It’s not Russia. It’s the money.
That was the message Michael Cohen conveyed in his testimony to Congress today.
Donald Trump’s former lawyer, confidante and fixer threw a long list of accusations at the President, and most of them had nothing to do with Russian collusion.
Cohen did claim to have overheard a conversation between Mr Trump and Roger Stone which, if true, would prove the President had advance knowledge of Wikileaks’ plan to release emails to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Both Mr Trump and Mr Stone have denied ever discussing Wikileaks.
Cohen also revealed his suspicion that Mr Trump knew ahead of time about the infamous Trump Tower meeting where his son, Donald Jr, expected to receive dirt on Ms Clinton from the Russians — though it must be said, the proof for that suspicion was very flimsy.
Mr Trump has repeatedly denied having any prior knowledge of the meeting.
Nothing else Cohen said furthered the theory of collusion between Mr Trump’s campaign and Russia. He even said so himself.
“Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not,” he said.
Cohen explicitly shot down the suggestion that he met with Russians in Prague, which was one of the more striking allegations in the Steele dossier.
Oh, and he said he had “no reason to believe” the pee tape exists. In case you were wondering.
But Cohen’s testimony should, quite frankly, scare the bejesus out of Mr Trump.
Over the last two years, while speculation about Russia has dominated the headlines, investigators have been quietly and methodically pursuing a different thread — Mr Trump’s finances, and those of the Trump Organisation.
Cohen told Congress he was still working closely with prosecutors in New York who have done the bulk of the work on that subject.
“Is there any other wrongdoing or illegal act that you are aware of regarding Donald Trump that we haven’t yet discussed today?” Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi asked.
“Yes,” Cohen said. “Those are part of the investigation that’s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York.”
So there are alleged crimes involving the President that we know nothing about yet.
Mr Trump has always been touchy about his money. In an interview with the New York Times back in 2017, he warned Robert Mueller’s investigators they would be crossing a “red line” if they examined the Trump family’s finances.
The prosecutors in New York crossed that line long ago. So, what could they be looking at?
The obvious place to start is the payments Cohen made on Mr Trump’s behalf during the campaign to silence women with whom he’d had affairs.
Cohen has already pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws — a felony offence — by paying off the adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels.
Mr Trump has repeatedly, shamelessly denied having any knowledge of the payments. That lie imploded today as Cohen gave Congress irrefutable, documentary proof of the President’s involvement.
Cohen provided two cheques — one from Mr Trump’s personal account, signed by him, and one from the revocable trust account he set up when he became President, signed by Donald Trump Jr and the Trump Organisation’s chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg.
Cohen said Mr Trump reimbursed him for the expense of the pay-off to Ms Clifford with 11 such cheques, disguised as monthly payments for legal services.
“Are you telling us that the President directed transactions in conspiracy with Allen Weisselberg and his son, Donald Trump Jr, as part of a criminal conspiracy of financial fraud? Is that your testimony today?” Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna asked.
“Yes,” Cohen replied.
Cohen is already being punished for his role in the payments — that is one of the reasons he will spend three years in prison.
Mr Trump, Mr Weisselberg and Trump Jr have now been implicated in the crime as well. The President could conceivably be prosecuted.
And this doesn’t end with a few dodgy payments to women. Cohen’s testimony also raised questions about various types of fraud Mr Trump may have committed.
He claimed Mr Trump had submitted inflated financial statements to get a loan from a bank, and under questioning from Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, suggested he’d done something similar to get a better rate on insurance.
“To your knowledge, did the President ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?” Ms Ocasio-Cortez asked.
“Yes,” Cohen said.
She asked him who could have information backing up his claims. He mentioned two people — the Trump Organisation’s executive vice president Alan Garten, and Mr Weisselberg.
Yep, him again.
Mr Weisselberg is emerging as a key figure in the ongoing investigations. He was granted partial immunity in return for co-operating with the hush money case, and as the business’s CFO, he was obviously intimately familiar with its finances.
Investigators are also examining the committee that organised Mr Trump’s presidential inauguration.
Over in Washington D.C., the District of Columbia Attorney-General’s Office has subpoenaed the committee for documents related to its finances.
The office is investigating whether non-profit funds were used to “improperly provide private benefit” — for example, by paying an inflated price for the use of Mr Trump’s hotel in the American capital.
The other significant financial thread is Mr Trump’s pursuit of a lucrative real estate deal in Moscow during the campaign.
While Mr Trump publicly said he had no business interests in Russia, he was actually negotiating to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital.
“Mr Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it,” Cohen said today.
“He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.”
Cohen fibbed about the deal last time he appeared before Congress, back when he was still loyal to the President. He said the negotiations ended in January 2016, when in fact they continued into the middle of the year.
Today he said Mr Trump did not directly instruct him to lie to Congress — a crime for which he has since pleaded guilty — but “would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia, and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing”.
“In his way, he was telling me to lie,” Cohen claimed.
Suborning perjury is a crime, and Cohen said White House lawyers reviewed and “edited” his testimony before he told that lie to Congress. If evidence emerges that Mr Trump pressured Cohen to be untruthful, he could once again be vulnerable to prosecution.
Mr Trump’s current personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, issued a statement after Cohen’s appearance today denying his claim about the testimony being edited.
Many observers of and participants in US politics have adopted a position we could call “collusion or nothing”.
Every time a damaging story comes out about Mr Trump, his defenders ask the same question: “Where’s the collusion?”
That is the wrong question.
There is no crime called collusion. Even if the Mueller investigation uncovers evidence Mr Trump co-ordinated in some way with Russia, it will be a tricky thing to prosecute.
Financial crimes? Those are more straightforward. And if there is dirty money flowing through Donald Trump’s bank accounts, you can bet investigators will find it.