Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and mob–style fixer Michael Cohen is drowning in a sea of legal trouble. His latest problems are described in a bombshell report by McClatchy that if true, could provide a key legal link for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia. In terms of collusion, this could be a major smoking gun.
The report says that Mueller’s team has evidence that Cohen did make a secret trip to Prague during the presidential campaign in 2016, allegedly to meet with a well–connected Kremlin official to seek help for a Trump victory. The visit was described in detail in the infamous 35–page dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who shared his information with the FBI.
Mueller’s team also reportedly met with Steele last summer in Europe.
According to McClatchy:
Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to a retired British spy’s report that Cohen strategized there with a powerful Kremlin figure about Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
It would also be one of the most significant developments thus far in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of whether the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House. Undercutting Trump’s repeated pronouncements that “there is no evidence of collusion,” it also could ratchet up the stakes if the president tries, as he has intimated he might for months, to order Mueller’s firing.
Both Cohen and Trump had pushed back hard against allegations of the Prague meeting when they were first published last year by BuzzFeed. At the time, Cohen tweeted a photo of the front of his U.S. passport, along with words: “I have never been to Prague in my life. #fakenews.”
He then allowed BuzzFeed to review his passport, which the news site said “shows Cohen has traveled the globe since 2009, the year the document was issued. There is no stamp showing Cohen visited the Czech Republic.”
After Cohen’s tweet, then President–elect Trump also claimed the Steele dossier report of the trip was false. The Washington Post describes what Trump said at a news conference at the time:
“He brings his passport to my office,” the then president-elect said in response to a question. “I say, ‘Hey, wait a minute.’ He didn’t leave the country. He wasn’t out of the country. They had Michael Cohen of the Trump Organization was in Prague. It turned out to be a different Michael Cohen. It’s a disgrace what took place. It’s a disgrace and I think they ought to apologize to start with Michael Cohen.”
It appears that none of these statements are true, if the McClatchy report is accurate. It says that investigators have evidence that Cohen entered the Czech Republic through Germany, hence no stamps in his passport. The trip occurred in August or September of 2016, according to the newspaper, citing “two sources familiar with the matter.”
Last Monday, the FBI raided Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room, seizing a trove of potential evidence, including audio recordings Cohen allegedly made of others with whom he interacted.
On Friday, federal prosecutors said Cohen is the target of a “months-long” criminal investigation, USA Today reported.
Investigators from the Southern District of New York are examining his involvement in a $130,000 hush–money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels prior to the 2016 election to cover up an alleged affair she had with Trump. Another report on Friday, by the Wall Street Journal, says that Cohen also may have been involved in a $1.6 million payment in 2017 to a former Playboy model in exchange for her silence about a sexual relationship with Republican National Committee Deputy Finance Chairman Elliot Broidy.
Also on Friday, as lawyers for Cohen and Trump fought in court over the material seized during this week’s raids, Cohen was photographed smoking cigars with friends at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City. That behavior seems to have angered the judge in the case, who ordered Cohen to appear in court on Monday, according to ThinkProgress.
Update, Saturday, 3:10 p.m.: Michael Cohen again denied that he had traveled to Prague to meet with a Russian official during the Trump campaign.
“Bad reporting, bad information and bad story by same reporter Peter Stone @McClatchyDC. No matter how many times or ways they write it, I have never been to Prague. I was in LA with my son. Proven!” Cohen tweeted on Saturday.
Author: David Boddiger on Splinter, shared by Tom McKay to Gizmodo