On Sunday, April 15, 2018, I wrote, “If Michael Cohen went to Prague, then Donald Trump will be impeached, convicted, and removed from office, assuming he doesn’t resign.” The piece was in response to a Thursday evening article Peter Stone and Greg Gordon had written for McClatchy that claimed that the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) had evidence that, contrary to his repeated denials, Michael Cohen actually had traveled to Prague in the late summer of 2016 just as he was alleged to have done in the Steele Dossier. Obviously, I had no way to independently verify Stone and Gordon’s reporting, so I focused on the consequences of what they claimed to have learned assuming it were true. As for the veracity of their piece, I only noted that they were serious and well-respected reporters and that I knew that they were convinced they had the story right or they would never have gone to print with it.
As the months went by and there was no corroboration of their scoop, I began to wonder if they were going to wind up with egg on their faces. Lanny Davis began representing Michael Cohen and continued to deny that the Prague trip ever took place even as it became apparent that Cohen was cooperating with the OSC. Cohen was arrested, pleaded guilty and was convicted, and yet there was still no hint that he had verified a trip to Prague.
As a refresher, the claim that Michael Cohen went to Prague in late August or early September 2016 was the single most damning allegation in the Steele Dossier. Among the alleged purposes of the trip were to coordinate with Kremlin officials in an effort to manage the fallout from the mid-August firing of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, to find an innocent explanation for Carter Page’s recent trip to Moscow, and to develop a plan to compensate Romanian hackers who had supposedly played a role in the DNC hacks.
According to the Kremlin insider, COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of TRUMP’s relationship with Russia being exposed. In pursuit of this aim, COHEN had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016. The immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving MANNAFORT’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month. The overall objective had been “to sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connections could be fully established or proven.”
COHEN had been accompanied to Prague by 3 colleagues and the timing of the visit was either in the last week of August or the first week of September. One of their main Russian interlocutors was Oleg SOLODUKHIN operating under Rossotrudnichestvo cover. According to [redacted], the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.
Obviously, if Cohen had actually gone to Prague and then chose to deny it after the Steele Dossier was published in January 2017, that would go a long way to verify the allegations.
Today, Stone and Gordon are back with a new piece that explains how the OSC knows that Cohen actually did travel to Prague.
A mobile phone traced to President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael 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.
These are two pieces of strong evidence. The cell phone is the harder one to explain away.
Four people spoke with McClatchy on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of information shared by their foreign intelligence connections. Each obtained their information independently from foreign intelligence connections…
…The cell phone evidence, the sources said, was discovered sometime after Cohen apparently made his way to the Czech Republic.
The records show that the brief activation from Cohen’s phone near Prague sent beacons that left a traceable electronic signature, said the four sources.
The brief activation could have occurred when Cohen made a WiFi connection to check his email or while using an application on his phone. If so, it was poor tradecraft – but his phone could have been detected even if he never turned it on.
Jan Neumann, the assumed name of a former Russian intelligence officer who defected to the United States years ago, said that Cohen’s electronic cell tower trail appears to reflect sloppy “tradecraft.”
“You can monitor and control cell phones in Europe same as you do it here in US,” Neumann told McClatchy. “As long as the battery is physically located in the phone, even when it’s turned off, the mobile phone’s approximate location can be detected and tracked. Any attempt to use an app, to get mail, send texts, connect to a Wifi network, your phone and your location will be detected.”
“It would not be very professional to take your phone to a secret meeting,” said Neumann, who has consulted for the U.S. intelligence community. In this case, he said, “it would be more logical to leave it turned on and connected to a WIFI network in a hotel in Germany.”
The second piece of evidence comes from the unspecified Eastern European intelligence service that overheard Russians discussing Cohen’s presence in Prague.
It was during the same late August-early September time span in 2016 that an Eastern European intelligence agency eavesdropped on a conversation in which a Russian official advised another that Cohen was in Prague, two of the sources said.
The sources could not definitively pin down the date or dates that the intelligence indicated Cohen was in the vicinity of Prague.
The language is very similar to the October 19, 2016 dispatch in the Steele Dossier. At the time, Steele’s source (“a Kremlin insider”) knew only that Cohen “had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016.” But that insider could not establish the county, the precise dates or the identities of Cohen’s Russian interlocutors.
Some of those details were provided in Steele’s post-election missive on December 13, 2016, which clarified that the meeting may have actually occurred in early September, that it had taken place in the vicinity of Prague in the Czech Republic, and that the deputy chief of Rossotrudnichestvo’s operation in the Czech Republic, Oleg Solodudkhin, was one of his main contacts.
Stone and Gordon’s four sources do not appear to be Kremlin insiders but rather people who have sensitive “foreign intelligence connections.” But they also cannot firmly establish a date. Two of them knew of the intercepts of Russians discussing Cohen’s presence in Prague, but could only provide the same general late August/early September window that Steele had obtained.
Nonetheless, Cohen has denied being in Europe at any point in that window. If his phone was near Prague during the period of time when Steele’s Kremlin insider alleged that Cohen had been there, then Steele had correct information. While there could have been innocent explanations why Cohen had traveled surreptitiously to Europe, those are no longer available because Cohen made the decision to deny that the trip ever took place. That there are reportedly intercepts that independently confirm his presence there is the exact kind of corroboration that is required to lock down that there has been a gigantic coverup.
This is why I wrote back in April that “if Michael Cohen went to Prague, then Donald Trump will be impeached, convicted, and removed from office, assuming he doesn’t resign.”
Of course, this will be more assured if Cohen tells the full story under the glaring lights of a House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing. It’s too early to say whether or not that will happen, but if it does there will not be a defense available for Trump. Cohen’s trip would be sufficient evidence of the type of collusion and conspiracy that has been suspected all along.