Trump’s Lawyer: I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague

Four days ago, Michael Cohen (or the Trump Organization) pre-empted revelations that would leak as soon as he turned over a third tranche of documents to the House Intelligence Committee by revealing a seemingly damning detail from it: along with Trump’s associate Felix Sater, Cohen was pursuing a Trump Tower deal in Moscow well after Trump’s campaign was in full swing. Sure enough, more damning information was still to come: Sater somehow imagined the deal — whatever it was — would get Trump elected. Then still more damning information: in January 2016, Cohen reached out to trusted Putin aide Dmitry Peskov to push for help on the deal. That’s when Cohen began to not recall precisely what happened, and also ignore questions about why he hadn’t told Trump about this call, unlike the other actions he took on this deal.

Again, these events were connected to Cohen’s delivery of a tranche of documents on August 28 to HPSCI.

Today, the letter Cohen sent to HPSCI on August 14 after reviewing and delivering two previous tranches of documents got liberated (this copy by the Daily Beast, but multiple outlets got copies). So the letter, which includes four pages plus backup rebutting the allegations made about Cohen in the Steele dossier, reflects the understanding Cohen’s lawyers had two weeks before they delivered emails showing Cohen was contacting Putin’s trusted aide in support of a deal that Sater believed would get Trump election.

Before I look at the letter, let me reiterate what I have suggested elsewhere (I plan to return to these shortly). There are real, unanswered questions about the provenance of the document as leaked by BuzzFeed. Some of the circumstances surrounding its production — most notably its funders and their claimed goals, and Steele’s production of a final report, based off voluntarily provided information, for free — raise real questions about parts of the dossier. I think it quite likely some parts of the dossier, especially the last, most inflammatory report (which accuses Cohen of attending a meeting where payments from Trump to the hackers that targeted the Democrats were discussed), were disinformation fed by the Russians. I believe the Intelligence Community is almost certainly lying about what they knew about the dossier. I believe the Russians know precisely how the dossier got constructed (remember, a suspected source for it died in mysterious circumstances in December), and they expect the exposure of those details will discredit it.

So while I think there are truths in the dossier, I do think its current form includes rumor and even affirmative disinformation meant to discredit it.

With that said — and remembering all the time that shortly after this letter got written, documents were disclosed showing Cohen was involved in brokering a deal that Sater thought might get Trump elected — here’s my analysis of the document.

The entire letter is pitched around the claim that HPSCI “included Mr. Cohen in its inquiry based solely upon certain sensational allegations contained” in the Steele dossier. “Absent those allegations,” the letter continues, “Mr. Cohen would not be involved in your investigation.” The idea — presented two weeks before disclosure of emails showing Cohen brokering a deal with Russians in early 2016 — is if Cohen can discredit the dossier, then he will have shown that there is no reason to investigate him or his role brokering deals with the Russians. Even the denial of any documents of interest is limited to the dossier: “We have not uncovered a single document that would in any way corroborate the Dossier’s allegations regarding Mr. Cohen, nor do we believe that any such document exists.”

With that, Cohen’s lawyers address the allegations in the dossier, one by one. As a result, the rebuttal reads kind of like this:

I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague

Cohen literally denies that he ever traveled to Prague six times, as well as denying carefully worded, often quoted, versions of meeting with Russians in a European capital in 2016. Of course that formulation — He did not participate in meetings of any kind with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016 — stops well short of other potential ties to Russians. And two of his denials look very different given the emails disclosed two weeks later showing an attempt to broker a deal that Felix Sater thought might get Trump elected, including an email from him to one of the most trusted agents of the Kremlin.

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any “secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin relationship.”

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any indirect communications between the “TRUMP team” and “trusted agents” of the Kremlin.

As I said above, I think it highly likely the dossier includes at least some disinformation seeded by the Russians. So the most charitable scenario of what went down is that the Russians, knowing Cohen had made half-hearted attempts to broker the Trump Tower deal Trump had wanted for years, planted his name hoping some kind of awkwardness like this would result.

If so, Mission accomplished!

All that said, the way in which Cohen has orchestrated this disclosure — up to and including his failures to recall and answer obvious questions — is either great lawyering and/or sign that this earlier deal making is a real problem.

It may be that HPSCI only investigated Cohen because he was badly implicated in the Steele dossier. But if so, it led to the disclosure of earlier deal-making, including an attempt to reach out to one of Putin’s most trusted associates, that will likely give HPSCI a whole new reason to investigate.

27 replies
  1. pseudonymous in nc says:

    “Absent those allegations, Mr. Cohen would not be involved in your investigation.”

    Says who?

    Sorry. But this is definitely trying to set the terms of litigation around the Steele dossier, when it’s already on record that the Family Business had/has a tiny core staff of which Cohen was a prominent member, and that the campaign had a small core team in which Cohen was also a prominent surrogate.

    This dovetails with the order signed off in Florida for Steele to be deposed in the Buzzfeed libel case — ridiculous, because there’s no oral deposition power in English law for civil actions, and no English judge will act on it, especially when there’s an ongoing case before the English courts that could be prejudiced by a deposition.

    Anyway, this letter’s focused rebuttals are a reminder that Steele’s original Cohen reports were produced within a very tight time window (October 18/19/20, with a December follow-up) and the humint is attributed to “a Kremlin insider with direct access to the leadership” speaking to a “trusted compatriot.” Disinformation? Very possibly. But that means looking at who wanted to seed it around, say, October 15.

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        Yeah, the Buzzfeed doc is not strictly chronologically ordered, as you’ve noted before, but 2016/136 is an oddity in how far it is out of sequence. There’s the “buyers’ remorse” note dated 12th October (2016/130), then a quick sequence of updates (134, 135, 136) pushed out over three days on the Cohen-Page-Sechin stuff, and they read to me a lot less dry than the ones preceding them. Reading them in that order also makes it easier to grasp Steele’s ongoing sourcing for that particular strand.

        • emptywheel says:

          Which is also interesting because Cohen was in London for his daughter’s birthday for the 10 days leading up to that period.

          • pseudonymous in nc says:

            Oh, good spot. Assange Berlin videolink on the 4th; Cohen’s LHR stamp on the 6th; Podesta release on the 7th. And yeah, the timeline we perhaps ought to be focusing on here isn’t the one described in the Steele notes, but that of the notes themselves.

  2. harpie says:

    8/31/17 1:52 PM ET NBC News: Manafort Notes From Russian Meet Contain Cryptic Reference to ‘Donations’
    8/31/17 Approx. 2:12 PM ET Preet Bharara‏Verified account @PreetBharara 

    Enjoying a lovely lunch with @billbrowder, talking some justice, talking some Russia. We should all be glad for his courage in speaking up.


    • harpie says:

      Ryan Goodman‏Verified account@rgoodlaw 

      A gem in NBC piece: Paul Manafort’s notes “typed on a smart phone” Don Jr used PM being on his phone to suggest meeting was insignificant 1/ Transcript with Don Jr. trying to use Manafort being on his phone “pretty much” the whole time to show meeting was “a wasted 20 minutes” [screenshot] 2/3 But if PM was on his phone to take notes that’s incriminating: 1. suggests meeting was significant 2. shows Don Jr trying to mislead 3/3

    • harpie says:

      2:47 PM ET: Preet Bharara Retweeted Bill Browder

      Great talk, @Billbrowder. Thank you. How about next time we do it in a podcast studio for all to hear…?

  3. Craxis says:

    at least some disinformation seeded by the Russians.


    Steele is a British spy, not a Russian one.


    More likely it is British MI-6 disinformation rather than Russian disinformation. Steele would be an expert on Russian junk.

    Or Steele is just making up spy novel stuff.


    What is often, always overlooked is how much of the Dossier is “information” from the Trump campaign and supporters.


    This may have been fed to Steele by American disinformation agents. Steele’s input would have been knowledge about how Russian “pension” payments are made.


    Most likely Steele read some stuff and added to it, or was fed by Fusion GPS, McMullin and various American cranks.



    • emptywheel says:


      Since you did not engage with the points and reasons I explained this would be Russian disinformation fed to Steele’s secondhand sources, and since you claim stuff never gets noted (that this comes from Trumpsters as well) that I’ve noted this week, care to explain why if Steele’s dossier is primarily MI6 disinfo it wasn’t more consistent in the time frame it’d have been helpful?

      I mean, I certainly have considered that the last report was so inflammatory because the IC needed something scary, except few people pay attention to that part.

      So if you want to argue this, can you do so with specifics?

  4. Rugger9 says:

    Or, Cohen used Webex or some variant to call in.  That way he never “traveled to” Prague but was in the meeting nonetheless.

    As I’ve noted before, HUMINT is rarely free of errors (especially when they are sensational revelations), but the Steele dossier has been confirmed in many of its claims as well so just throwing the whole thing away as some would have us do here is myopic.  Also, when DeSantis appeared on Faux today the “stupidest guy on the stage” (OK, he’s neck and neck with Doofy) was saying without a trace of Whitewater irony that six months was long enough.  The blatantly desperate attempts to quash or downplay Mueller’s investigation tells me that Caesar Disgustus is truly scared of what’s going to come out and he wants a wall of Faux noise to drown it out.

    It also did not help C.D. that Schneiderman of NY is apparently pooling information with Mueller.  Presidential pardons only apply at the federal crimes level by long standing practice, but I am not aware of any litigated precedent that prevents C.D. from trying to pardon for anything the NY AG can serve up.  Given that the choice is disaster by revelation or litigation I’d be more surprised if he doesn’t try that idea or at least try to roll Governor Cuomo the DINO.  Norms / traditions / civility are for losers in Trumpworld so any reliance on moral grounds to stop C.D. is not the way it should be viewed, the true Trumpian prism is “me vs. the losers”.

    If Cuomo goes along with it he’s finished as a politico in NY and nationally. Too many Ds in NY and the NY angle is his official proof of gravtas / competence nationally.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      The point about raw HUMINT is that even the unconfirmed stuff is worth some analysis: was it just bullshit, was it deliberate disinfo, where did it enter the comms chain and which sources did it use?

      Did Steele have a new or long-dormant source chirp up in mid-October around the time of his “buyers’ remorse” note to fill out the Cohen stuff, or was it an established source who was getting new info? Understanding the different provenance streams and the amount of weight Steele put on them is the kind of stuff that the FBI would want to clarify, even if he’s unwilling to disclose names.

  5. Craxis says:

    but the Steele dossier has been confirmed in many of its claims

    This claim could challenge Scientology as a fake new religion, it’s becoming so common.


  6. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Agree, on the disinformation (payments to hackers), but I can see another group as suspect besides Russia that would sow that disinformation.

    Mr. Cohen is not aware of any “secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin relationship.”

    [Non-secret not addressed]

    Mr. Cohen is not aware of any indirect communications between the “TRUMP team” and “trusted agents” of the Kremlin.

    [Direct comms to trusted not addressed]
    [comms with ‘untrusted agents’ not addressed]
    [Peskov not trusted? So why did he comm with him?]

    [Kinda says he may be aware of indirect comms to untrusted agents]

    [Kushner and Rohrabacher will be in the news again near future is my guess]

  7. Desider says:

    Cohen was in Italy July 9-17 2016 – and could easily have gone to Prague without being noticed, and in Shengen area no visa stamp would have been added. Though this is slightly off the Aug-Sept timeframe, though even there Cohen’s Southern California trip seems belied by social media GPS.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      It’s worth clearing your mind and reading 134-135-136 in sequence to see how that strand developed.

      134/Oct 18: “Kremlin insider” in mid-October conversation with trusted compatriot emphasizes “a key role” played by Cohen. Some redaction in Buzzfeed doc, no indication of a meeting.

      135/Oct 19: “Kremlin insider” in mid-October conversation (the same one?) says Cohen met “in an EU country in August 2016”, but unsure of “the exact date/s and locations.”

      136/Oct 20: “Kremlin insider” speaking on October 20 “clearly indicated” in “cryptic” terms that meeting was in Prague using plausibly deniable contacts and location.

      Assuming the same or very similar provenance for all three notes — and given the compressed timeframe, I think we’re okay to do that — that’s a lot of elaboration on Cohen in three days from at least two separate conversations, where presumably the one described in 136 was guided by Steele’s feedback on the earlier one.

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        oops, typo: for the 136 note, the conversation was dated to Oct 19, clearly a new one to the mid-October one or ones cited in 134 and 135.

        The sense I get is of Steele gently leaning on his source chain to elicit more details on Cohen over the course of those three days, and getting back a lot more than I’d expect from people trying to obtain sensitive information in a relatively short timeframe without being obvious about it. The 135-136 transition for “Kremlin insider” goes from being unsure about the details of the meeting between mid-October and the 19th, then implying it was in Prague in a “cryptic” way.

        So talking about Schengen is correct, but perhaps it’s over-correct. If, for instance, 135 and 136 didn’t exist in the Buzzfeed doc, only 134, redactions and all, then the lawyers’ letter would be quibbling about Mrs Cohen and her papa, but it’d be a lot shorter.

  8. John Ely says:

    LeCarre and Ben MacIntyre more or less made the same general observations about the Trump-Russia affair and the factual contents of the Steele Dossier in an interview in the NYT Book Review week before last.

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