What Is Michael Cohen Up to With His Leaks to the Press?

As tensions mount between the president and his former attorney, last night CNN dropped this bombshell:

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, claims that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in which Russians were expected to offer his campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton, sources with knowledge tell CNN. Cohen is willing to make that assertion to special counsel Robert Mueller, the sources said.

Just prior to that, Cohen released an audio tape recording in which he and Trump discussed how they would buy the rights to Karen McDougal’s story about an alleged affair Trump had with her years earlier, demonstrating that the president lied when he said he knew nothing about the arrangements.

It is important to keep in mind that we’re getting a drip, drip, drip of disclosures from Cohen. Putting the latest one in context, it is important to keep several things in mind.

  • Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., and several surrogates have repeatedly claimed that the president knew nothing about the June meeting in Trump Tower,
  • Just prior to the meeting, the president said that he’d give a big speech with new dirt on Hillary Clinton, but that never happened,
  • The only accounts of what actually transpired in the meeting have come from members of Trump’s campaign team and the Russian operative involved,
  • Once news of the meeting broke, Trump dictated a statement that purported to come from Don Jr. in which he lied about the purpose of the meeting,
  • Evidence suggests that the content of that statement was the result of a private meeting between Trump and Putin at the G20 summit.

In other words, if Cohen is willing to testify that Trump knew about the meeting beforehand or if what he is saying can be corroborated by other witnesses, what we have at minimum is that the president was willing to conspire with the Russians to get dirt on his opponent.

But when it comes to evidence of that conspiracy, that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Cohen knows. According to the Steele dossier, Paul Manafort was the Trump campaign’s main contact person with the Russians. When he was forced to resign from his position due to revelations about his associations, Michael Cohen took over the role. The dossier further claims that Cohen met with the Russians in Prague to discuss, among other things, how they would handle cash payments to the hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction.

Initially, Cohen denied that he had ever been to Prague and produced his passport as evidence. But just after the FBI raided Cohen’s offices, McClatchy reported this:

The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to a retired British spy’s report that Cohen strategized there with a powerful Kremlin figure about Russian meddling in the U.S. election…

…investigators have traced evidence that Cohen entered the Czech Republic through Germany, apparently during August or early September of 2016 as the ex-spy reported, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is confidential. He wouldn’t have needed a passport for such a trip, because both countries are in the so-called Schengen Area in which 26 nations operate with open borders.

If what the Steele dossier reported is accurate, that makes Cohen a key player in a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 election. So why all of the drip, drip, drip from Cohen?

The president’s former lawyer is personally facing serious charges related to that conspiracy, not to mention what will be uncovered by the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. He could simply go to them and negotiate a plea agreement. Instead, he’s releasing information publicly, which indicates that he might still be attempting to scare Trump into granting him a pardon. Given that we don’t know what was discussed in the June Trump Tower meeting, the president still might be able to maneuver his way out of a conspiracy charge from Mueller. But the whole thing could be blown wide open if Cohen revealed what he knows about his meeting in Prague.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.