The smoke around Donald Trump and Russia is choking his presidency

CNN/ Newswire | 11/29/2018, 3:22 p.m.
NO COLLUSION, Donald Trump will tell you -- or, really, anyone -- if you ask about the ongoing special counsel ...

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

(CNN) -- NO COLLUSION, Donald Trump will tell you -- or, really, anyone -- if you ask about the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and the possibility that members of the Trump orbit colluded with the Russians to help him win.

And Trump is right! There is no definitive proof that he colluded with the Russians to throw the election his way. There's no smoking gun.

But, boy oh boy, is there a lot of smoke. So much smoke that it is choking the Trump administration's ability to do almost anything.

Consider what we learned Thursday morning when former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the nature and length of his interactions with Russians regarding the potential construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Cohen had previously said that conversations about the possibility of a Trump-named development in Moscow ended in January 2016 -- coinciding with the beginning of the presidential primary season. On Thursday, Cohen admitted he had lied about that timing -- he had multiple conversations about the project until June 2016, briefed members of the Trump family about the progress of those conversations and even agreed to travel to Russia to discuss the project and raise the possibility of Trump doing the same.

Cohen said in court that he made those false statements in order to be consistent with Trump's political messaging and to be loyal to Trump.

That information runs directly counter to Trump's repeated assertions during the 2016 campaign -- and after he became president -- that he had no business dealings in Russia.

Here's Trump in July 2016, just one month after Cohen stopped talking about Trump Tower Moscow:

"I have nothing to with Russia, I have nothing to do with Russia. And even -- for anything. What do I have to do with Russia? You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida. Palm Beach is a very expensive place. There was a man who went bankrupt, and I bought the house for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions. So I sold it. So I bought it for 40, I told it for 100 to a Russian. That was a number of years ago."

And here is in October 2016:

"What do I know about the Russians? What do I know about the Russians? Then they said he borrows money from - I don't borrow money from the Russians. I promise you I've never made - I don't have any deals with Russia. I had Miss Universe there a couple of years ago other than that no. I had nothing to do."

And this from February 2017:

"And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia. President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election. He then, called me up extremely nicely to congratulate me on the inauguration, which was terrific. But so did many other leaders, almost all other leaders from almost all of the country. So that's the extent."