A lot of significant news stories get “lost” during the holidays as many Americans are taking a break from the non-stop barrage of information, and focusing instead on spending time with their families.
That’s certainly true for a report from McClatchy News Service, citing four unnamed sources, who allege that Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, may have lied when he claimed he was not in the Prague area at a meeting with the Russians months before the 2016 presidential election.
The claim that he was there, and did have that meeting, came in the famed so-called Steele Dossier that laid out a series of allegations relating to Russian efforts to engage with and possibly compromise Trump.
The Smoking Gun, Cohen’s Cell Phone
Now McClatchy is reporting that Cohen’s cell phone was in the area near Prague in the late summer of 2016 — roughly the time when the dossier claims the meeting took place. Cohen’s phone is said to have pinged cell towers in the area.
Cohen denied the claim and declared that he had never been to the Czech Republic at all; McClatchy stands by its story.
— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) December 27, 2018
So far no other news outlets have confirmed McClatchy’s story. According to co-author Greg Gordon, the story’s sources were not government officials, and did not have direct knowledge of the intelligence themselves. As Gordon told MSNBC’s Joy Reid, “The sources have — some of the sources have government sources, and some of the sources are — are people who have told us that they have trusted intelligence-type sources that they get information from.”
Why would this bit of electronic sleuthery be so important?
Because if this detail from the dossier turns out to be true, it means Cohen was a critical participant who witnessed significant meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russians — meetings that could amount to the collusion that has been alleged (and denied) since the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller began in 2017.
Another fallout from the cell-phone revelation could be to draw more attention to Cohen’s own background of ties to the former Soviet Union and to the curious Russian links of another Trump associate, Felix Sater. Their intertwined history points to the possibility that men like these might have been introduced, wittingly or unwittingly, to Trump’s entourage as a means of gaining access to him.
WhoWhatWhy was early in reporting on the connections between Russian and Eastern European organized-crime figures and Trump and his businesses associates during the period that Sater and Cohen ingratiated themselves with the New York real-estate mogul.
Sater and Cohen have known each other since their teens. Sater comes from a Russian background, and Cohen is married to a Ukrainian (Ukraine was part of the former Soviet Union until 1991). As we noted in our groundbreaking report, prior to being hired by Trump, Cohen and his family bought a whopping total of 11 apartments in a range of Trump properties — an astonishing number, especially for someone not at the high end of the wealth index.
What Is Cohen Still Holding Back?
In settling with prosecutors, Cohen told some, but not all, of what he knew. His unwillingness to tell all he knew about criminality — specifically, criminality not related directly to Trump — prompted the government to request a significant sentence. In December, he was sentenced to three years in prison.
Cohen admitted to his role in paying off women who claimed to have been involved with Trump and in violating campaign laws by not reporting the payments. This was certainly salacious stuff. But the real meat of the matter — the Russia connection — remains to be unpacked. The answers may lie in Cohen’s life and work prior to and at the time he joined Trump’s entourage.