Michael Cohen’s Claim the Steele Dossier Is False Is Not Affirmed in His Lawyer’s Declaration

As you know, I’ve long asserted that the Steele dossier has not been proven — and I extend that caution to the recent report about investigators having found evidence that Michael Cohen traveled from Germany to Czech Republic sometime in 2016.

But as I was writing about something else I couldn’t help but notice something about this paragraph from his lawyers’ motion to show cause (basically, his request to put someone other than the government — preferably his own lawyers — in charge of determining which of the materials they’ve seized are subject to attorney-client privilege).

This arduous journey began for Mr. Cohen over 16 months ago with the publication of his name in the so-called Steele dossier. The references to Mr. Cohen in the Steele dossier are false and have been completely debunked. Nevertheless, because of those false allegations, Mr. Cohen has had to spend the last 16 months defending himself in front of numerous government investigatory agencies.

It appears in the statement of fact section, meaning it is supposed to be backed by a statement in the declaration submitted by his attorney, Todd Harrison, as almost every other sentence in that section is. For comparison, note how the paragraph just before the Steele dossier one cites each assertion to a paragraph of Harrison’s declaration.

On November 8, 2016, Mr. Trump was elected President of the United States. Id. ¶ 9. Mr. Cohen resigned from the Trump Organization on January 20, 2017. Id. ¶ 10. Following Mr. Cohen’s resignation from the Trump Organization, President Trump allowed Mr. Cohen to continue using the title, “Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump,” in his email signature block. Id. ¶ 10. Mr. Cohen has served as Mr. Trump’s personal legal counsel from at least 2006 to the present. Id. ¶ 11.

As it is, the government called out Cohen for playing fast and loose with one of his claims — that the government seized his family’s health records.

Cohen also suggests that the USAO-SDNY seized personal communications with Cohen’s family and medical records.Notably, this assertion does not appear in the sworn affidavit of Cohen’s counsel, Todd Harrison, and to the extent the unsworn claim is true, it is likely because such records exist on Cohen’s electronic devices, which were expressly covered by the search warrants.

And the government calls out at more length the way he makes a carefully couched claim that he cooperated with ongoing investigations. (Cohen’s attorneys play fast and loose with their claims in one other area I’ll return to.)

But the entire paragraph claiming that the investigation into him derives from the Steele dossier — aside from being false both in this investigation into his taxi business and hush payments, and false in the larger Russia investigation that also pertains to his attempts to set up a Trump Tower in Moscow — is not backed by a sworn declaration at all. Indeed, Harrison is silent on the issue of the Steele dossier.

Cohen would like Judge Kimba Wood to believe that the dossier has been debunked. But his lawyer is unwilling to stake his own legal reputation on the claim.

This is a more subtle version of what Cohen tried in his declaration to the House Intelligence Committee. That declaration stopped short of outright denying the dossier’s allegations (aside that he went to Prague) then, and this one falls even further short.

So whether or not Cohen went to Prague, it seems that his lawyer is unwilling to claim the other things in the dossier are false.

Update: I’ve come up with something that may be a plausible explanation of the new Cohen in Prague news: Buzzfeed hired Anthony Ferrante to conduct an investigation into the dossier claims, in hopes of corroborating enough of it to defeat the several lawsuits — including Cohen’s — against it. His team is precisely the kind of investigator that might be able to scan border crossings with sufficient attention to see Cohen traveling across one. Certainly, if they found anything they would also share with Mueller’s team.

41 replies
  1. bmaz says:

    Yeah, I have real questions about the McClatchy article. But not going to write it off either. It does seem almost insane, though, for Cohen to again come out and directly and forcibly deny something that might could be established via real evidence. Not after knowing full well he is a flat out target.

    On the other hand, these people are consistent idiots, so who knows.

    • emptywheel says:

      Yup. Fucking idiots. Which is why I don’t totally rule it out.

      That said, I’ve long believed he might have been involved in a cleanup meeting. Maybe even one in August.

      But that it didn’t happen in Prague.

      • orionATL says:

        cleaning up what, or with respect to which particular pile of poop, that he would have to take a very, very long plane ride to carry out his assignment from don Don? given americans are easier surveillance targets overseas by their own gov, not to mention our nato pals, this does not seem other than a foolish or even desperate action.

        surely we can mark any of the broads problems off the list of possibilities.

        as a general question, what “reasonable” purpose might candidate trump’s fixer have had in europe in late summer or fall of 2016?

        • pseudonymous in nc says:

          That is a very fair comment. Steele’s memo says that the cleanup operation was related to Page’s contacts in Moscow and Manafort’s “commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine”. Which, I suppose, might mean his ties to Deripaska more than his black-ledger work for Yanukovych. That still leaves open what kind of actions Cohen could have taken (or at least been present for) to enable a cleanup. We know that he’s got long-standing ties with the former-USSR diaspora in NYC, family stuff in Ukraine, and that he was instrumental in the Tblisi/Batumi deal in Georgia with Silk Road Group but there’s a gap there in terms of what he could actually facilitate in mid-2016.

          I suppose it depends on whether you believe that beneath the mook/thug exterior, Cohen is actually more like Manafort, not as a political operator, but as a maker of dirty deals with dodgy operators in dodgy countries laundered through Russian-doll LLCs.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            More like a bigger league Keith Davidson, with thugs rather than those who sue celebrities for clients.  The Tom Hagen analogies come from Cohen, whose one-time nickname was “Tom”.  Part of being a fixer may be to park and move money through the laundromat.  No A-C privilege for that.

          • orionATL says:

            psuedonymous inc –

            thanks for the very detailed information.

            this comment gets at my interest: “…That still leaves open what kind of actions Cohen could have taken (or at least been present for) to enable a cleanup…”

            precisely. what specific actions could an american attorney take to mitigate/close down information continuing to come out about activities as spreadout over time, involving as many people with knowledge, as those involving manafort in ukr or deripaksa? signing an agreement? promising?accepting money or promises of future benefits/favors? making threats?

            who do you talk with? in person or by phone? what do you give? what do you ask for? even translators.

            it would seem to be much more difficult for a single individual (even an experienced fixer) to exert control over what has already happened, knowledge of which is spreading like an inkstain, than to engage in prospective behavior on some matter or other that what might help his client’s campaign

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Your twitter questions about who hired Joanna Herndon, has she ever met Trump, and will he pay her are spot on.

        She’s a woman, she has experience, competence and presence.  Those attributes normally make Trump squirm with discomfort.  She is unlike his other lawyers.  She’s more like the ones Cohen hired from McDermott Will.  She seems like the good advice the Don listens to for a day, then discards in a tweet storm.

        • bmaz says:

          Um, about that “competence” thing. She took on the most difficult client in the world, did so on about 36 hours before wandering into a court where said client should NOT be appearing in, and pleaded stupidity about the matter she was appearing on and blithely asking for delay of. I will reserve any decision on “competence”.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            Perhaps “blindly” asking for delay because she hadn’t any better argument.  I’m more interested in whether she gets paid and by whom.

            I agree with the DoJ’s response that the Don has no better or worse interest in the decisions about A-C privileged materials than any other client of Manafort.  That’s why I hope Cohen’s lawyers’ attempt to keep all of this under seal falls short.

            • emptywheel says:

              She has a weak hand, Cohen’s lawyers argued a transparently problematic brief, buying for time was the least worst option, no?

              • earlofhuntingdon says:

                Looks like it to me.  It’s just that the appearance of an apparently competent lawyer working for Donald Trump is so disorientating.  Next thing, the sun will rise in the West.

              • bmaz says:

                No. She could assert no more better assertion of privilege than Cohen, irrespective of the competence of his lawyers, already had. Inserting a POTUS client into the fray was nuts.

                • earlofhuntingdon says:

                  If Cohen is telling the truth, the guy now POTUS is his only client.  So he was always there.  And it keeps the Don in the headlines, which is all he’s ever wanted.

                  If Cohen’s telling the truth, then any materials not related to the Don could not be privileged.  And a lot relating to the Don might be subject to its exceptions, or might not be legal work at all.

                  This is all a bit like watching Mystery Science Theater 3000.

            • pseudonymous in nc says:

              I’m more interested in whether she gets paid and by whom.

              Charles Harder’s firm got $93,000 from the re-election campaign in the first two months of 2018, based on the 1Q SEC filing. That’s out of $834,000 in legal bills. So that may be where the money is coming from, which makes it in turn a political case, not a personal one.

        • Bob Conyers says:

          The thing about her that I think will cause the most problems with Trump is that she has argued in past cases that her client screwed up, did bad things, and is very sorry, but there is a technical reason why the client shouldn’t be found guilty.

          That will never, ever fly with Trump.

  2. david_l says:

    Prague has a ratio of surveillance cameras to people equal to that in London UK and apparently there are lots of them in many Czech towns as well.

    I don’t know how many record (I assume most do) or how long recordings are kept but maybe someone saw him, or began looking once the time frame was out there and he started denying he was there.

    https://prague.tv/en/s72/Directory/c218-Technology/n8405-Prague-eyes-more-police-cameras

    http://www.praguemonitor.com/2016/12/23/pr%C3%A1vo-thousands-cameras-watch-people-czech-towns

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      May have happened in Texas. One party consent, vs California two party consent.

      Which may be problematic for Cohen. Stormy may have recorded. At best, we can only surmise that Stormy and a Notary where actually present together. And even that assumes facts not in evidence.

      ‘DD’ did not sign. We have no evidence that even Cohen was present.

      For all we know, she was snookered, signed it, mailed it somewhere, then the ‘notary’ stamped and backdated.

      Obviously, different pens were used.

      BTW, she is on way to NY for the hearing tomorrow 2018-04-16, 14:00, EDT, SDNY.

      New York is one party consent.

      https://www.google.com/amp/s/lawandcrime.com/politics/notary-being-investigated-for-not-signing-stormy-daniels-nda/amp/?espv=1

  3. JD12 says:

    This means it’s even more likely you were right, in my opinion. The dossier has a feedback loop and Prague is disinformation.

    His denials are too specific. Throughout his list, 13 items, every single one of them includes a specific qualifier such as:

    Prague

    Russia (including Russian Federation, Kremlin or Russian leadership)

    the month of August

    Trump Campaign

    They were at least smart enough to do it by proxy. Cohen didn’t have an official role in the campaign and Russia went through Wikileaks, CA, and others.

    Most likely Cohen met with Wikileaks and/or CA, someone tipped off Steele, and when he checked to confirm his Russian sources fed him the Prague disinformation. The hacker, who still may have been involved in the hack,  had just been arrested in Prague so they threw that in there.

    McClatchy used two anonymous third party sources. Mueller’s team wouldn’t leak, and McClatchy probably wouldn’t get a scoop like that. Someone took advantage of them.

    • JD12 says:

      My guess is he was comfortable telling a friendly Republican led committee that the dossier was “entirely false” but then just disputing the Prague/campaign/Russian officials details. If he did something similar, just not in Prague, he may not be confident trying that in a serious court.

  4. maybe ryan says:

    Wait, what? You’re kidding me. Cohen went to Prague after all?

    Dammit. I’m going to relapse. I know it’s going to happen. The twitchy twitter-finger is back. I can feel myself falling back into her sway. I can’t help it…

    I haven’t read Louise Mensch in months. But I can’t stop myself!

    Next, I’m going to start catching up with that Claude guy whose claim to insider info is that he was Obama’s photographer. And soon I’ll be believing there have been sealed indictments since last May.

    Dammit! Fuck! Why’d you have to tell me Cohen went to Prague. Why! Why?!

  5. Teddy says:

    But what kind of bandwidth must this FTI outfit hired by Buzzfeed have, exactly, if they hope to locate incontrovertible images of Michael Cohen in Prague, meeting with the people who also claim not to have been there? I suppose I’m naive about “Surveillance State3.0 – The Private Sector,” but are there really people available to comb through three months worth of lord knows how many camera feeds from all over the city?

    I’m not doubting it, I suppose. It’s just… what a world!

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      No need to comb thru old data if you have the intel and know what to watch for in realtime.

      Just because the sources are unknown does not prove that the evidence is false.

      Plus, the intel folk do not have to watch *every* cam, just the ones located on the proper roads.

  6. Trip says:

    For now, I am taking the McClatchy article with a grain of salt. But beyond planes, trains and automobiles (shout out to John Candy), some of the business dealing concerning oligarchs and minions tends to happen on yachts. Floating in waterways may technically meet the definition of not being on a particular soil in a specific country (as far as Cohen saying so).  It didn’t seem as though any authorities attempted to board the ship off the coast of Norway, while Deripaska, Prikhodko (and Anastasiya Vashukevich) were sailing around and discussing Manafort. Just another angle to consider here.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/13/russian-watchdog-orders-youtube-to-remove-navalny-video

  7. Jill says:

    Michael Cohen in Prague is leaked information from FISA intelligence that made it’s way to Steele. This is a very big problem for the leaker and the person/persons behind the dossier. Apparently they had the wrong Michael Cohen.

    Bruce Ohr, DOJ, took a fall over his contacts with FusionGPS, the firm behind the dossier. His wife worked for Fusion GPS. Why was Ohr even involved in this matter. Why is a guy who has 2 high level jobs in the DOJ even meeting with the head of Fusion GPS?

    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/12/07/top-doj-official-demoted-amid-probe-contacts-with-trump-dossier-firm.html

    https://nypost.com/2017/12/11/wife-of-demoted-justice-department-official-worked-for-dossier-firm/

    • bmaz says:

      This is batshit. And from which troll factory did you pop out of “Jill”? And I reviewed every one of your grand total of five, ever, and all quite recent, comments on this blog. I can safely say you are trolling. That is not going to fly here.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            That’s “Colonel” to you.  He’s got a lotta wounded men outside. And he’d never dream of going into combat with loose change in his pocket.

              • earlofhuntingdon says:

                I’m sorry.  The president won’t accept a collect call.

                I’m not a betting person, but I will bet you know what that is.

                • bmaz says:

                  Fittingly, over decades, by far the most collect calls I ever fielded were from people in jail and prison. Can I get one from President Bat Trump?

                    • bmaz says:

                      Well, you know, the smart ones call first. Because that 10% vig the bondsmen charge can go a long way to attorney fees. And a real lawyer can immediately move to change the release conditions. The better money is the latter path, though it may, excepting weekends, take 48 hours or so.

                • SpaceLifeForm says:

                  Well, if not collect call, one may get lucky if they call 212-836-3200 and ask for him.

                  Only from noon til 9pm.

                  Ya never know!

  8. What Constitution? says:

    Michael Cohen, Michael Cohen. I started off wondering whether drawing a comparison to Michael Clayton had any legs, but that would be such an insult to George Clooney. But never fear, there’s a better one: Egghead/Vincent Price’s villainous lawyer sidekick in the 60’s Batman farce TV series. There’s a “biff/pow” fight scene where Batman squares off with this guy and sneers something like “you’re a terrible person”, and they guy sneers right back with “I’m a criminal lawyer, it says so on my letterhead!” Honest to god, that’s a direct quote. I can’t find it on YouTube, much to my chagrin. Sorry about that; maybe about this too, now I can’t unremember it.

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