Story of Cohen trip to Prague resur­faces

Re­porters cite cell­phone ping, sketchy sources

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Hil­lary Clinton’s elec­tion-year op­po­si­tion re­search team pushed the in­fa­mous Prague-Russia-Trump story be­fore and after it first emerged in the 2016 dossier by Christo­pher Steele.

Two years later, the Prague tale has risen again, this time com­pli­ments of McClatchy news ser­vice, bring­ing with it fa­mil­iar de­nials.

Here is how the Prague al­le­ga­tion has stuck around Wash­ing­ton for two years with­out any in­de­pen­dent pub­lic ev­i­dence, feed­ing lib­eral sus­pi­cious of a TrumpKrem­lin elec­tion plot:

Mr. Steele ac­cused then-Trump at­tor­ney Michael Cohen of se­cretly trav­el­ing to Prague in Au­gust 2016 to meet aides of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and ar­range hush pay­ments for hack­ers who broke into Demo­cratic Party com­put­ers.

When Buz­zFeed posted the dossier in Jan­uary 2017, Cohen de­nied he had ever made such a clan­des­tine visit. He re­peated those de­nials to Congress.

The story lay mori­bund un­til McClatchy re­vived the tale in two sto­ries — first in April, as­sert­ing that there was ev­i­dence of Cohen in Prague. McClatchy said in a Dec. 27 story that Cohen’s phone pinged a cell tower near Prague and that Rus­sians were over­heard at some point dis­cussing his trip.

Cohen, who now faces jail time for tax and cam­paign fi­nance fraud, once again came for­ward to re­peat his adamant de­nial.

There is noth­ing in Cohen’s crim­i­nal case file that in­di­cates he has knowl­edge of Rus­sian-Trump elec­tion col­lu­sion, much less that he vis­ited Prague. There has been no in­de­pen­dent re­port con­firm­ing ei­ther of McClatchy’s sto­ries.

But what is clear is this: Fu­sion GPS, Mrs. Clinton’s elec­tion-year op­po­si­tion re­search firm and Mr. Steele’s han­dler, has pushed the Prague story be­fore and since Buz­zfeed posted the dossier.

Fu­sion co-founder Glenn Simp­son has a big stake in por­tray­ing the dossier as true. He gained Demo­cratic Party fund­ing to hire Mr. Steele, ar­ranged his meet­ings with Wash­ing­ton re­porters and vouched for Mr. Steele as a stel­lar for­mer Bri­tish spy.

The Hill news­pa­per re­ported in Au­gust that Mr. Simp­son met in De­cem­ber 2016 with then-As­so­ciate Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Bruce Ohr, whose wife worked for Fu­sion as a Russia spe­cial­ist on an­tiTrump re­search. Mr. Simp­son told Mr. Ohr that Cohen was the link be­tween the cam­paign and the Krem­lin and that the at­tor­ney had trav­eled to Prague.

Eleven months later, Mr. Simp­son con­tin­ued pitch­ing the Prague-Cohen nar­ra­tive in closed tes­ti­mony be­fore the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence.

By then, Cohen had shown his pass­port to re­porters. It had no Czech Repub­lic stamp. He also pro­vided an itin­er­ary for a trip he had taken to Cal­i­for­nia that Au­gust.

But Mr. Simp­son told the com­mit­tee that Cohen needed to do more and sug­gested that the at­tor­ney had two pass­ports.

“I don’t know what Mr. Cohen has told you, but his pub­lic state­ments about his where­abouts I found un­sat­is­fy­ing,” he said.

“If that al­le­ga­tion had been made about me, I would sit down with my lawyer and we would re­con­struct my where­abouts, and we would look through credit card bills and air­plane tick­ets and, you know, my phone records,” he tes­ti­fied. “And there is many, many ways to ac­count for your where­abouts in mod­ern life if you want to. And I haven’t seen him put any of that stuff out. So I find that in­trigu­ing.”

‘Pre­pos­ter­ous conspiracy the­o­ries’

Un­der ques­tion­ing by Rep. Adam B. Schiff, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, Mr. Simp­son pre­sented a sce­nario in which Cohen trav­eled from the Hamp­tons, per­haps on a pri­vate Rus­sian plane, and could have ended up on a yacht in the Adri­atic Sea.

“There is a very puz­zling se­quence of events that we spent a lot of time look­ing at,” Mr. Simp­son tes­ti­fied, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script re­leased later.

“There were all these yachts nearby and that, you know, there had been ru­mors of meet­ings be­tween Trump peo­ple and Rus­sians on yachts off Dubrovnik [Croa­tia],” he said.

Mr. Steele has never dis­closed his source or sources for his Prague en­tries in the 17 memos that make up the an­tiTrump dossier. His dossier cites as sources a num­ber of uniden­ti­fied Krem­lin in­tel­li­gence fig­ures.

McClatchy’s Prague sto­ries, writ­ten by Greg Gor­don and Peter Stone, quote uniden­ti­fied sources.

On MSNBC, Mr. Gor­don said they re­lied on third­hand sources and did not view di­rect ev­i­dence.

“I wish we had,” Mr. Gor­don said, ac­cord­ing to the web­site Me­di­aite. “We held out for a while for that and it came a time when we thought they had a cru­cial mass. It is a com­pet­i­tive busi­ness.

“Some of the sources have govern­ment sources and some of the sources are peo­ple who have told us that they have trusted in­tel­li­gence-type sources that they get in­for­ma­tion from,” he said. “We don’t know the specifics, but we have used these sources on many sub­jects and they have been very ac­cu­rate.”

Mr. Simp­son’s Trump in­ves­ti­ga­tion didn’t end with the elec­tion. Ac­cord­ing to a 2017 FBI doc­u­ment, Daniel Jones, a for­mer top aide to Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, raised $50 mil­lion from wealthy lib­eral donors to con­tinue the Trump hunt.

Two of the peo­ple he hired: Mr. Simp­son and Mr. Steele.

Spec­u­la­tion is ripe that those two con­tinue to feed the Prague story. Fu­sion GPS’s at­tor­ney has not re­turned mes­sages to The Wash­ing­ton Times seek­ing com­ment.

A con­gres­sional of­fi­cial in­volved in the Trump-Russia probe told The Times that ev­i­dence of a Prague trip has never ma­te­ri­al­ized from the FBI or any in­de­pen­dent wit­ness. Like other un­ver­i­fied dossier charges, Prague is un-dis­prov­able be­cause skep­tics will say Cohen could have slipped FBI de­tec­tion.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble how Glenn Simp­son can get so many jour­nal­ists to ea­gerly re­port his pre­pos­ter­ous conspiracy the­o­ries,” the of­fi­cial said. “The fact that Simp­son can so eas­ily con these re­porters, and that other re­porters are un­will­ing to state plainly that these sto­ries are trans­par­ently false, is an as­tound­ing tes­ta­ment to the cor­rup­tion and bias of the press.”

Special coun­sel Robert Mueller brought a charge of ly­ing to Congress against Cohen for mis­lead­ing law­mak­ers about when can­di­date Trump ended failed talks with the Krem­lin on build­ing a ho­tel in Moscow. Cohen wasn’t charged with ly­ing about his many de­nials on Prague or that he never wit­nessed elec­tion col­lu­sion.

After the Dec. 27 McClatchy story, Cohen tweeted, “I hear #Prague #CzechRepub­lic is beau­ti­ful in the sum­mer­time. I wouldn’t know as I have never been. #Mueller knows ev­ery­thing!”

Lib­er­als have much in­vested in Prague. If true, the visit would prove elec­tion col­lu­sion. With the lat­est McClatchy story, lib­er­als in­ter­ro­gated Cohen on Twit­ter.

A law pro­fes­sor asked him, “Quick fol­low up if I may. Have you ever been to any lo­ca­tion within the Czech Repub­lic? Ask­ing for sev­eral hun­dred mil­lion friends.”

“NO,” Cohen an­swered.

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