Dispatch August 22, 2018

Four Russia Questions Michael Cohen Can Answer

Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, and campaign violations. Cohen also implicated the president in his plea deal, stating that he worked “in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump when paying off individuals to keep them from publicly disclosing information that could have harmed Trump’s candidacy.

That means the President directed a criminal conspiracy to influence the election. Full stop.

But Cohen’s lawyer has also said that Cohen “has knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest” to the Special Counsel, and that Cohen “is more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows, not just about the obvious possibility of a conspiracy to collude and corrupt the American Democracy system in the 2016 election … but also knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on.”

Cohen is inextricably tied to the Russia investigation. Four big questions he can – and should – clarify:

1. Did Cohen travel to Prague?

  • The Steele Dossier alleges that Cohen went to Prague as a representative of Trump’s campaign to meet with Kremlin officials as part of a coordinated effort between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. It places Cohen in Prague in August/September 2016.
  • Following the publication of the Dossier, Cohen strongly denied going to Prague, although he did confirm travel to Europe three times in 2016.
  • Unnamed sources told McClatchy in April that there is evidence of Cohen taking a trip to Prague; Cohen didn’t respond to that story.

2. What was Trump’s involvement in the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting?

  • Cohen recently claimed that Trump knew about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting ahead of time.
  • Cohen has claimed that “he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians’ offer” to provide dirt on Clinton. Cohen alleges that Trump approved the meeting.
    • Senior Trump staff knew about the meeting, as several of them were there, including his campaign chairman, his son, and his son-in-law.

3. What was the real goal of the Trump Tower Moscow project?

  • Cohen and longtime Trump business partner Felix Sater actively worked on a deal to develop a Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign.
  • Sater reportedly hoped to secure financing from a sanctioned state-run Russian bank, and Cohen attempted to directly contact the Kremlin to ask for help in getting the project off the ground.
  • Leaked emails between Cohen and Sater suggest the pair considered the project an avenue to achieve both business and political goals.
  • The Trump Organization originally claimed to have abandoned the project in January 2016, but subsequent reporting has revealed that Cohen and Sater were pursuing the development as late as June 2016.
  • Cohen could clarify a number of things:
    • What was Trump’s level of involvement in the deal?
    • Did Trump approve the progress of the deal even as his campaign progressed?
    • Did Trump instruct Cohen to contact the Russian government to move the deal forward, or to work with a sanctioned Russian bank to secure funding?

 4. What does Trump owe oligarchs in Russia and the former Soviet Union?

  • In addition to his links to organized crime, Cohen has longstanding ties with shady Russian and Ukrainian businessmen — just like Trump.
  • Cohen’s work with the Trump Organization also coincided with Trump’s pivot to international licensing deals, and this pivot allowed Trump to pursue deals in lucrative but risk-prone locales like Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
  • Cohen has played a central role in at least three attempts to build Trump properties in the former Soviet Union.