Vox Populi

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Seth Abramson: The most important aspect of the Trump/Russia investigation

Below is an aggregation of a Twitter thread posted by Seth Abramson.

1/ Investigators are now trying to determine *exactly* when every member of the Trump campaign found out Russia was working to elect Trump.

2/ These dates are of legal importance because they establish a “mens rea” (mental state) for possible crimes committed by Trump and others.

3/ Once Trump, his family, and/or his campaign aides knew Russia was committing crimes to assist Trump, certain actions became *prohibited*.

4/ For instance, once Trump had this knowledge, he could not publicly deny it without running afoul of federal Aiding and Abetting statutes.

5/ For instance, once Don Jr. had this knowledge he couldn’t take any action in furtherance of a plan to benefit from Russia’s illegal acts.

6/ Knowledge of Russian illegalities—even broadly—is a necessary precursor to what we colloquially call “collusion” (not a legal term here).

7/ This is why *all* of Trump’s most audacious lies—and his family’s, and his aides’—center on their *knowledge* of what Russia was doing.

8/ Paul Manafort’s excuse for not knowing Russia was working to elect Trump? (a) he didn’t check his email; (b) he was looking at his phone.

9/ Jared Kushner’s excuse for not knowing Russia was working to elect Trump? (a) he left a big meeting early; (b) he didn’t check his email.

10/ What do the Trump aides who changed the GOP platform last July say in response to charges they were executing a quid pro quo for Russia?

11/ They say (a) they were executing orders Trump gave March 31, 2016; (b) but don’t blame Trump, because he didn’t know what they were doing.

12/ What’s *Trump’s* excuse as to Russia working to elect him—after *admitting* he knew and then *getting briefed on it* on August 17, 2016?

13/ Why, he just didn’t *believe* what U.S. intel agencies said, of course! He just didn’t *believe* the mountains of evidence we all saw!

14/ Now ask yourself: does Bob Mueller believe any of these lies? Does the FBI? Does the DOJ? Do American voters? Would a duly-seated jury?

15/ FACT: Don was directly told by a trusted friend that Putin was working to elect his dad. He knew this as of the first week of June 2016.

16/ Now consider: despite the way the Russia issue blew up after June 2016, Don says he *never told his dad* Putin was working to elect him.

17/ Don, Jared, and Manafort say they *never* discussed the issue again—with *anyone*—and deliberately plotted to keep this info from Trump.

18/ Do *you* believe that? Do you think Mueller does? Or the FBI? The DOJ? Most American voters? Most American Congressmen? Future jurors?

19/ You think Don sat there watching Russia news every single day for *months*, yet never told daddy Putin was confirmed as “in his corner”?

20/ Do you believe that—once the Russia news broke shortly after June 2016— Kushner and Manafort *never went back to look at their emails*?

21/ Do you think Kushner and Manafort were—start to finish—in the dark about who Veselnitskaya was, who she worked for, and what she wanted?

22/ Do you believe *none* of the Russia news between June 2016 and this summer caused Kushner *or* Manafort to reflect back on that meeting?

23/ Why did Trump witness-tamper with his son—exposing himself/Don to *prison*—with false statements on the meeting? Why? Knowledge matters.

24/ This explains fantastical tales of phone-checking/email-ignoring at the *exact* moments knowledge—legally speaking—could be established.

25/ This explains Trump’s increasingly grotesque and deranged denials of reality on Russian interference: if he says otherwise, *knowledge*.

26/ This is why the news that Don and Ivanka were about to be charged with felony fraud matters. It goes to their honesty—which is now key.

27/ Don/Ivanka *repeatedly lied to consumers* about how many Trump SoHo units had sold. So do you think they’d lie to save dad’s presidency?

28/ And this is why every single lie Trump tells is legally relevant on the question of his reputation/propensity for honesty versus deceit.

29/ Trump admitted Russia was helping—then was briefed on it—then reversed course and said otherwise when he saw the danger of an admission.

30/ But his reputation for deceit—it’s legendary—would prompt an investigator or juror to presume his initial briefing sealed his knowledge.

31/ The danger *now* is non-attorney journalists confusing evidence of Aiding and Abetting with “evidence of a cover-up.” They’re different.

32/ There’s evidence of a cover-up—Mueller could get Trump on Obstruction with a jury right now—but also Aiding and Abetting a Russian plot.

33/ The evidence of a cover-up overlaps in many particulars with the evidence Trump and his team knew Russia was interfering, then aided it.

34/ For instance, it *isn’t* legal for Trump to learn on August 17th, 2016 that Russia was committing crimes against the U.S., and *then*…

35/ …send his chief foreign policy aide—Sessions—to negotiate *unilateral sanctions-lifting* with Russia’s ambassador three weeks later.

36/ So let’s stop talking collusion—a vague and meaningless term in this legal scenario—and instead discuss “knowledge of illegal activity.”

37/ Don, Jared, and Manafort were on *legal notice* that Russia was illegally stealing information from June 9, 2016 onward—at the *latest*.

38/ So no, Don wasn’t entitled to take that meeting—given what he’d been told. And Manafort couldn’t push a GOP platform change weeks later.

39/ Indeed, arguably, the *entire campaign* was on notice Russia aimed to secretly negotiate with and aid Trump from March 24, 2016 onward.

40/ On that date, Papadopoulos told seven senior Trump staffers that Putin wanted to meet with Trump—and felt Trump could improve relations.

41/ On that basis, *any* subsequent revelation that Russia was committing crimes should’ve been read by the campaign as a pro-Trump proffer.

42/ Note that, in this analysis, I’m approaching this as a former criminal attorney and former criminal investigator—we *do* think this way.

43/ The media can’t—it feels—call Trump a liar when he lies to (dis)establish his legal knowledge. But as an attorney, I see it differently.

44/ But as we enter the intermediate stages of the Mueller probe, we *all* must be thinking in legal terms—as we’re in the legal sphere now.

45/ So if you want to talk Russia on social media, I’d suggest focusing on the date each actor had knowledge of Russia’s illegal acts. {end}


Seth Abramson is an attorney and journalist.

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