President Donald Trump is still in a lot of trouble, and it has nothing to do with Congress. Federal courts continue to reveal new information that appears to show the president’s inner circle and closest allies were deeply involved in efforts to stymie investigations into his administration. With over a dozen investigations ongoing, the Justice Department is still casting a long shadow over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered the government to release a transcript of a call in which Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, discussed U.S. sanctions with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Sullivan also ordered the release of a transcript in which Trump’s former personal lawyer, John Dowd, seemed to discourage Flynn from cooperating with federal prosecutors on November 22, 2017.
Flynn ignored Dowd and pleaded guilty on December 1, 2017, admitting he lied to federal investigators about his conversation with Kislyak. In a sentencing memo filed last year, prosecutors said Flynn provided “substantial assistance” in three investigations, two of which are ongoing.
“The defendant informed the government of multiple instances, both before and after his guilty plea, where either he or his attorneys received communications from persons connected to the Administration or Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation,” a newly unredacted court filing released Thursday said.
Among other things, the transcripts could reveal the identities of “persons connected to the Administration or to Congress,” broadening the circle of people implicated in Trump’s attempts to quash special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference.
The government has until May 31 to make the two transcripts public.
Among the most embarrassing revelations for the administration could be the transcript — or possibly even a recording — of the voicemail by Dowd.
“[I]f … there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security issue … so, you know, .. we need some kind of heads up,” Dowd said, according to Mueller’s final report.
The public could soon find out what’s behind those ellipses, and what else, if anything, Dowd said in the voicemail. The results may not land Dowd or Trump in new legal jeopardy — Mueller already had the full voicemail, after all — but they’re likely to cause a public relations headache for the White House.
More importantly, the new revelations underscore the extent to which the Justice Department — not Congress — is still investigating Trump, his campaign and his associates.
This week saw a dramatic escalation in the fight between the White House and Congress over access to documents and witnesses related to the Russia probe. The White House has dug in, stonewalling on everything from the unredacted Mueller report to testimony by Attorney General William Barr.
Meanwhile, House Democrats have used their recent ascent to the majority to launch a series of oversight investigations into Trump and his administration across the Intelligence, Judiciary, Oversight, Finance, and Ways and Means Committees.
But while Congress and the White House fight, the Justice Department is still quietly at work.
Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have been looking into whether there were illegal foreign donations to Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, as well as hush-money payments Trump made through his former fixer, Michael Cohen, to two women who claimed they had affairs with him. Cohen went to jail for breaking campaign finance law by making those payments.
Mueller also referred 14 still-unknown cases to other departments within the Justice Department when he closed his investigation last month. Those cases, detailed in a heavily redacted appendix to the special counsel’s final report, could spell ongoing legal trouble for the president and his associates.
That report concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to show that Trump or members of his campaign conspired with Russia’s election interference efforts, but it did not come to a conclusion on whether Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation.
It also didn’t give Trump or his campaign a clean bill of health on their Russia contacts or other foreign influence, especially by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — areas that could provide fertile ground for other federal prosecutors in the ongoing investigations.
Then there’s the trial of Roger Stone, a former senior Trump campaign advisor who faces charges that he lied to Congress about his alleged attempts to contact Wikileaks, which published emails Russia stole from the Clinton campaign. Trump has not been directly implicated in any of the court filings in the Stone case, but the public trial could reveal new information that paints the president and his campaign in an unflattering light.
Finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee has referred Trump associate Erik Prince to the Justice Department for what appear to be misleading statements he made to Congress. Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, is Trump’s secretary of education. The Senate Intelligence Committee has also asked the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., to clarify his past testimony.
Those two moves raise the specter that more people from Trumpworld could face prosecution for lying to investigators, adding to an already long list of Mueller indictments and guilty pleas over the past two years.