Dispatch March 25, 2018

Michael Cohen, Bag Man

Through his own admission, Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime attorney, played the role of Trump’s ‘fixer’ in the Stormy Daniels affair, paying Daniels hush money and covering it up in the waning days of the campaign.

The allegations against Cohen in the Stormy Daniels affair bear a striking similarity to reports from the Steele Dossier: namely, that Michael Cohen went to Prague as a representative of Trump’s campaign to meet with the Russians to cover up collusion between the two sides.

The Steele Dossier contains four reports alleging that Cohen played a role in covering up collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.

  • It makes repeated, detailed allegations that Cohen traveled to Europe to meet with Kremlin officials as part of a coordinated effort between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, specifically going to Prague in August/September 2016.
  • Nearly a quarter of Steele’s entire public catalog deals with Cohen allegations and were written frequently in the final days of the campaign. One report is written after the election, on December 13th.

Because Steele only allowed 17 of 166 reports to become public, we can infer that he’s pretty confident about the Cohen allegations. They get more detailed and more concrete as time went on.

Allegation: Cohen had a covert relationship with Russia, October 18, 2016: “Kremlin insider [highlighted the] importance of TRUMP’s lawyer, Michael COHEN in covert relationship with Russia.”

  • “A key role in the secret TRUMP campaign / Kremlin relationship was being played by the Republican candidates personal lawyer Michael COHEN.”

Allegation: Cohen met secretly with Russians in an EU country, October 19, 2016: “[Cohen] engaged with Russians in trying to cover up scandal of MANAFORT and exposure of PAGE and meets Kremlin officials secretly in the EU in August in pursuit of this goal.”

  • Cohen was important “in the ongoing secret liaison relationship between the New York tycoon’s campaign and the Russian leadership”.
  • “According to the Kremlin insider, COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of TRUMP’s relationship with Russia being exposed.”

Allegation: The meeting was in Prague, October 20, 2016 (a day later): “Kremlin insider reports TRUMP lawyer COHEN’s secret meeting/s with Kremlin officials in August 2016 was/were held in Prague […] Pro-Putin leading Duma figure, KOSACHEV, reportedly involved as ‘plausibly deniable’ facilitator and may have participated in the August meeting/s with COHEN.”

  • “According to the Kremlin advisor, these meeting/s were originally scheduled for COHEN in Moscow but shifted to what was considered an operationally ‘soft’ EU country when it was judged too compromising for him to travel to the Russian capital.”

Allegation: Names meeting participants and “deniable cash payments to Romanian hackers,” December 13, 2016: “We reported previously (2016/135 and /136) on secret meeting/s held in Prague, Czech Republic in August 2016 between then Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s representative, Michael COHEN and his interlocutors from the Kremlin working under cover of Russian NGO Rossotrudnichestvo.”

  • COHEN had been accompanied to Prague by 3 colleagues and the timing of the visit was either in the last week of August or the first week of September.
  • According to [REDACTED] the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.”
  • “In terms of practical measures to be taken, it was agreed by the two sides in Prague to stand down various ‘Romanian hackers’ (presumably based in their homeland or neighbouring eastern Europe) and that other operatives should head for a bolt-hole in Plovdiv, Bulgaria where they should ‘lay low.’”

Following the publication of the Dossier, Cohen strongly denied going to Prague, although he did travel to Europe three times in 2016.

The allegations in the dossier fit a pattern seen in the Stormy Daniels story. Cohen has a history of being Trump’s fixer, making hush-money payments and covering his tracks.

  • Cohen reportedly uses “intimidation tactics [and] hush money” to protect Trump from various public scandals such as compromising pictures, allegations of sexual misconduct, and alleged affairs.
  • In the case of Stormy Daniels, Cohen has admitted to paying $130,000 as part of an effort to keep her quiet during the 2016 election. He was accused by Daniels of intimidation and coercion.
    • Cohen has denied that Daniels had an affair with Trump. He has also denied that the payments had anything to do with the election and denied threatening Daniels.
  • Another former model who claims to have had an affair with Trump, Karen McDougal, said in a lawsuit that Cohen was involved in efforts to pay her off to ensure her silence.
  • Cohen went to extreme lengths to hide his efforts in the Daniels case.
    • He incorporated a shell company in Delaware called Essential Consultants LLC in order to pay Daniels the money.
    • The settlement with Daniels obscured the parties’ identities, referring to her via the pseudonym “Peggy Peterson”.
    • When Cohen finally admitted that he was involved, he stated that he paid Daniels with his own money, and that he was not reimbursed by the Trump organization or by Trump himself.
    • Even though he used his Trump Organization email to arrange the money transfer, Cohen claimed Trump did not know about the payment.

Cohen has previously been a “fixer” on behalf of the Trump Organization in Eastern Europe.

  • He was involved in early negotiations for Trump Tower Batumi in Georgia, meeting with the Silk Road Group to negotiate the licensing of Trump’s name for the project in 2010.
  • Cohen secretly reached out to Putin’s top spokesman during the campaign to discuss an effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
  • In the first weeks of Trump’s presidency, Cohen worked alongside Michael Flynn, Felix Sater, and Ukrainian politician Andreii Artemenko to propose a Ukrainian peace plan that involved lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.

The Stormy Daniels affair shows the lengths Cohen has been willing to go for Trump in a well-established role as his fixer – and the lengths Cohen will go to hide his tracks.  Was Daniels the only problem that Trump asked him to fix during the campaign?