Yesterday, Michael Cohen, the president’s disgraced consigliere, accepted his fate. Although Cohen has assisted the Department of Justice in its inquiry into Donald J. Trump’s Kremlin connections, he nevertheless was sentenced to three years in Federal prison for myriad crimes, including hush-payoffs to two Trump mistresses, as well as lying to Congress.
The old Cohen, brimming with bravado about taking a bullet for his only client, taunting TV talking heads in Trump’s defense, is long gone. The new Cohen sounds contrite about his crimes, which he admitted. In the Federal court in Manhattan, he explained that his ‘blind loyalty’ to the president and Trump’s ‘dirty deeds’ constituted his downfall. Cohen added defiance: ‘The irony is today is the day I am getting my freedom back,’ exchanging a criminal client for the penitentiary.
On cue, the president took to Twitter this morning to lambaste his former attorney while explaining that there were no crimes committed at all. Trump pinned full responsibility on Cohen (‘He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law.’) who must now be wondering what he’s going to prison for if there were no crimes.
The customary Trumpian tweeting tirades aren’t stopping Robert S. Mueller, III, and his investigation, and even stalwart defenders of the president are expressing concerns about where this drama is headed. As Andrew Napolitano, the New Jersey judge turned Fox News pundit, explained yesterday, Cohen’s court ‘submissions place the president directly in the legal crosshairs of Federal prosecutors,’ adding the caution that Trump ‘cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality. Those consequences may be fatal to his presidency and to his liberty.’
If that weren’t enough for the White House to fret about, there’s the key matter of what Cohen did not speak about yesterday, above all President Trump’s reported connections to the Kremlin. This is something the newly sentenced felon is believed to know a great deal about. The controversial dossier compiled two years ago by the retired British spy Christopher Steele cited an alleged late August 2016 meeting in Prague with Russian intelligence to coordinate clandestine activities, including hacking, designed to harm Hillary Clinton and boost Trump’s campaign.
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The Prague meeting, if it happened – Cohen understandably has always denied it did – is more than the vaunted ‘smoking gun.’ It would constitute proof of Trump’s collusion with the Kremlin to secure his election, something most Americans would fairly label treason. There may be a money trail of relevance here, as Cockburn noted in his column yesterday:
‘Pay especially close attention to a mysterious $50,000 payment to an unnamed tech company that – court filings reveal – Cohen made during the election campaign. Could these be the payment to “hackers” made in the Czech Republic described in the Steele dossier – and always, so far, publicly denied by Cohen and his lawyers?’
Yes, it certainly could. Was the infamous Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, between a Trump contingent led by the president’s eldest son and a Kremlin delegation headed by an admitted senior Russian government informant, merely the precursor to a more substantive meeting a couple months later in the Czech Republic? Cohen knows the truth here, and we can be sure that Mueller has asked him.
However, there have long been reasons to doubt the Cohen-in-Prague saga, in part or in whole. There can be no doubt that, true to form, Russian spies have planted disinformation regarding the alleged meeting, including lies about Western intelligence on the Prague rendezvous, as part of an effort to muddy waters and confuse narratives. This usually indicates there’s something lurking which Moscow seeks to hide.
But what, exactly? There are three possibilities to ponder:
1) Cohen’s Prague meeting happened in August 2016, as the Steele dossier claimed. It is the cornerstone of the collusion narrative. Cohen’s denials, without assurances of leniency and protection from Mueller, would constitute common sense.
2) There was a secret meeting between Trump representatives (possibly including Cohen) and Russian spies, sometime in the summer of 2016, but not in Prague, and/or not when alleged. Such blending of fact and fiction would be entirely in Kremlin character.
3) There was no meeting at all. The Steele dossier, which included its share of Russian disinformation, reported a fabrication designed to smear Trump for kompromat-flavored reasons. Again, this would be a very Russian thing to do.
Earlier this year, there were reports that the Special Counsel had established that the Steele dossier’s account of the Prague meeting was true. US intelligence sources tell me, on the other hand, that the Kremlin has emitted an inordinate amount of disinformation about the Cohen-in-Prague narrative, and it’s proved difficult to establish firmly what really happened. As with so many cases involving Russian spies, the ‘wilderness of mirrors’ effect has set in, shrouding real events in a thick fog of deception.
That said, for Michael Cohen this ultimately is a simple matter. He either was in Prague in the late summer of 2016 to collude in secret with Kremlin representatives to boost his client’s campaign – or he was not. Whatever the truth is, Team Mueller knows what Cohen has told them, and they have enough intelligence from myriad sources, some of them highly classified, to determine whether Cohen’s account is factual.
Upon this issue hinge the fate and future of Donald J. Trump, his family, and his presidency. The president either secretly colluded with the Kremlin to win the White House, an act of high treason without precedent in American history, or he is the victim of an insidious smear of Russian origin designed to destroy him and his administration.
Bob Mueller and his seasoned investigators know the truth regarding Cohen-in-Prague. For the good of the country, we should hope they will be sharing their findings on this all-important issue with the public, in some form, sooner rather than later. My spy friends and former colleagues inside the Beltway are leaning towards sooner.