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The public case against Trump

The tip of a Kremlin palace is visible, but the rest is underwater
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

One thing is true of all major political scandals: What we know in the moment is but a tiny, obscured, partial view of the full story later revealed by investigators.

Why it matters: That’s what makes the Trump-Russia drama all the more remarkable. Forget all we don’t know. The known facts that even Trump’s closest friends don’t deny tell a damning tale that would sink most leaders. 

Here's a guide that Jim VandeHei and I put together to the known knowns of Russia:

  • We know Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chair, has been indicted on 32 counts, including conspiracy and money laundering. We know he made millions off shady Russians and changed the Republican platform to the benefit of Russia. 
  • We know that the U.S. intelligence community concluded, in a report released in January 2017, that Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” to “denigrate” Hillary Clinton and with “a clear preference for ... Trump.”
  • We know that in May 2016, Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat Russia had political dirt on Hillary. "About three weeks earlier," according to the N.Y. Times, "Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton."
  • We know that in June 2016, Trump’s closest aides and family members met at Trump Tower with a shady group of Russians who claimed to have dirt on Hillary. The meeting was billed as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
  • We know the Russian lawyer who helped set it up concealed her close ties to Putin government.
  • We know that in July 2016, Trump said: "“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary] emails that are missing,” and urged their publication.
  • We know that on Air Force One a year later, Trump helped his son, Don Jr., prepare a misleading statement about the meeting. We know top aides freaked out about this. 
  • We know Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting.
  • We know Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and close campaign aide, lied to Vice President Pence and FBI about his Russia-related chats. We know he’s now cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller. We know Trump initially tried to protect Flynn with loyalty and fervency rarely shown by Trump to others. 
  • We know that during the transition, Jared Kushner spoke with the Russian ambassador "about establishing a secret communications channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow." We know Kushner omitted previous contacts with Russians on his disclosure forms. 
  • We know Trump initially lied about why he fired James Comey, later admitting he was canned because of the “Russia thing.” 
  • We know Michael Cohen was a close adviser and lawyer, the fixer and secret-keeper. We know Trump seethed when the FBI raided Cohen's office.
  • We know that in January 2016, just before Republicans began voting, Michael Cohen tried to restart a Trump Tower project in Moscow.
  • We know Mueller questioned a Russian oligarch tied to a firm that made payments to Cohen, who paid off a porn star who allegedly had an affair with Trump. [Updated]
  • We know that oligarch was a bad enough dude that the Trump administration sanctioned him.

Be smart: The undisputed known knowns about Trump, Russia and his associates are damning and possibly actionable. But the known unknowns of how much more Robert Mueller knows that is publicly unknown is what spooks Trump allies most. 

  • Remember: No one in the media saw Mueller’s indictments of Russian oligarchs coming until the second they were announced, and no one knew until this week that Mueller’s team questioned AT&T five months ago about its payments to Cohen.
  • Mueller has every incentive to keep the public and Trump himself in suspense. 
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