Special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Donald Trump's personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, made a secret late-summer trip to Prague as the 2016 presidential campaign was in its final stretch, reports McClatchy.
[I]nvestigators have traced evidence that Cohen entered the Czech Republic through Germany, apparently during August or early September of 2016 as the ex-spy [Steele] 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. -McClatchy
If true, it would confirm a portion of the infamous "Steele Dossier" used to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on a Trump campaign associate. The dossier was created by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, and relies heavily on Kremlin officials and other Russian sources.
Of note, the FBI would not pay Steele $50,000 when he couldn't verify the claims in his dossier.
Mr. Steele met his F.B.I. contact in Rome in early October, bringing a stack of new intelligence reports. One, dated Sept. 14, said that Mr. Putin was facing “fallout” over his apparent involvement in the D.N.C. hack and was receiving “conflicting advice” on what to do.
The agent said that if Mr. Steele could get solid corroboration of his reports, the F.B.I. would pay him $50,000 for his efforts, according to two people familiar with the offer. Ultimately, he was not paid. -New York Times
The dossier claims that during Cohen's secret trip to Prague, he met with a prominent ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, purported to be Konstantin Kosachev.
In response to McClatchy's claims, Cohen hit back on Saturday.
“Bad reporting, bad information and bad story,” Cohen tweeted, calling out the reporter behind the story, Peter Stone, by name. “No matter how many times or ways they write it, I have never been to Prague. I was in LA with my son. Proven!”
Bad reporting, bad information and bad story by same reporter Peter Stone @McClatchyDC. No matter how many times or ways they write it, I have never been to Prague. I was in LA with my son. Proven! https://t.co/ra7nwjUA0X— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) April 14, 2018
Following the release of the Steele dossier, Cohen tweeted a picture of his passport, along with the hashtag #fakenews.
Cohen has had a rough week. On Monday, his home, office and hotel room were raided by the DOJ, who seized documents, bank records, and other evidence potentially related to porn star Stormy Daniels, a taxi medallion business Cohen ran, and other activities.
Then on Friday, the DOJ announced that Cohen has been "under criminal investigation" for months in New York over various business dealings.
Later Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen arranged a $1.6 million payoff to a former Playboy model in late 2017 who says she was impregnated by a top Republican fundraiser, "according to people familiar with the matter" (96 hours after the raid).
Michael Cohen, whose office, home and hotel room were raided by federal agents this week, arranged the payments to the woman on behalf of Elliott Broidy, a deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee with ties to Mr. Trump, the people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Broidy, a Los Angeles-based venture capitalist, works on the Republican committee with Mr. Cohen, who is also a national deputy finance chairman.
The deal, which hasn’t previously been reported, prohibits the Los Angeles woman from disclosing her alleged relationship with Mr. Broidy in exchange for $1.6 million to be paid to her over two years in quarterly installments, these people said. The first payment was due Dec. 1, according to one of the people.-WSJ
The Broidy agreement resembles a $130,000 deal in which Cohen agreed to pay former porn star Stephanie Clifford - prohibiting her from discussing an alleged sexual affair with President Trump from 2006. The Broidy agreement "uses the same pseudonyms for Mr. Broidy and the woman with whom he was allegedly involved - David Dennison and Peggy Peterson," according to the WSJ.
Bring in the Taint Team
As the DOJ sets about grundling around in Cohen's records, federal prosecutors have reportedly set up a "taint team," also called a "privilege team," which is tasked with reviewing materials obtained in the raid prior to them being handed over to the prosecutorial team.
"The taint team lawyers review the documents and remove anything that is covered by the attorney client privilege," CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin wrote in an email. "They pass the non-attorney client material to the investigators, who are not 'tainted' by contact with the privileged material."
"Attorney-client privilege is dead!" tweeted President Trump on Tuesday morning - referring to the legal privilege protecting the majority of communications between a client and their attorney.
Attorney–client privilege is dead!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2018
"Not so", said former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and onetime head of Trump's transition team.
"Attorney-client privilege is not dead, because of the way the Justice Department is going to approach this," Christie said. "There's going to be a taint team. They call it a taint team because you don't want to taint the prosecutors who are actually investigating it by seeing potentially privileged information that they have no right to see."
Christie added that the team would "separate it into stuff that's privileged and stuff that isn't. And then of the stuff that's privileged, is there any evidence of a crime or fraud?"
We're sure the taint team will be of the same ethical caliber as the rest of the DOJ, so Cohen and Trump have nothing to worry about. It would be unlikely that the water-tight, leak-proof Justice Department would find compromising - yet privileged evidence against Trump, and then use it as leverage over he or his associates in a leak similar to, we assume, the Broidy agreement.