Trump readies himself for Mueller’s final act

(ft.com) – Donald Trump is poised to announce his replacement for John Kelly as White House chief of staff as he prepares for the conclusion of the Russia investigation led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

Mr Trump at the weekend said Mr Kelly was a “great guy” but that the retired general would leave the position this month.

“John Kelly will be leaving toward the end of the year,” said Mr Trump, who added that he would announce his replacement over the next few days. Mr Kelly’s departure — the latest from an administration in which there has been heavy turnover — comes as Mr Trump faces mounting scrutiny over his ties to Russia and possible campaign finance violations during the 2016 campaign.

On Friday, Manhattan prosecutors said Michael Cohen, a one-time lawyer for Mr Trump, took actions during the 2016 race ordered by Mr Trump that were aimed at influencing the outcome of the election.

In a court filing, Southern District of New York prosecutors said Mr Cohen had paid two women — porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — to stop them from publicly claiming that they both had sexual relationships with Mr Trump at a time when he was married.

Recommended Instant Insight Edward Luce The walls are closing in on ‘individual #1’ “As Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in co-ordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” said the prosecutors, adding that he “sought to influence the election from the shadows”.

Experts had said that “Individual-1” was a reference to the president, but the prosecutors wrote explicitly for the first time that it was a reference to Mr Trump — linking him directly to a felony. In a separate court filing, Mr Mueller said Mr Cohen had met with his investigators seven times and had provided information that was “core to its investigation”.

One of the revelations outlined in the document was that a Russian national contacted Mr Cohen in November 2015 to suggest a meeting between Mr Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin that was pitched as a way to help the then-real estate mogul build a Trump Tower in Russia. Mr Trump has long denied any relationship with Russia and describes the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt”.

But the filings showed there have been more ties between Trump campaign officials and Russia than the president has accepted. Mr Trump responded by tweeting, “Totally clears the President. Thank you!” Democrats leapt on the court filings, saying they provided more evidence that Mr Trump had taken actions that could justify impeachment. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who will chair the House judiciary committee from January, said Mr Trump had committed “impeachable offences”.

“They would be impeachable offences. Whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question,” he told CNN. Mr Nadler said the filings showed Mr Trump had been “at the centre of a massive fraud” against the American people, and that the House, which will switch to Democratic control in January, would investigate the matter.

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, said the filings — which said Mr Trump ordered Mr Cohen to make the payments — showed the investigation had “moved into a new phase” putting Mr Trump in more jeopardy. “The president has now stepped into the same territory that ultimately led to President Nixon resigning,” Mr Murphy told ABC television.

“President Nixon was an unindicted co-conspirator.” Marco Rubio, a Republican senator, on Sunday said he wanted to reserve judgment until Mr Mueller had finished his probe, but added it had been a bad week for Mr Cohen and Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who has been accused of violating the terms of his plea deal with Mr Mueller.

“There’s no way to spin this. This has not been a positive development for the people that are involved,” Mr Rubio said.