing: On Mueller's side, many more have lined up.

The biggest question in this complex is still aptly described as the Russia investigation: how far did the Russian attempts to influence the election in 2016, and did Trump or his environment make common cause with the Kremlin? But the dimensions of the investigations that have grown out of it go far beyond that. In addition, Mueller identifies a number of prosecutors in several states. The answers will be delayed, but what do the investigators want to know? A selection of the main allegations and
Suspicions with which the US President and his
Environment must:

1. Russia wanted to influence the election – what role did Trump play?

No question: the Kremlin had a clear favorite in the 2016 US presidential election with Donald Trump. And in his favor was a multi-layered manipulation attempt, whose enlightenment is the core of the mission of Robert Mueller. US intelligence agencies, investigators and security experts were early sure that the Russian government was behind hacker attacks in the US electioneering Democrats and Republicans alike orchestrated the release of captured information designed to harm Trump's opponent Hillary Clinton.

In addition, major Internet platforms such as Facebook and Twitter proved that hundreds of thousands of Russian-controlled accounts were fueling Clinton, fueling fear of immigrants, and generally trying to exacerbate tensions between social and ethnic groups. Lastly, two more studies submitted to the US Senate Intelligence Committee described how extensive and aggressive the disinformation campaign was.

The Special Investigator has meanwhile accused dozens of Russian citizens and intelligence officers involved in the manipulation. Only: Trump knew at the time of the attempts to public opinion in the United States to corrupt? Was there any agreement with his campaign team or even a common plan? Did the inexperienced candidate simply get involved in something that he did not recognize as problematic, or was he forced to cooperate, in the worst case blackmailed?


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2. Was it mainly about incriminating material about Hillary Clinton?

The search for answers begins with the many contacts and meetings that Trump's people have been engaging with Russian players long before the election. The list is long and ranges from Donald Trump Jr. to the now retired Justice Secretary Jeff Sessions – who had therefore withdrawn from the investigation – to his son-in-law and presidential advisor Jared Kushner. They all had partially or completely denied ever having been in contact with Russians, or, when appropriate meetings became known, described them as random encounters of no importance. Why did they so obviously veil what supposedly was so harmless?

A meeting is of particular importance from the point of view of the Russia investigators, because it is the clearest indication that people in Trump's inner circle were obviously ready to accept election assistance from Russian actors. Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and then campaign manager Paul Manafort met in June 2016 in New York's Trump Tower, along with others involved in the Kremlin or its intelligence services, Russian lawyer Natalia Weselnizkaja, who had pledged incriminating evidence on Hillary Clinton ,

Trump Jr. had long denied, before the meeting became known, ever having participated in a previously arranged conversation with Russian nationals, or representing his father's campaign team on such an occasion. The e-mail communication he himself disclosed about the meeting also shows that the participants were aware of where this material would come from: "(…) obviously high-level and sensitive information, but it is part of Russia's support for his government Trump, "it says. The son of the president replied, "If that's what you say, I love that." However, according to his account, the lawyer had "no significant" information about Clinton, but instead wanted to talk about US sanctions against Russia, among other things. The president himself did not want to know about it before the meeting. Two days before, he had announced a big speech about "all the things that happened to the Clintons" – he never held them.

When the hacked Democrat e-mails were released during the election campaign, Trump did not hold back his joy: "WikiLeaks is like a treasure chest," said the candidate to supporters in October 2016. "I love WikiLeaks." But even without the meeting with Weselnizkaja Trump and his environment could have been months before been informed about the emails. The long-time Trump confidant Roger Stone, for example, should have been aware of this, as well as ex-advisor George Papadopoulos. The campaign manager Manafort is said to have met several times before publication with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. And the latest detail from Manafort's court documents has only increased the suspicion of a collusion: he is said to have shared survey data with a Russian confidant with intelligence connections during the election campaign.


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3. Does Trump interfere with justice because he has something to hide?

Should Donald Trump with the dismissal of the then FBI chief James Comey in early May 2017 pursued the goal of complicating the investigation of Russian manipulation attempts – so he achieved the opposite: As has become known, then the FBI went under the counterintelligence suspicion According to, Trump could have acted consciously or unconsciously for the Kremlin and thus represent a threat to national security. The Ministry of Justice appointed the special investigator Robert Mueller, whose mandate goes far beyond the question of origin of the electoral influence. From the outset, he also examined the allegations of the judiciary (while continuing the work of the FBI), determined in this sense directly against the President.

The occasion was the resignation of Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, after it became known that he had made false statements about his meetings with the Russian Ambassador. Shortly thereafter, Trump is said to have asked Comey to stop the lawsuit against Flynn. "I hope you can drop that," he said to Comey, "Flynn is a good guy". Comey understood that as an order, felt pressured, especially since Trump had asked him if he wanted to stay FBI boss.

Already in the summer of 2017, Trump should have been so far as to order Mueller's release. Only at the insistence of his legal advisers should he have let it off. After the questionable handling of Comey this could be seen as another attempt to obstruct the investigation. In addition, there are the reputation-damaging attacks that the President repeatedly drives against Mueller and his team, against the FBI and its employees, and often against those responsible in the Ministry of Justice. There Trump has recently set up a loyal provisional successor to Jeff Whitney's forced retirement with Matthew Whitaker and nominated an equally Mueller-critical man with William Barr – raising fears that he might once again attempt to block Mueller's work decisively. The Special Investigator is likely to pursue all this more with great interest than with concern: the President only broadened the basis for the charge of disability.


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4. How were Trump's sex partners silenced?

In March, Donald Trump's former lawyer and problem solver Michael Cohen is scheduled to take his custody. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in mid-December, after pleading guilty to not only tax and bank fraud but also violating the campaign finance law – and personally incriminating the president. Specifically, it was about hush money payments to Trump's sex partners, so that the affairs with the porn actress Stormy Daniels and the ex-Playmate Karen McDougal would not be discussed – with the "intention to influence the election," as Cohen states.

The prosecution assumes that Cohen made the payments on direct order of the then presidential candidate: In the court documents, which are partially blackened, Trump scrambles as "Individual 1". Cohen said during his hearing that he had acted out of "blind loyalty to this man": "I saw it as my duty to cover up his own dirty deeds." For years, he was one of Trump's closest confidants, now Cohen cooperates with the investigators, however, without having received a formal deal as a basis for a penalty.


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5. How problematic are Trump's business interests in Russia?

In addition to the haggling sentences, Donald Trump's ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen, was given a two-month sentence for lied at a congressional hearing on Trump's business intentions in Russia. He admitted that he had made false statements to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017 about the planned construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow. At that time, Cohen had said that the real estate project had already been completed in January 2016, long before Trump was nominated as Republican presidential candidate. Cohen wants to have lied about the ongoing efforts, not to counteract Trump's statements. He now claims to have maintained contacts with the Kremlin during the election campaign for Trump, in order to drive the project forward – it had only been given up in June 2016.

That Cohen has apparently given up his unconditional loyalty to the current president is not trivial: if there were conspiratorial activities or dirty deals between Trump and Russia, he might have known about it. And Cohen wants to continue working with the investigators. As the court documents in his case show, they are already aware that the construction project in Moscow would have brought Trump, his company and some of his partners "hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties and other revenues" from Russia. And: The project would have been hard to realize without the consent and help of the Russian government. While Trump and his people claimed since the start of the election campaign that there were no business interests and contacts with Russia (although Trump had been trying to gain a foothold in Moscow for years, including in connection with the Miss Universe competition he held there), was renegotiated. So the Kremlin did not know about it, the American public – which in itself casts a shadow over the election, but is more of a dangerous dependency.


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6. Have foreign governments bought influence?

Prosecutors and Robert Mueller's team are now also investigating Donald Trump's inauguration ceremony in January 2017. And it's not about the size of the crowd attending the ceremony – the president has repeatedly claimed that it's the biggest ever been. And if that's not the case, Trump broke a record: his organizing committee made more donations than ever before. But where did it come from and what was it spending about $ 107 million on? With this sum, spending on Trump's inauguration was almost twice as high as it was for Barack Obama in 2009, until then the most expensive celebration – with far less staff and a fraction of events.

One strand of the investigation is the financial flows between the organizing committee and Trump's corporate empire. Even though the president has withdrawn from running his business, this is only a temporary step and the Trump organization remains family-owned. So, when the committee at the Trump Hotel in Washington pays rooms, food, and banquet facilities – and presidential daughter Ivanka Trump negotiates the allegedly exorbitant prices – he'll be thriving. At any rate, the borderline between private profit-seeking and political decision-making is a gray area for Trump, in which he likes to move.

The other strand is even trickier. Investigators are not just checking how and to whom money was flowing. They also look at the origin, and whether donations were made to buy political favor. In addition, there is the suspicion that disguised payments from abroad were made to the committee. For example, a number of Russian billionaires affiliated with the Kremlin were guests of exclusive events, usually reserved for key lenders and political allies (such as a candlelight dinner for donors who had given more than $ 1 million).

In addition, the inauguration ceremony is not the only clue to investigate possible interference from abroad. Prosecutors are also examining why, for example, governments from the Middle East were and are such good business for the Trump Group. For example, during the first three months of the presidency, Saudi Arabia reserved 500 rooms at the Washington Trump Hotel. The Bahrain Embassy celebrated the national holiday in the house. The Embassy of Kuwait even switched temporarily from Four Seasons Hotel to Trump Hostel for an event. At a celebration of the Embassy of Azerbaijan, among other things, the Russian Ambassador Sergei Kisljak was seen there – which is also the focus of numerous investigations into the Russia complex.


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7. What's in Trump's tax returns?

It is one of the traditions of American democracy that presidents and candidates for the office disclose their tax records. Donald Trump has found countless excuses not to do it right from the start. The possible reasons are just as manifold. The most innocuous variant is that he does not want to reveal how big his fortune, his liabilities, his income are – because the sheer numbers may look different than the image of the mega-successful self-made businessman Trump has cultivated.

Moreover, the question of how the president earned his money and who he still owes something to is likely to be a key concern of all his investigations. The suspicions range from simple tax fraud on illegal business and corruption to violations of laws on campaign financing, the amalgamation of political and economic interests to participation in the efforts of the Kremlin to influence the election in 2016.

Trump's obscure finances can now be more clearly scrutinized by the Democrats with the new majority in the House of Representatives following the midterms. Already it is clear that they want to investigate, demand documents and hear witnesses – there are enough questions that the Republicans have not yet investigated. For example, the Committee on Ways and Means, the financial, budgetary and tax policy committee, is also expected to request Trump's tax returns. At least symbolically, that would be a huge blow to the president, whatever the documents give. It seems unlikely that Trump will simply cooperate, a legal dispute may only be decided by the Supreme Court.


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8. What about the allegations in Christopher Steele's dossier?

Russia's attempt to corrupt public opinion in the US is obvious. How far the manipulation went and whether there were collusion with Donald Trump's campaign team or even a joint plan is the big question open. And
if: if he himself was involved or even of it
knew. Many other scenarios are conceivable, such as the inexperienced
Candidate or his environment in naive carelessness in something
that they did not recognize as problematic. Or just that the Russian agents have something against Trump in hand – and with it: dirty parties with prostitutes, dirty dealings with the underworld,
unclean deals with the Kremlin, whatever.

Clear indications in this direction got US intelligenceSeeing congressmen and journalists long before BuzzFeed published the corresponding dossier of a former British intelligence officer and Russia specialist. Christopher Steele had been looking for the company Fusion GPS for information about Trump, in particular connections of his campaign team to Russia. Fusion GPS had started the research for a conservative website; Steele became active when they were continued on behalf of Clinton and the Democratic Party. He reports on a whole range of personal contacts and financial relations between Trump and his advisers and Russia. Steele claims to have learned that the Russian government had been building and supporting Trump for years; he and his confidants would have accepted a "steady influx of information about Democrats and other political rivals." Maybe not entirely voluntarily: Russia can extort Trump, with filming "unorthodox" sex practices in a hotel in Moscow.

The dossier contains no evidence, refers to sources not mentioned, and the Trump camp quickly tried to personally discredit Steele. In the industry, however, enjoys the reputation of a totally honest and professional professional. Therefore, his findings provide at least clues that take the FBI and the investigators around Robert Mueller very seriously.


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