Did we jump the gun in exonerating Michael Cohen from claims of Russian collusion? Probably not, but a new report is raising new questions.
Earlier in the month, we noted just how flimsy a particular claim about him in Chris Steele’s dossier is; that Cohen allegedly traveled to Prague to meet with Russians with the goal of rigging the election by limiting coverage regarding Trump’s alleged ties to Russia and enlisting the help of Russian hackers.
There are numerous reasons to doubt the dossier account, namely due to the facts that:
- Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis, a major Clinton ally, denies the Prague visit.
- Cohen, who is now turning on Trump, has not corroborated any collusion claims (but has instead focused on the unrelated Stormy Daniels story).
- Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Greg Miller said during a book interview that sources at the FBI and CIA don’t believe that the Prague incident ever happened. Miller said that Post reporters “literally spent weeks and months trying to run down” leads from the dossier, and that they “sent reporters through every hotel in Prague, through all over the place, just to try to figure out if he was ever there, and came away empty.” Interestingly, that fact has yet to be reported in the Washington Post.
- “Russian Roulette” author Michael Isikoff (which pushes the collusion narrative) now acknowledges that the dossier is “likely false.”
But according to a new report from McClatchy DC, the evidence of Cohen’s Prague visit has been uncovered at last.
The New, 100% Anonymous Evidence
According to McClatchy’s report, the supposed smoking gun was found in Cohen’s cell phone records. Like any supposedly reputable news agency today, they rely exclusively on anonymous sources that have “knowledge of the matter” (how convenient!). To quote:
A mobile phone traced to Cohen briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, leaving an electronic record to support claims that Cohen met secretly there with Russian officials, four people with knowledge of the matter say.
During the same period of late August or early September, electronic eavesdropping by an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague, two people familiar with the incident said.
McClatchy acknowledges that while they believe they’ve proven Cohen was in Prague after all, there still isn’t any evidence as to why he was there, or what he did while he was there. The “people familiar with the matter” reportedly gave this new information over to Robert Mueller. Humorously, McClatchy also writes that “McClatchy reported in April 2018 that Mueller had obtained evidence Cohen traveled to Prague from Germany in late August or early September of 2016, but it could not be learned how that information was gleaned.”
The irony is apparently lost with the sentence “it could not be learned how that information was gleaned,” as we’re being presented with anonymous sources once again.
Holes in McClatchy’s Report
Right off the bat, we’re to parse how it’s possible that Cohen denied this Prague visit under oath to the Senate, but Mueller has done nothing to charge him with lying for that claim despite supposedly having information to the contrary (according to “sources”).
Cohen has already denied the report, which again, would result in perjury charges if he’s being untruthful. He’s already turned on Trump when it comes to payments to Stormy Daniels – why would he put himself at risk of further charges, unless he’s actually telling the truth?
— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) December 27, 2018
— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) December 27, 2018
Meanwhile, the Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross has found a number of reasons to cast doubt on McClatchy’s report. According to Ross:
As others, even Trump critics have noted, the sourcing is sketchy. “Four sources familiar” doesn’t tell us if it’s gov’t officials, Michael Cohen associates, or even Fusion GPS. There’s also the circumstantial evidence undercutting the dossier’s claims on Cohen/Prague: Cohen did not plead guilty to lying about Prague, even though he denied the trip in his congressional testimony.
No other news outlets have corroborated the McClatchy stories, and Mueller’s office issued a statement after the first story cautioning against believing stories with vague sourcing.
And most important:
There’s reason to believe that the McClatchy reporters have relied on Fusion GPS, which has a strong incentive to bolster the dossier. Glenn Simpson was out spreading a fake story about a conservative lawyer that these McClatchy reporters referenced.
As Ross noted, McClatchy’s new report is really just an extended version of a report of theirs from last April which also claimed to find evidence of Cohen’s trip to Prague. That initial report provoked a rare response from Mueller’s office cautioning against taking such reporting at face value. A spokesperson for Mueller’s office said “What I have been telling all reporters is that many stories about our investigation have been inaccurate. Be very cautious about any source that claims to have knowledge about our investigation and dig deep into what they claim before reporting on.”
If the report was bogus then, why wouldn’t it be now? I’d say the probability that the special counsel has evidence of Cohen’s visit to Prague and has decided to instead charge him for financial crimes instead of lying to their faces is approximately zero.