Trump Russia: Five Big Things Mueller Is Looking At

Washington rarely has a slow news week under the administration of President Donald Trump, but political reporters were busier than usual in the past few days covering all the latest developments out of Trumpland. 

From his former lawyer implicating him in a felony as special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation seems to close in on the White House, to some major staff announcements and some insults for a former Cabinet member, last week might have been full of more fire and fury than the president prefers.

Things don't such much sign of slowing down this week, as Trump's former lawyer is expected to get sentenced to prison on Wednesday, his former campaign chair has a court hearing over allegedly lying to Mueller and the president continues his hunt for a new chief of staff. 

Here is a rundown on what went down:

Prosecutors connect Trump to Cohen payments

In a court filing on Friday, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York said Trump ordered one of the felonies committed by his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws when he made hush payments before the 2016 election to two women alleging past sexual encounters with Trump.

According to prosecutors, Cohen carried out the payments "in coordination with and at the direction" of Trump. And they said both payments were made "with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election."

Trump tweeted Monday that the payments were "a simple private transaction" and not an illegal campaign contribution.

Robert Mueller: Cohen provided details 'core' to inquiry into Russian coordination with Trump campaign

“Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun...No Collusion.” @FoxNews That’s because there was NO COLLUSION. So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution,...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2018

Flynn cooperates with Mueller

Michael Flynn lasted only a few weeks as Trump's national security adviser before resigning over some misstatements about his contacts with Russian officials. Now, the retired Army lieutenant general who had pleaded guilty last year to making false statements to federal investigators appears to be making a lasting impact in assisting Mueller's investigation.

The special counsel said Flynn had given his team "substantial assistance" and recommended he be given little to no jail time. A heavily redacted court filing revealed he met with investigators 19 times and helped with not only Mueller's inquiry, but two other investigations as well.

More: Key takeaways from Robert Mueller's memo on Michael Flynn's cooperation

I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 2, 2017

Manafort doesn't 

Mueller was far less enthusiastic about the cooperation he got from Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

On top of his conviction by a Virginia jury on eight federal felonies, Manafort pleaded guilty to two felony conspiracy charges in a deal with Mueller. But Mueller voided the plea agreement on Nov. 26 after Manafort told investigators "multiple discernible lies." 

In a filing on Friday, Mueller revealed the nature of those lies, which dealt with his interactions with a Russian national a $125,000 wire transfer and his contacts with senior Trump administration officials. Those lies cost Manafort a chance at a shorter prison term, but also robbed Mueller of a highly placed witness.

I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” - make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018

'No one should be above the law': Rubio warns Manafort pardon would be 'terrible mistake'

Chief of Staff John Kelly is out

On Saturday, Trump announced that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly would be leaving the job at the end of the year. Kelly came in last year to replace Reince Priebus and to try and establish more discipline in what was widely considered a chaotic White House (Bob Woodward said Kelly referred to it as "Crazytown"). 

Kelly's efforts to control the chaos and access to the president often put Trump, known for a more freewheeling approach, and the former Marine general at odds. Despite reports of tension between the two men, Trump heaped public praise on Kelly and said in July that he wanted to keep Kelly in the post through 2020. 

On Sunday, the favorite to replace Kelly, Vice President Mike Pence's Chief of Staff Nick Ayers, pulled himself out of the running. The leading contenders are now thought to be Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, budget director Mick Mulvaney and trade representative Robert Lighthizer. 

More: Key moments from John Kelly’s tumultuous tenure as White House chief of staff

I am in the process of interviewing some really great people for the position of White House Chief of Staff. Fake News has been saying with certainty it was Nick Ayers, a spectacular person who will always be with our #MAGA agenda. I will be making a decision soon!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2018

William Barr emerges as attorney general pick 

Trump said Friday he will nominate former Attorney General William Barr to return as the head of the Justice Department. Barr served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993. 

Last month, Trump dismissed Attorney General Jeff Sessions after heaping abuse on him for more than a year over his decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Barr, in recent months, has criticized aspects of the Russia probe and defended many of Trump's actions, including the firing of FBI Director James Comey and his calls to investigate former Secretary of State of Hillary Clinton. 

Many officials, including a number of Democrats, have expressed support for Barr because of his experience. They see him as an improvement over acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has been called unqualified and who has been highly critical of the special counsel. 

USA TODAY Editorial Board: Barr a surprisingly conventional choice for attorney general – and a big improvement over Whitaker

I am pleased to announce that I will be nominating The Honorable William P. Barr for the position of Attorney General of the United States. As the former AG for George H.W. Bush....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

Trump calls his former secretary of state 'dumb as a rock' 

On Thursday, Trump's former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview that said it had been "challenging" working for the president, whom he called "undisciplined" and someone "who doesn't like to read."

Tillerson said he and Trump clashed because "we did not have a common value system" and that he would sometimes have to inform the president that he couldn't do something because "it violates the law." 

"He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough," Trump tweeted Friday in response to his former top diplomat's remarks. "He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!"

White House departures: Who's been fired and who resigned

Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

Trump names next chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff

On Saturday, Trump announced he will nominate Army Gen. Mark Milley as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military's highest-ranking officer. If confirmed by the Senate, Milley would replace Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford whose second, two-year term expires in 2019. 

Milley joined the Joint Chiefs in August 2015 when he took over as the Army's top officer. A career infantryman, Milley has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and commanded conventional and Special Forces units.

More: Military troops to remain at border through January, says Defense Secretary James Mattis

Trump picks new UN ambassador

Trump named Heather Nauert, a former Fox News anchor and the current State Department spokeswoman, as his pick to replace outgoing United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley

Nauert has served as the State Department’s chief spokeswoman since April 2017, winning Trump over with her staunch defense of his foreign policy decisions. But she may face a tough Senate confirmation as critics claim she lacks the experience needed for the role. 

I am pleased to announce that Heather Nauert, Spokeswoman for the United States Department of State, will be nominated to serve as United Nations Ambassador. I want to congratulate Heather, and thank Ambassador Nikki Haley for her great service to our Country!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018

Contributing: David Jackson, John Fritze, Bart Jansen, Kevin Johnson, Deirdre Shesgreen, Gregory Korte, Christal Hayes, Tom Vanden Brook and Hasan Dudar

Source :

President Trump had a busy few days. Here is a look at what went down
Trump's business history with Russia is a long and colorful one
Butina to Cohen: 5 Things to Watch This Week in U.S. Probes
Media say Mueller nailed Trump
Trump picks new attorney general and U.N. ambassador, while airing grievances against Mueller and Tillerson
Trump has been implicated in several federal crimes, but here's why experts say he hasn't faced legal consequences
'Dirty deeds': Ex-Trump lawyer Cohen gets 3 years in prison
Russia’s Disinformation Chief Takes Fresh Aim at America
Five takeaways from the Michael Cohen sentencing filings [Opinion]
Maria Butina’s plea is the worst news ever for Trump