A new report from McClatchy says that a cell phone belonging to Michael Cohen, who was President Trump’s personal attorney and “fixer” at the time, briefly activated near Prague during late summer of 2016, a period of the presidential campaign when he is accused of being in Prague meeting with Kremlin officials on behalf of the Trump campaign.
The claim that an electronic record was left by Cohen, while in the Czech Republic, is made by four people who have knowledge of the intelligence, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of their foreign intelligence sources. The four individuals separately and independently obtained the information about Cohen’s cell phone signal from foreign intelligence.
The previously unreleased evidence bolsters the unverified claim in the Steel Dossier that Cohen was in Prague to secretly meet with Russians during the election.
Eastern European intelligence agencies picked up the signal left by Cohen’s personal cell phone. Two of the sources who spoke with McClatchy say in late summer during 2016 a conversation was overheard during electronic eavesdropping in which Russians stated that Cohen was in Prague. The sources say Cohen’s phone was momentarily turned on to retrieve emails or other data.
The Steele dossier, released by BuzzFeed in January 2017, stated that the Kremlin was in coordination with the Trump campaign and that Cohen’s trip to Prague was to discuss with Russian officials how to limit the exposure of that coordination. Specifically, according to McClatchy, the dossier states the goal of the clandestine meeting was to “limit negative news reports about the Russia-friendly relationships of two Trump campaign aides— foreign policy adviser Carter Page and just-ousted campaign Chairman Paul Manafort — and to ensure that European hackers were paid and told to “lie low.”
McClatchy notes that the discovery of the electronic signal left by Cohen’s phone in near Prague does not explain what he was doing there or who he met with. However, his presence near Prague at the time he was accused of meeting with Russian operatives lends credence to the accusations made in Steele’s dossier.
Cohen has repeatedly denied ever being in Prague, including when he testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee that he was in Los Angeles with his son in late August and produced his passport to prove he had not been to Prague.
However, Cohen’s alibi left room for a trip to the Czech Republic and his passport, shown to BuzzFeed, indicates he traveled to Italy at the time he was accused of being in Prague. The Italy trip is interesting because Italy, along with Czech Republic, is among 26 countries that allow travel between them without a passport.
In April, McClatchy reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had evidence that Cohen secretly went to Prague in late summer of 2016.
A former Russian intelligence officer who defected to the US and now goes by the name Jan Neumann told McClatchy, “It would not be very professional to take your phone to a secret meeting. It would be more logical to leave it turned on and connected to a WIFI network in a hotel in Germany.” Neumann also says the electronic record left by Cohen is “sloppy tradecraft”.
Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and to violating campaign finance laws. Earlier this month, he was sentenced to three years in prison and continues to cooperate with Mueller and his investigation into the role Russia played in the Trump campaign and the 2016 presidential election.
The questions raised by this new evidence of Cohen’s presence in Prague are what President Trump knows about it and what Cohen has told prosecutors about the trip. President Trump has called BuzzFeed, publisher of the dossier “a failing pile of garbage” and the dossier “false and fake.”
Sources tell McClatchy that the intercepts by foreign intelligence agencies have been turned over to Robert Mueller. Mueller spokesman, Peter Carr, declined to comment on the newly released electronic evidence.
The information McClatchy has published has not yet been verified by major news organizations, although they have stood by their reporting on this topic.