We’re Way off the Heart of the Russia Investigation

There has been a lot of nonsense going on this week related to the investigation into the Trump administration’s possible role in co-conspiring with the Russians during the 2016 presidential election. This is mainly due to Rudy Giuliani acting like a maniac, but it’s also because people are focused on tangential issues. Donald Trump cheated on his wife repeatedly and had his lawyer/fixer work like a fevered badger to prevent news of his dalliances from damaging the campaign. That’s deplorable and may involve some campaign finance violations, but Mueller wasn’t interested and passed it off to attorneys in the Southern District of New York.

The other big, big deal this week is the rumor that there was a second (planning) meeting prior to the more famous Trump Tower meeting between the Russians and Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner. Supposedly, Rick Gates and Michael Cohen attended the first meeting and will be available to testify about it. Cohen, in particular, may testify that Trump Sr. was in on the planning. That’s very damning information, if true, but the Trump Tower meeting was small potatoes.

If you want to know what Mueller is actually looking at, go no further than the December 13, 2016 submission in Christopher’s Steele’s dossier.


The reason the special counsel’s office wants Michael Cohen to become a cooperating witness is because they want information about his trip to Prague. Three and a half months ago, McClatchy journalists Peter Stone and Greg Gordon reported the following:

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.

It would also be one of the most significant developments thus far in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of whether the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House. Undercutting Trump’s repeated pronouncements that “there is no evidence of collusion,” it also could ratchet up the stakes if the president tries, as he has intimated he might for months, to order Mueller’s firing.

Stone and Gordon are careful and well-respected reporters. They are certain that they have this information correct, and there’s little reason to doubt them. Naturally, they could be wrong. But I doubt it.

Here’s the meat of their report:

It’s unclear whether Mueller’s investigators also have evidence that Cohen actually met with a prominent Russian – purportedly Konstantin Kosachev, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — in the Czech capital. Kosachev, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of a body of the Russian legislature, the Federation Council, also has denied visiting Prague during 2016. Earlier this month, Kosachev was among 24 high-profile Russians hit with stiff U.S. sanctions in retaliation for Russia’s meddling.

But 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. The disclosure still left a puzzle: The sources did not say whether Cohen took a commercial flight or private jet to Europe, and gave no explanation as to why no record of such a trip has surfaced.

The whole ball game involves determining whether the dossier was anywhere close to accurate when it stated that the hackers were paid jointly by the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and that Cohen had traveled to Prague (accompanied by three colleagues) to discuss, among other things, how to make final payments to the hackers and to facilitate them going to ground, especially in the event that Hillary Clinton won the election.

If Mueller has evidence that Cohen did indeed make a trip to Prague despite all his denials, then he probably can close this case if Cohen agrees to cooperate. And it’s not anything about the Trump Tower meeting or Playboy Playmates that he wants to know.

Presumably, Guiliani understands this, and maybe he is just happy to keep us distracted and off the main trail. But it’s unlikely his antics will amount to a hill of beans in the end.  If Cohen was in Prague, the president will be removed from office.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.