When you are out in the woods, you listen for noise... and for silence.
A groundhog's whistle will let you know a "whistle pig" has seen you, while loud knocking will let you know your old friend, the Pileated woodpecker, has returned to this forest patch.
And what about the sound of silence? A sudden hushing of birds lets you know a Cooper's Hawk has just entered the arena, and that every bird within a stone's throw knows it.
There is a great deal of noise in Washington, D.C. these days, but it is the sound of silence that may tell us the most.
As anyone with a cable connection or a cell phone knows, the burn rate on Donald Trump is hot and fast. I have never seen anything like it, and I do not see how he gets to October. There is a new explosive revelation almost every day (sometimes two or three times a day), and everyone is paying attention to the noise, smoke, and ash.
But one arena is quiet. A little too quiet.
If you want to bring down John Gotti, it will not be his recent friends that will have the best information. Oh, to be sure, you work these folks, but your goal is to "ladder up" the chain in order to entrap "Sammy the Bull" Gravano. He's the guy who knows (literally) where all the bodies are buried.
And so while everyone's eyes are turned to Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort these days, I do not think they are the key to breaking this whole thing wide open,
I think the key is Michael D. Cohen. Cohen is Trump's personal lawyer, and the person who has been part of his business transactions for more than a decade. It was Cohen who drafted Trump's will, i.e. the person who Trump entrusted with the financial security of his children.
In The New York Times of February 19, we find this paragraph:
A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.
Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Cohen can, and no doubt will, say he had no idea what was in the sealed envelope. Indeed, he denies he even received it. He saw it, but he did not accept it. Right. Could be. But color me skeptical. This is not a White House with a long track record of telling the truth. The fact that this is the one part of the story that Cohen is pivoting away from is important; this is the one part of the story that makes Cohen complicit in a likely crime. And whether he took the envelope or not, he knows what was in that sealed envelope.
But we shall see. It could be that I have it all wrong, and Michael D. Cohen is just the wrong guy at the wrong location. It could be that he has done not a single thing wrong. It could be.
That said, if you see a lot of smoke over a long period of time, it's safe to assume there's a fire. At the very least, bring a fire extinguisher.
I have always said the key to the Trump-Russia story is money.
Trump has bailed on enough U.S. banks and small business contractors that there are not many U.S. banks left that are eager to lend him money, which is why he has turned to less transparent partners from the old Soviet Union, many of which are known to be washing vast sums of Russian money stolen by Putin and his cronies.
And what's one of the best ways to wash a lot of money?
By investing in American real estate.
It's a historical fact that Michael D. Cohen first came to Donald Trump's attention because he and his extended family of Ukrainian in-laws were buying up Trump apartment units in New York, New Jersey, and Florida.
Nothing wrong there, but where did this money come from and how big is the river of money behind it?
One clue comes from Talking Points Memo:
Cohen was by all appearances already a very wealthy man. He had already compiled an extensive New York area real estate portfolio, mainly tied to New York City residential properties. But the original source of his wealth appears tied to a series of non-real estate business partnerships. The one common thread connecting these partnerships in businesses ranging from taxis to gambling to energy is that each involved a partnership with immigrants from Ukraine....
We know from public records that in the last decade Trump became highly dependent on money from the former Soviet Union, both to finance mega-projects like Trump SoHo but also as a source of buyers of apartment units at Trump high-rises in New York City, Florida and other locales (The Cohen brothers and their families are purchasers of at least 12 apartments in Trump buildings – 11, according to a 2006 article in The New York Post and one owned by the Oronovs, according to Florida public records.) Donald Trump, Jr. said famously in 2008 that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia”.
Cohen and his extended family appear to have been part of that flow of luxury apartment purchases from people from the former Soviet Union. And Cohen himself joined the Trump Organization in the period when Trump’s reliance on investment capital from the former Soviet Union for projects like Trump Soho moved into high gear.
As for Michael D. Cohen's in-laws in the United States, I can imagine the Department of Justice, at some point saying: "Nice family you have there. It would be a shame if something happened to their immigration status."
Which would truly be a shame. But it would also be terribly, terribly ironic shame.
Does Michael D. Cohen have a lot to lose? Maybe. We shall see.