Ill-advised conversations that could help build an obstruction of justice case against President Donald Trump. A secret meeting to establish a back channel between the US and Russia. A restraining order against a former porn star meant to keep her quiet about her alleged affair with Trump.
Believe it or not, we learned all of this in just the past 24 hours. Even for this scandal-ridden administration, that’s a whole lot of scandal.
On Wednesday evening, the New York Times reported that Trump spoke to two people who testified in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible Trump-Russia collusion during the 2016 presidential election. If true, that adds to suspicions that Trump wants to interfere with the investigation.
Also on Wednesday night, the Washington Post reported that Mueller has evidence of a secret January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and Russian oligarch Kirill Dmitriev that was set up to create a communications link between the White House and the Kremlin. What’s worse is that Prince may have lied to lawmakers in Congress about the meeting.
And finally, adult film star Stormy Daniels sued Trump on Tuesday over a nondisclosure agreement she signed promising not to discuss her alleged affair with Trump in exchange for $130,000. The lawsuit claims that because Trump never actually signed the agreement, Daniels doesn’t have to keep quiet about the affair. In response, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen promptly filed a secret restraining order on Wednesday to try to keep her quiet.
If you missed any of it because you wanted to enjoy a politics-free evening, no worries. We’ve got you covered.
Trump spoke to Mueller’s witnesses. That could put him in trouble.
Like a moth to a flame, Trump just can’t seem to stay away from things that could potentially hurt him.
Here’s what happened: In December, Reince Priebus, Trump’s former chief of staff, visited the White House for a chat. According to the New York Times, during their chat, Trump brought up Priebus’s testimony with Mueller investigators two months earlier, asking Priebus if Mueller’s team had been “nice.” Priebus reportedly wouldn’t share any specifics, and they moved on to other topics.
As the Times notes, “It is not illegal for the subject of an investigation to learn what witnesses have told investigators.” But experts tell me the interaction could still fuel perceptions that the president tried to influence a Mueller witness, potentially putting Trump in even more legal trouble.
“The president shouldn’t be talking about the Russia investigation with anyone but his lawyers,” Andy Wright, a professor at Savannah Law School, told me. “Keeping your mouth shut about a pending investigation is doubly true with respect to other witnesses because it could open you up to charges of witness tampering, which is a separate felony.”
But that’s not all. According to the Times, last summer, Trump tried to order White House counsel Don McGahn, who also happens to be a witness in the Mueller probe, to issue a false statement to the public. Trump wanted McGahn to deny a report that he had threatened to quit after Trump told him to fire Mueller. Lying to the public isn’t illegal, of course, and there’s no evidence Trump tried to get McGahn to lie to Mueller, but it’s still not a good look for Trump.
Apparently Mueller knows about both of these incidents because people with knowledge of them told his investigators. That leads to an important question: What else does Mueller now know?
The secret meeting in Africa to establish a US-Russia back channel
If what you’re about to read seems like bad fiction, rest assured it’s actually real life — but it’s still bad.
Per the Washington Post, it turns out that Mueller has a new cooperator in the Russia probe. And he’s got evidence about a mysterious meeting in the Seychelles between a Trump associate and a Russian fund manager just days before Trump’s inauguration.
The cooperator is George Nader, an adviser to the government of the United Arab Emirates. Nader helped organized the January 11, 2017, meeting in the Seychelles (an East African archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean).
Nader brought together Erik Prince, a Trump associate and the founder of the mercenary company Blackwater, and Kirill Dmitriev, who manages a Russian sovereign wealth fund and is thought to be close to Vladimir Putin.
The goal of the meeting, per Nader, was to create a “backchannel” communications link between Trump’s team and the Kremlin. But Prince has consistently denied that, including during sworn testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee last November.
Nader’s account corroborates press reports about the Seychelles meeting — not Prince’s account — and Nader has told Mueller all about it. That means Mueller is likely digging deeper into other possible links between Trump and Russia — which spells bad news for the administration.
(For a fuller account of the mysterious Seychelles meeting, read our great explainer by Vox’s Andrew Prokop.)
Trump, a porn star, and a restraining order
It’s a testament to the mayhem of the Trump presidency that a story about the president taking out a restraining order against a porn star merits the third-highest mention of news stories from the past 24 hours.
Here’s what’s going on: In October 2016, Michael Cohen, a lawyer for Trump, paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about an affair she claims she had with Trump back in 2006. In exchange for the money, Daniels had to sign a nondisclosure agreement (under the alias “Peggy Peterson”) promising not to discuss the affair publicly. In the NDA, Trump goes by the pseudonym David Dennison. (Trump “vehemently denies” the affair ever took place.)
But on Tuesday, Daniels sued Trump, claiming that he had never signed the nondisclosure agreement. Therefore, she argues, the agreement is invalid and she can dish on whatever relationship she may have had with Trump more than 10 years ago.
Cohen immediately fired back with an emergency restraining order to ensure she didn’t tell her story. It’s unclear whether that will stop Daniels from speaking.
Season two of the Trump presidency seems even more exciting than season one.