In 2016, British investigator Christopher Steele collected a dossier of unverified intelligence tips related to Donald Trump’s secret connections with Russia. Nobody outside (and, for all we know, inside) the Mueller investigation knows exactly how many of his allegations are true. It would be surprising if all of them were, and Steele himself has estimated that roughly 70–90 percent of the claims are correct.
From the beginning, the pushback against the dossier centered around one allegation. It claimed that Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen travelled to Prague in August to meet secretly with representatives of Russian intelligence. “The agenda,” Steele’s source alleged, “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.” Cohen, Trump, and their mouthpieces all insisted Cohen had never visited Prague in his entire life. Their firm denial formed the foundation for the general skepticism with which mainstream news has treated Steele’s allegations.
In April, Peter Stone and Greg Gordon reported for McClatchy that Robert Mueller had obtained evidence that Cohen did indeed visit Prague. Today the pair have a new report with much more detail. Cohen’s phone pinged off cell-phone towers in Prague during that period, according to four sources. Also during that period, an Eastern European intelligence agency electronically surveilled a conversation in which one Russian said that Cohen was in Prague, according to two more sources. The reporting is the opposite of thin. If the conclusion is wrong, it is a massive journalistic error.
It is possible, of course, that all these sources are wrong. It is also possible that Cohen did visit Prague, and either did not meet with Russia, or met to discuss innocuous topics, and then lied about it. But the more probable explanation by far is that Cohen did visit Prague and did meet with Russian agents.
What would all this mean? Well, it would mean just about the worst possible thing for Trump. There’s no chance Cohen took such a meeting without Trump’s direction. As Cohen told George Stephanopoulos earlier this month, “nothing at the Trump organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump” — certainly an international trip to covertly meet Russian intelligence officials would qualify as a matter Trump had to approve. As the previous McClatchy report indicates, Mueller has the evidence of Cohen’s visit to Prague.
Cohen denies ever having visited Prague:
It’s hard to figure out what his motive to lie would be at this point. However, Cohen has previously admitted to visiting Prague. Shortly after the election, he told David Corn, “I haven’t been to Prague in 14 years. I was in Prague for one afternoon 14 years ago.” In January, 2017, he told the Wall Street Journal he he hadn’t been to Prague since 2001. So his current, vehement insistence he has never been to Prague, or any location in the Czech Republic, in his life contradicts his previous statements that he has.
And Cohen is cooperating with Mueller on questions related to Russia. “Cohen provided the SCO with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation,” asserted Cohen’s sentencing document. There are multiple channels through which Trump possibly or probably colluded with Russia during the campaign: Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Donald Jr. But none of them may pose as dire a threat to the president as his fixer turned prize-witness for the prosecution.