Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly requesting documents, asking witnesses about Michael Cohen, and otherwise "examining episodes" involving the longtime Trump lawyer who served as Trump's de facto fixer both during the campaign and during Cohen's time working at the Trump Organization.
According to WaPo, Cohen played a role in two incidents that are of interest to the Mueller probe:
The first area of focus for Mueller involves a deal that was nearly struck in late 2015 to build Trump Tower Moscow. As has already been reported, Cohen reportedly sent an email to Russian President Vladimir Putin inquiring about how to advance the stalled project. Cohen said he didn't remember receiving a response.
The second focus for Mueller is a "Russia-friendly" peace proposal that passed to Cohen by a Ukrainian lawmaker one week after Trump took office. And as former Trump aide Sam Nunberg disclosed yesterday in a series of manic, freewheeling interviews with several cable news shows, Cohen is one of nine individuals whose communications with Nunberg are being requested by the special counsel. Notably, Cohen is the only individual on that list who never worked for the Trump campaign or for the Trump White House.
Mueller is also looking into the construction of the Trump SoHo tower...
In January 2016, Cohen emailed Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, to ask for help advancing the project, according to documents submitted to congressional investigators.
Cohen said in an August statement that he did not recall receiving a response. He said that the plan was abandoned in January 2016 “for business reasons” when government permission was not secured and that the matter was “not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.”
WSJ also reported yesterday that a bank transfer sent by Cohen to the lawyer of former adult-film star Stormy Daniels, purportedly a payoff to stop her from sharing the story of an affair with President Trump, with two media organizations. Cohen also reportedly demanded a refund from Trump following the payoff, but was forced to wai as the candidate was preoccupied with campaigning.
Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Cohen, rejected the notion that his client was under particular scrutiny by Mueller.
“Unsourced innuendo like this succeeds only because the leakers know the Special Counsel will not respond to set the record straight,” he said in a statement. For more than a decade, Cohen worked as the top lawyer for the Trump Organization, filing dozens of lawsuits on behalf of his famously litigious boss. Though he never formally joined the campaign, he did serve as an informal advisor.
Currently, he's serving on Trump's legal team along with White House lawyers Ty Cobb, John Dowd and a handful of others. Cohen made many enemies within the West Wing staff for his reported tendency to bring out Trump's "scorched earth" tendencies.
Mueller's team has repeatedly sought information relating to Cohen in recent months, though it's unclear how heavily they are probing him.
In summary, it's unclear whether this is just another fishing expedition as Mueller pivots toward investigating Trump's finances and whether he obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey after he reportedly refused Trump's request to go easy on former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Cohen is currently suing Buzzfeed for publishing Cohen's name with the infamous Steele Dossier.
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In a separate story published earlier this afternoon, the Daily Beast reported that Cohen somehow obtained confidential testimony from one of the House Intelligence Committee’s interviews related to its Russia investigation.
The testimony that was reportedly leaked was from David Kramer, a former staffer for Sen. John McCain who testified on Dec. 19 about his role in bringing the infamous Steele dossier to the FBI's attention. The DB said the leaked testimony is one sign of the "breakdown of trust" that has stymied the various Congressional investigations into Russia, as Republicans (and Democrats, too, though the DB story focuses exclusively on Cohen and his presumably Republican allies) routinely leak testimony that's supposed to have been given in confidence.
A few days after Kramer’s testimony, his lawyer, Larry Robbins, got a strange call. The call was from Stephen Ryan, a lawyer who represents Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen. Cohen is facing scrutiny from Special Counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators regarding potential coordination between Trump’s team and the Kremlin. He featured prominently in the Steele dossier—the document that Kramer handled—and is currently suing Buzzfeed for publishing it.
Ryan told Robbins he reached out because someone from the House told him that Robbins’ client, Kramer, had information about the Steele dossier that could help Cohen.
Robbins declined to help. Ryan then asked Robbins not to tell the House intelligence committee about their conversation.
Robbins refused Ryan's request, and instead informed the committee of the request. He then wrote a letter to the committee blasting lawmakers for leaking his client's testimony in reference to Robbins' request.
Emily Hytha, a spokesperson for Rep. Michael Conaway, who is supervising the probe, said witness testimony was not shared improperly. (The testimony was deemed committee-sensitive, according to a committee source, but not classified.)
"Any accusation that a witness's testimony was shared with another witness or their lawyer is unequivocally false," she said.
When it comes to Cohen, Democrats on the committee are primarily concerned with an allegation in the Steele dossier claiming that Cohen met with a Russian operative in Prague during the summer of 2016. Cohen has denied that the meeting took place, but Democrats said they've been unable to obtain documents that would corroborate Cohen's claims.
We imagine that the question of whether this trip took place is of paramount importance to Mueller, too.