President Trump’s inner circle has done a lot of stuff they didn’t want anyone to know about, then lied to cover it up.
Often it’s the lie itself — not the action — that’s gotten them in trouble.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has weaponized those lies, turning them into a potent tool for probing Trump’s links to Russia. Time and again, Mueller’s prosecutors have flipped witnesses by slapping them with the charge of lying to investigators.
Mueller’s already given his sentencing recommendation for one notable ex-Trump ally this week, choosing to go light on former national security adviser Michael Flynn as a result of his robust cooperation in “several ongoing investigations.” Next up: Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer and personal lawyer, and disgraced campaign chief Paul Manafort.
Read: Mueller just drew a direct line between Trump's business and the Kremlin
In his wake, Mueller’s logged a record of where the Trump team’s public and private statements failed to line up with what was later presented in court.
Here are some of the key moments when the Trump team’s evasive talk has been blown up by Mueller’s prosecutors.
Mike FlynnFormer Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal courthouse in Washington, Tuesday, July 10, 2018, following a status hearing. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Four days after Trump was sworn into office in January 2017, his hand-picked National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, lied to FBI investigators about his communications with Russia.
Flynn claimed he hadn’t asked Russia’s ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, not to overreact to sanctions then-president Barack Obama had slapped on Russia in December 2016 for messing with the U.S. election.
Flynn also pretended not to remember that the Russian ambassador had called him back and assured him that, thanks to Flynn’s request, Russia wouldn’t escalate the diplomatic dispute.
Flynn later admitted in court that he’d also spoken to a top member of Trump’s transition team about those exchanges in real time.
In that same January interview with the FBI, Flynn also lied about other contacts with Russia and other countries, according to Mueller’s court filings. And two months later, he filed false statements about his foreign lobbying for the government of Turkey.
But after all that lying to the authorities, Flynn went on to become one of Mueller’s most fully engaged cooperators — sitting for 19 interviews, and helping to ensure that other witnesses came forward too, according to Mueller, who recommended Flynn serve little to no jail time as a result.
Paul ManafortPaul Manafort, left, leaves the Alexandria Federal Courthouse with his attorney Kevin Downing, center, on Friday, May 4, 2018, in Alexandria, Va. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, likes money, fancy clothes, fine rugs and ultra-expensive landscaping.
And he went through an entire criminal trial in Virginia focused on the lies that prosecutors accused him of telling to acquire all those things.
Manafort raked in more $65 million from Ukrainian oligarchs in 2010-2013 while advising the Russia-friendly president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, prosecutors said, and cheated on his taxes to keep even more of it. He would also be sued by a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, to recover millions after a business deal with Manafort went south.
But when asked directly at the height of the 2016 campaign whether Trump had any “financial relationships with any Russian oligarchs,” Manafort gave an epically bumbling answer.
“That’s what he said, I… that’s what I said, that’s… obviously what our position is,” Manafort stammered.
Mueller’s team lambasted Manafort as man who used lies like rubber checks to build a fortune, and took out millions in loans from American banks while misrepresenting his creditworthiness.
Even after Manafort pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate, he kept right on lying, according to Mueller’s team.
This Friday, Mueller will drop a new report detailing how Manafort breached that plea deal, and the “crimes and lies” Manafort committed since.
Michael CohenMichael Cohen walks out of federal court, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, in New York. Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about work he did on an aborted project to build a Trump Tower in Russia. He told the judge he lied about the timing of the negotiations and other details to be consistent with Trump's "political message." (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
President Trump’s former personal lawyer spent much of the 2016 campaign season actively pursuing plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
He even tried to win Russian support for the deal by placing a phone call directly to a Kremlin staffer to ask for help securing financing for the deal. Such a request made a lot of sense financially for the Trump Organization, since the Russian government controls the country’s biggest lending institutions — provided those banks could somehow win relief from U.S. sanctions.
Cohen later admitted to Mueller’s team he had lied to Congress under oath about these efforts. He’d falsely claimed that his initial email to the Kremlin got no follow-up, and that work on Trump Tower Moscow stopped in January 2016 — even though his conversations about the project continued until June, he said later.
Cohen has since been cooperating with multiple investigations into Trump’s company and foundation, as well as his campaign, according to legal filings.
Rick GatesPaul Manafort (R), campaign chairman for Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump and his assistant Rick Gates stand on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 17, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo
Rick Gates was Manafort’s wingman for years, helping him in Ukraine and on the Trump campaign.
But he also admitted, on the stand at Manafort’s Virginia trial, to pilfering hundreds of thousands of dollars from his boss’s consulting practice by padding his expenses.
READ: Rick Gates can’t remember if he stole money from Trump’s inaugural committee
And when he was asked whether he’d played the same trick while working on Trump’s inaugural committee, Gates said he couldn’t remember.
“It’s possible,” Gates said. “I don’t recall.”
Three days after Flynn lied to the FBI about his communications with Russia in early 2017, a low-profile Trump campaign advisor named George Papadopoulos lied to investigators about his links to Russia, too.
Papadopoulos lied about his meeting with a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud who told him, in March 2016, who’d told young Papadopolous that Russia had “dirt” on Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the form of “thousands of emails.”
Mueller’s team later slammed Papadopoulos for impeding the investigation and effectively allowing Mifsud to get away.
“The defendant’s lies undermined investigators’ ability to challenge the professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States,” Mueller’s team wrote in a sentencing memo. “The government understands that the professor left the United States on Feb. 11, 2017, and he has not returned to the United States since then.”
Papadopoulos is currently serving a two-week jail sentence.
Cover image: Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller smiles as he speaks at the Justice Department in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, during his farewell ceremony. Mueller is stepping down in September after 12 years heading the agency. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)