HANOI, Vietnam — President Donald Trump is on foreign soil, trying to broker a high-stakes deal and projecting himself as a statesman worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize. Unfolding back home is a headline-grabbing turn in the federal investigation that has overshadowed his time in office for more than two years.
Welcome to the split-screen presidency.
This week it’s playing out in Vietnam and Washington. As the president landed in Hanoi on Tuesday for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrived on Capitol Hill to privately testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about working for Trump.
But Hanoi could be Rome, Warsaw, Berlin or Buenos Aires. And Michael Cohen could be Paul Manafort, Rick Gates or George Papadopoulus, whose indictments in the Russia investigation were unsealed just days before Trump left for a nine-day Asia trip in November 2017.
For 25 months, federal investigations that threaten his presidency have slowly picked off his national security adviser, his campaign chairman, his former lawyer and numerous past associates and aides.
And major developments in those investigations have collided with his turns on the world stage.
It’s precisely what Trump has feared since the earliest days of his presidency. Former FBI Director James Comey has said Trump asked him, just eight weeks into his presidency, to drop the investigation into his fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and complained it was casting “a cloud” over his ability to lead.
The trend began with Trump’s first foray overseas as president — to the Middle East and Europe. During the high-profile trip came revelations that Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser was under scrutiny in the Russia investigation, to which Robert Mueller had just been appointed special counsel.
While the president was out of the country in December, Cohen pled guilty to lying to Congress about negotiations over a Trump Tower in Moscow and was cooperating with federal investigators. Trump was supposed to meet in Argentina with Russian President Vladimir Putin during that trip, but he canceled the sit-down.
The president has faced a similar dynamic in all but three of his 11 foreign trips while in office.
Last July, he was in Europe — in part for a meeting with Putin in Helsinki — when Mueller indicted 12 Russians accused of interfering in the 2016 election. Visiting world leaders in Europe the previous summer, the president was distracted by headlines about his son Donald Trump Jr. meeting at Trump Tower with Russians during the 2016 campaign. (His dictating a misleading public statement about the meeting from Air Force One became a data point in Mueller’s investigation into whether the president attempted to obstruct justice in the Russia investigation.)
Cohen’s testimony on Wednesday will collide with a working dinner between Trump and Kim Jong Un. The testimony is scheduled to start just an hour after the president is scheduled to arrive back at his hotel in Hanoi.
Cohen plans to tell lawmakers that Trump knew his longtime associate Roger Stone was talking to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the release of stolen Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 campaign, according to his prepared testimony obtained by The New York Times.
He’ll also say Trump didn’t directly tell him to lie to Congress about negotiating a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 campaign, but he did so indirectly, according to the testimony.
Lying to Congress is one of the crimes for which Cohen will serve time in jail.
Cohen even plans to take a swipe at Trump for being in Vietnam after, according to Cohen, disingenuously obtaining a medical deferment from serving in the Vietnam War because of a bone spur.
“I find it ironic, President Trump, that you are in Vietnam right now,” Cohen plans to say.