During a hearing with former special counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday, House Democrats highlighted the financial ties of President Donald Trump and some of his closest associates — and their potential to open them up to blackmail by a hostile foreign power.
“In the case of Michael Flynn, he was secretly doing business with Turkey, correct?” House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) asked about Trump’s first national security adviser.
“Yes,” Mueller replied, confirming a covert business deal that led to the conviction of Flynn’s business partner, Bijan Rafiekian, on Tuesday.
“That could open him up to compromise that financial relationship?” Schiff continued.
“I presume,” the former special counsel replied.
Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, wasn’t the only one to come in for criticism by House Democrats on Wednesday for attempting to cash in during and immediately after the presidential campaign.
“Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Erik Prince, and others in the Trump orbit all tried to use their connections with the Trump organization to profit from Russia, which was openly seeking relief from sanctions,” Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) said, referring to a number of Trump associates. “Is that true, sir?” he asked Mueller.
Mueller declined to “adopt” Heck’s characterizations. But they point to a long line of public reporting that has highlighted various ways Trump and his associates allegedly tried to cash in during and after the 2016 election.
Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and fixer, is currently serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to financial crimes, campaign finance violations, and lying to Congress.
At his plea hearing last August, Cohen said he facilitated payments to women alleging they’d had affairs with Trump — payments that constituted illegal campaign contributions — “in coordination and at the direction of” Trump.
Cohen was also the point person for a deal to build a Trump-licensed high rise, dubbed Trump Tower Moscow, in the Russian capital. He has said that he lied to Congress to cover up how far into the 2016 presidential campaign those negotiations continued, after Trump publicly lied on several occasions during the campaign about having no business deals in Russia.
“I stated that we stopped negotiating in January 2016. That was false — our negotiations continued for months later during the campaign,” Cohen told the House Oversight Committee in February.
“Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress,” he added, saying the candidate nevertheless made it clear Cohen should lie on his behalf. “That’s not how he operates.”
Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair, asked his longtime business partner Konstantin Kilimnik in April 2016 how he could use his position on the campaign to “get whole” — that is, to get money he was owed by former clients and clear his own debts.
Manafort later shared internal campaign polling data with Kilimnik, who reportedly has ties to Russian intelligence. Kilimnik has denied any wrongdoing.
Manafort was convicted on a host of charges, including financial crimes and obstruction of justice, last year. He is currently serving a seven-plus year prison sentence.
Several meetings that Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House aide, Jared Kushner, had during the presidential transition have come under scrutiny. But one in particular, on Dec. 13, 2016, raises questions about the real-estate magnate’s potential financial conflicts of interest.
The meeting involved Sergey Gorkov, chief executive of Russia’s state-owned Vnesheconombank and a graduate of the Federal Security Service academy. The bank has described the encounter as a business meeting, while Kushner and the White House have said it was a diplomatic meeting connected to the presidential transition.
At the time, Kushner’s company was looking for financing for an office building it owned at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Mueller’s team was not able to resolve those conflicting accounts, they said in their report.
Erik Prince, founder of the infamous private-security firm Blackwater and an unofficial adviser to the Trump campaign, may be one of the most enigmatic figures in the Mueller report. While he did not figure prominently in Wednesday’s testimony, an entire section of the report was dedicated to a series of meetings Prince had at the Four Seasons resort in the Seychelles on Jan. 11, 2017.
Prince has said publicly, and in sworn congressional testimony, that it was a business meeting with leaders from the United Arab Emirates. While there, he says, he happened to have a short conversation with Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, at the hotel bar.
Mueller’s report told a different story. According to the report, which was based in large part on interviews Mueller’s team conducted with both Prince and his associate George Nader, the meetings centered on created a “back channel” between Russia and the Trump campaign and involved discussions of U.S. foreign policy positions.
ThinkProgress documented at least a dozen inconsistencies in April between Prince’s testimony in the Mueller report and what the told Congress. Days later, Schiff made a criminal referral to the Justice Department for Prince over possible perjury.
Asked about the inconsistencies earlier this year, Prince spokesman Marc Cohen declined to comment to ThinkProgress.