By Chuck Ross
The latest round of government filings in the two federal cases against Michael Cohen have predictably touched off a debate about whether prosecutors have evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
President Donald Trump declared on Twitter that the court filing, which was released by the special counsel’s office, “totally clears the president.”
Trump’s critics, including Democratic lawmakers and cable TV pundits, held an opposing view. They noted that the filings showed more extensive contacts between Trump’s longtime fixer and Russians than previously known. They also pointed to vague passages in the memo, which they argued could indicate that special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence of collusion that he’s not ready to release.
“Cohen provided the [special counsel’s office] with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign,” reads one of the memo’s more cryptic lines.
The special counsel’s memo also suggests that Mueller views Cohen’s work to build a Trump Tower in Moscow (an effort dubbed the Moscow Project) as relevant to the core investigation into a possible conspiracy between the Kremlin and Trump campaign to influence the 2016 election.
“The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with [Trump] well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and [special counsel] investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election,” the memo says.
Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty on Nov. 29 to lying to Congress last year about the extent of his work on the Moscow Project. Cohen worked closely with Felix Sater, a Russia-born real estate executive and longtime government informant, through June 2016 to try to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital.
He testified that he ended his efforts in January 2016, before the beginning of the Iowa caucuses. He also claimed that he had a single one-way contact with the Kremlin: an email he sent to the office of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Cohen admitted to investigators that he actually pursued the Moscow Project through June 2016. He also had a phone conversation with one of Peskov’s assistants to discuss the deal, which never materialized.
“Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government,” Mueller’s filing states. “If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues.”
It remains unclear what Trump and his family knew about Cohen’s negotiations. Cohen claims that he kept Trump and his children in the loop about his negotiations. The filing also does not allege that Cohen lied to Congress at the direction of Trump.
Instead, Cohen claims that he lied in order to remain consistent with Trump’s public statements about not having business dealings with Russia.
The memo also reveals contacts that Cohen had in November 2015 with a Russian national who wanted to work with Cohen on the Moscow Project and establish links between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
The revelation led headlines at numerous news outlets on Friday because the Russian, later identified as Olympic weightlifter Dmitry Klokov, claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian government who wanted to provide “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level” to the campaign. Klokov, who was introduced to Cohen through email by Ivanka Trump, proposed setting up a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin.
But according to BuzzFeed News, which reported on Klokov in June, Cohen rebuffed the weightlifter and cut off all contact with him.
BuzzFeed reported that Ivanka Trump never met Klokov and that he has no known ties to Putin.
Notably absent from the Mueller filing is any indication that Cohen provided information that matches the allegations laid out in the Steele dossier, the infamous document that Democrats tout as the roadmap to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
The most prominent allegation against Cohen in the 35-page report is that he traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin insiders to discuss paying off hackers who stole Democrats’ emails.
The bombshell claim has been the subject of much debate in the nearly two years since the dossier was published. Cohen vehemently denied the allegation, including in congressional testimony, through the end of June 2018, when he began his break from Trump.
While Cohen has remained silent on the topic for months, his attorney, Lanny Davis, said on Aug. 22 that all 13 of the dossier’s allegations against Cohen, including the Prague trip, are false.
Davis declined comment on Friday when asked whether he and Cohen still stand by those denials.
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