Michael Cohen Starts Not Recalling His Negotiations with Dmitry Peskov, “Main Protagonist” of Campaign Versus Hillary

In this post, I suggested the WaPo scoop about Felix Sater discussing a Trump Tower deal was Michael Cohen’s attempt to pre-empt the real story, which would begin to come out after those particular emails got delivered to HPSCI.

Once they got delivered, we learned that Sater connected the Trump Tower plan (if there ever was one) with getting Trump elected.

Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins [sic] private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.

The immediate question at that point should have been why Sater would tie this alleged real estate deal to getting Trump elected, but instead the follow-up reporting has been about the alleged deal.

In response to the first release of that language, Cohen “rebutted” that focus on Sater by denying two things that don’t address what the main focus should be.

Mr. Cohen suggested that Mr. Sater’s comments were puffery. “He has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to “salesmanship,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement. “I ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia.”

Sater was just engaged in salesmanship. But for what? A tower or a presidency?

Cohen never went to Russia. But did he make the deal without leaving NYC?

Now, a second story based on the emails actually turned over reveals a far more interesting detail: Cohen may not have gone to Russia, but he did reach out to Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov, you may recall, was (per the Steele dossier) the “main protagonist” of the kompromat campaign against Hillary, which initially reportedly — but perhaps not credibly — started as sharing old dirt on Hillary with Trump’s campaign, but by the end, consisted of deciding to leak the second batch of emails.

Russians do have further ‘kompromat’ on CLINTON (e-mails) and considering disseminating it after Duma (legislative elections) in late September. Presidential spokesman PESKOV continues to lead on this.

For his part, Cohen played the key role in brokering relations between Russia and the Trump team after Paul Manafort stepped down during the summer.

Speaking separately to the same compatriot in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider with direct access to the leadership confirmed that a key role in the secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin was being played by the Republican candidates personal lawyer Michael COHEN

So any ongoing discussions between Cohen and Peskov would go to the heart of any coordination between Trump and Russia.

Which is why it is so interesting that Cohen has started to not recall whether there were ongoing conversations after that January email (note, NYT’s Haberman says Cohen sent this to the mail press email for Peskov, not a private one).

“Over the past few months I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower – Moscow project in Moscow City,” Cohen wrote Peskov, according to a person familiar with the email. “Without getting into lengthy specifics. the communication between our two sides has stalled.”

“As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon,” Cohen wrote.

[snip]

In the statement, obtained by the Washington Post, Cohen said Sater suggested the outreach because a massive Trump development in Moscow would require Russian government approval. He said he did not recall receiving a response from Peskov and the project was abandoned two weeks later. [my emphasis]

I wonder if Cohen can recall any more recent conversations with Peskov, such as in advance of the time, in February of this year, when he and Sater delivered a Ukrainian peace plan to Mike Flynn in the days before Trump’s National Security Advisor was forced to quit?

Ah well. I’m sure a good lawyer like Cohen simply forgot these details, rather than giving the classic DC not recall answer that will provide him with another opportunity to tell a cover story the next time inconvenient emails get found.

Update: The WSJ gets into the act, with this report on how Cohen, when asked why he didn’t tell Trump he was going to call Putin’s top advisor for favors while Trump was running for President, did not respond.

In 2015, Mr. Cohen said, he informed the then-candidate that he was working on a licensing deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. He subsequently asked for and received Mr. Trump’s signature on a nonbinding letter of intent for the project in October 2015. And in January 2016, he said, he informed the then-candidate that he had killed the proposal. Mr. Cohen said each conversation was brief.

Mr. Cohen’s communication with the president about the Moscow project may come under scrutiny because of a January 2016 email Mr. Cohen sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top press official to ask for “assistance” in arranging the deal. Mr. Cohen said he didn’t inform Mr. Trump that he had sent the email to the press official, Dmitry Peskov. He didn’t respond when asked why he hadn’t done so.

So Cohen would have you believe he informed Trump at each stage of this process — except the one where he solicited help from a top official from a hostile nation-state.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

14 replies
  1. Rugger9 says:

    Well, this is the kind of inconvenient loose end that comes from a poorly constructed “limited hangout” play.  Part of that has to do with having to come up with something on the fly to address something that will be out there in the media quickly (if the courtier press wants to put it there).  As a result, multilevel planning is not done well, and we still haven’t had the “tweet of doom” that did in Junior’s cover story turn up in this case.  It’s hard to control the message to the “approved” topics in the age of the Internet and Lexis-Nexis.

    With that said, Mr. Cohen will possibly be chatting with Mueller soon and I’m not sure if attorney-client privilege can be claimed (maybe it was tried already behind the scenes) for Trump Tower Moscow negotiations.  Between Manafort, Cohen, Jared, Junior and possibly JeffBo Sessions (and/or Page) there are lots of sources that can cause Caesar Disgustus to explain something to someone about all of these Russians in communication with his campaign.

    Pardons I do not think are going to happen, because as bmaz has correctly noted there is no way to invoke the 5th Amendment protection if one is pardoned.  However, using the example of Scooter Libby, commutations would still keep the mouths shut while having the effect of a pardon in terms of jail time and/or fines.  Judging from what I’ve read here about Ty (the lawyer) Cobb, he would understand that nuance to tie up the loose ends.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      Pardons I do not think are going to happen, because as bmaz has correctly noted there is no way to invoke the 5th Amendment protection if one is pardoned. 

      Arpaio’s lawyers just filed to have his convictions vacated because of his pardon, asserting that they’ll appeal all the way up to SCOTUS. Now, per Burdick, a pardon has to be placed before the court for it to be effective, but its other precedent is that accepting a pardon counts as an admission of guilt.

      I can’t believe that continuing to litigate the Arpaio case after the pardon is part of a pre-emptive strategy to revisit Burdick on questions of admitting guilt or 5th Amdt. protection — that assumes strategic thinking, not lizard-brain impulse — but it’s a strong signal that courts’ ability to enforce contempt orders will depend upon the White House.

      • bmaz says:

        Goldman’s motion is garbage. Burdick never has stood for what people out in the social media universe claim it does. Never.

  2. David Rouse says:

    I don’t think that commutations will work. They would have to be convicted first. That means crap coming out in court that they don’t want.

    • bmaz says:

      FWIW, I don’t think pardons would work the way people think they would either. Remove’s 5th Amendment right to silence and places subject in a contempt and/or perjury posture.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        …in the event that the pardoned witness refuses to cooperate by answering the prosecutor’s questions, or answers them by lying about a material fact or by omitting a material fact.

        [For those not as steeped in this law as bmaz.]

      • lefty665 says:

        bmaz, Your post in another thread about the logic of commutation of sentences rather than pardons to shield the pardoner made a lot of sense. The “Scooter” corollary perhaps.

        • bmaz says:

          It is a pretty interesting distinction. Bush was pretty cagey in how they played that with Libby. Clearly drove Cheney batty though.

  3. Rugger9 says:

    So, how does Caesar Disgustus get the loose ends tied up and quietly if neither pardons nor commutations would work? What legal options are there to do that job? That is the only way I can see that C.D. can stop the discussion and the danger to his Presidency*.

  4. orionATL says:

    trump announced for president in june 2015:

    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/donald-trump-announces-2016-presidential-campaign-make-country/story?

    (do read this short abc story for the fun of remembering what trump, in his bombastic style, was promising to do for the nation over two years ago.)

    with respect to the matter of a trump real estate deal in russia and russian assistance in winning the presidency, you would expect that all players on both sides would have been highly experienced politically and would have made every effort to hide details of any such deal.

    as ew emphasizes, a major project was abandoned a mere two weeks later – dropped, just like that! my, my. how very curious. billionaires don’t get to be billionaires through lack of persistance.

  5. orionATL says:

    i found this wapo story very affecting for the courage it evinced:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/08/28/putin-saw-the-panama-papers-as-a-personal-attack-and-may-have-wanted-revenge-russian-authors-say/?

    as it relates to the story here at emptywheel, there are two things that interested me:

    – officials rounded up and jailed to keep them from talking

    – an april 6th meeting re panama papers.

    i don’t see how panama papers disclosure could be more annoying than assumed clinton-inspired interference in russian domestic and international politics, but i don’t have the sources and insight of a russian reporter.

    this russian reporting only relates to a putin motive for interfering in the u. s. election. it says nothing about any trump side of the equation.

  6. Rugger9 says:

    Can the “I don’t remember / recall” defense become perjury, and how does it happen? It seems to be the go-to claim for Republicans when they are caught doing bad things.

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