Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen is getting a legal education

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer Michael D. Cohen is like Thomas “Tom” Hagen, the consigliere to the Corleone family in The Godfather.

A couple of weeks ago, McClatchy News reported Mueller probe tracking down Trump business partners, with Cohen a focus of queries;

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators this week questioned an associate of the Trump Organization who was involved in overseas deals with President Donald Trump’s company in recent years.

Armed with subpoenas compelling electronic records and sworn testimony, Mueller’s team showed up unannounced at the home of the business associate, who was a party to multiple transactions connected to Trump’s effort to expand his brand abroad, according to persons familiar with the proceedings.

Investigators were particularly interested in interactions involving Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney and a former Trump Organization employee. Among other things, Cohen was involved in business deals secured or sought by the Trump Organization in Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia.

The New York Times reported on March 15 that Mueller had subpoenaed unspecified records from the Trump Organization. Days before that, the Washington Post reported that Mueller’s team was looking into a Moscow hotel deal for which Cohen brought to Donald Trump a letter of intent from a Moscow developer during the 2016 presidential campaign.

They must have obtained something of evidentiary value because a week ago Monday the F.B.I. Raided the Office of Trump’s Longtime Lawyer Michael Cohen: “The F.B.I. raided the Rockefeller Center office and Park Avenue hotel room [and home] of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, on Monday morning, seizing business records, emails and documents related to several topics, including a payment to a pornographic film actress.”

The FBI also reportedly seized recordings made by Cohen:

President Trump’s personal attorney Michael D. Cohen sometimes taped conversations with associates, according to three people familiar with his practice, and allies of the president are worried that the recordings were seized by federal investigators in a raid of Cohen’s office and residences this week.

“We heard he had some proclivity to make tapes,” said one Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. “Now we are wondering, who did he tape? Did he store those someplace where they were actually seized? . . . Did they find his recordings?”

By the end of last week we learned that RNC Deputy Finance Chair Elliott Broidy, already embroiled in scandal, quit amid news of a deal he struck with a Playboy model who became pregnant during an affair. Wait for itthe payout was arranged by President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen. RNC deputy finance chair steps down after admitting Trump’s lawyer negotiated settlement between him and pregnant Playboy model:

A top GOP fundraiser and prominent backer of President Trump stepped down from his Republican National Committee post Friday after revelations that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen arranged a $1.6 million settlement with a former Playboy model the donor had impregnated.

Los Angeles-based investor Elliott Broidy, who has been a top fundraiser for Trump and the party, issued a statement Friday acknowledging that he “had a consensual relationship” with the woman, who got pregnant. He said he retained Cohen after Trump’s personal lawyer told Broidy he had been contacted by the woman’s attorney.

“It is unfortunate that this personal matter between two consenting adults is the subject of national discussion just because of Michael Cohen’s involvement,” Broidy said in the statement.

* * *

Cohen’s role in the secret deal is the latest unexpected twist in a sprawling drama involving top Trump associates. It deepens the scrutiny of the longtime Trump confidant, whose residences and office were raided by the FBI earlier this week.

Federal prosecutors revealed Friday that Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months and that they have empaneled a grand jury to probe his business dealings. Investigators are also examining his efforts to tamp down damaging stories about Trump during the 2016 campaign[.]

* * *

Cohen’s work on the Broidy settlement, struck in late 2017, came after he negotiated a deal in October 2016 agreeing to pay $130,000 to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged that she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier.

[“The contract in the confidential settlement between Mr. Broidy and Ms. Bechard included the same aliases — “David Dennison” and “Peggy Peterson” — that were used in a 2016 contract between Mr. Trump and Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actress known as Stormy Daniels, according to a person familiar with the deal.”  So this is a form agreement in which only the amount of payment varies, which indicates that there may be many more NDA’s out there.]

Keith Davidson, the lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels at the time, also represented the Playboy model with whom Broidy had an affair.

Note: This Keith Davidson is a real character, and he has some explaining to do. He somehow wound up as the attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, and also Broidy’s Playboy Playmate girlfriend. All three women negotiated a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) with Michael Cohen. It seems to me that Cohen was working both sides with Davidson not representing the interests of his clients but rather those of Donald Trump, and Elliot Broidy. The $64,000 question is how did these women come to be represented by Keith Davidson in the fist place? Did someone steer them to Davidson?

Late last week McClatchy News reported a bombshell report that, if true, destroys Team Trump’s most oft-repeated defense to the Russian “collusion” claim and confirms yet another detail of the Steele Dossier. Sources: Mueller has evidence Cohen was in Prague in 2016, confirming part of dossier:

The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to a retired British spy’s report that Cohen strategized there with a powerful Kremlin figure about Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

It would also be one of the most significant developments thus far in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of whether the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House. Undercutting Trump’s repeated pronouncements that “there is no evidence of collusion,” it also could ratchet up the stakes if the president tries, as he has intimated he might for months, to order Mueller’s firing.

* * *

Cohen has vehemently denied for months that he ever has been in Prague or colluded with Russia during the campaign. Neither he nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment for this story.

It’s unclear whether Mueller’s investigators also have evidence that Cohen actually met with a prominent Russian – purportedly Konstantin Kosachev, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — in the Czech capital. Kosachev, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of a body of the Russian legislature, the Federation Council, also has denied visiting Prague during 2016. Earlier this month, Kosachev was among 24 high-profile Russians hit with stiff U.S. sanctions in retaliation for Russia’s meddling.

But investigators have traced evidence that Cohen entered the Czech Republic through Germany, apparently during August or early September of 2016 as the ex-spy 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.

* * *

Evidence that Cohen was in Prague “certainly helps undermine his credibility,” said Jill Wine-Banks, a former Watergate prosecutor who lives in Chicago. “It doesn’t matter who he met with. His denial was that I was never in Prague. Having proof that he was is, for most people, going to be more than enough to say I don’t believe anything else he says.”

“I think that, given the relationship between Michael Cohen and the president,” Wine-Banks said, “it’s not believable that Michael Cohen did not tell him about his trip to Prague.”

The dossier alleges that Cohen, two Russians and several Eastern European hackers met at the Prague office of a Russian government-backed social and cultural organization, Rossotrudnichestvo. The location was selected to provide an alternative explanation in case the rendezvous was exposed, according to Steele’s Kremlin sources, cultivated during 20 years of spying on Russia. It said that Oleg Solodukhin, the deputy chief of Rossotrudnichestvo’s operation in the Czech Republic, attended the meeting, too.

Further, it alleges that Cohen, Kosachev and other attendees discussed “how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers in Europe who had worked under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign.”

U.S. intelligence agencies and cyber experts say Kremlin-backed hackers pirated copies of thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chief John Podesta during 2015 and 2016, some politically damaging, including messages showing that the DNC was biased toward Clinton in the party’s nomination battle pitting her against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Mueller’s investigators have sought to learn who passed the emails to WikiLeaks, a London-based transparency group, which published them in July and October, causing embarrassment to Clinton and her backers.

Citing information from an unnamed “Kremlin insider,” Steele’s dossier says the Prague meeting agenda also included discussion “in cryptic language for security reasons,” of ways to “sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connection could be fully established or proven.” Romanians were among the hackers present, it says, and the discussion touched on using Bulgaria as a location where they could “lie low.”

It is a felony for anyone to hack email accounts. Other laws forbid foreigners from contributing cash or in-kind services to U.S. political campaigns.

If Cohen met with Russians and hackers in Prague as described in the dossier, it would provide perhaps the most compelling evidence to date that the Russians and Trump campaign aides were collaborating. Mueller’s office also has focused on two meetings in the spring of 2016 when Russians offered to provide Trump campaign aides with “dirt” on Clinton – thousands of emails in one of the offers.

* * *

If the Prague meeting actually occurred, Kosachev’s possible involvement would be especially significant given his close ties to Putin and other roles he has played in covert Moscow efforts to destabilize other countries, Russia experts said.

“While not a member of Putin’s innermost circle, (Kosachev) is one of the most influential Russian voices on foreign affairs,” said Michael Carpenter, a former senior Pentagon official. “When Kosachev speaks, everyone knows he’s speaking for the Kremlin.”

Kosachev appears to have been a booster of Trump over Clinton in early June of 2016, according to a post on his Facebook page at the time.

“Trump looks slightly more promising,” Kosachev wrote. “At least, he is capable of giving a shake to Washington. He is certainly a pragmatist and not a missionary like his main opponent [Hillary] Clinton.”

Philip Bump of the Washington Post explains why Michael Cohen’s visiting Prague would be a huge development in the Russia investigation:

[T]his contradiction between a clear allegation from the Steele dossier and the assertion that it wasn’t true by Cohen and Trump helped drive the idea that the dossier was broadly discredited shortly after its release. Pick out the Prague trip and nothing that follows could have happened. Put the Prague trip back into the mix? A lot of the other parts of that allegation now become possible. What’s more, it undermines the credibility of those who insisted that the claim was completely without merit.

Look at it another way: If the central conceit of the Steele’s claim were accurate — that Cohen was working with agents of the Russian government directly to aid Trump’s candidacy — it would be very hard to argue that no collusion took place. That likely requires Cohen’s having been in Prague.

This is our first significant indication that he might have been.

Also on Friday, Cohen was ordered to disclose client list by Monday:

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood on Friday ordered attorneys for Cohen to hand over a list of Cohen’s law clients and proof of their relationship by 10 a.m. Monday, so she can decide whether materials seized from Cohen’s office by federal law enforcement agents last week should be protected by attorney-client privilege.

That list will be a public record, Wood said, because the identities of an attorney’s clients are not subject to attorney-client privilege unless the mere name itself would reveal the kind of advice sought or given.

Wood’s order raises the possibility of further embarrassing disclosures involving Cohen[.]

It sure did! It turns out that Trump’s minister of propaganda at FAUX News (aka Trump TV), Sean Hannity, is also a client of Michael Cohen. Sean Hannity Is Named as Client of Michael Cohen, Trump’s Lawyer:

Lawyers for Mr. Cohen, the president’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, had sought to keep the identity of one of Mr. Cohen’s clients a secret in a court challenge of an F.B.I. search of Mr. Cohen’s office.

But after several minutes of back and forth between the government and Mr. Cohen’s lawyers, Kimba M. Wood, a judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered that Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, Stephen Ryan, disclose in open court the name of a client in question, who turned out to be Sean Hannity.

Before Mr. Hannity’s name was revealed in the courtroom, Mr. Ryan had argued that the mysterious client was a “prominent person” who wanted to keep his identity a secret because he would be “embarrassed” to be identified as a client of Mr. Cohen’s.

After Mr. Hannity was named, there were audible gasps in the courtroom.

Trump’s minister of propaganda later directly contradicted the attorney-client assertion by Cohen’s lawyers:

Just before 4 p.m., Hannity posted a message on Twitter: “Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.”

In a follow-up tweet, Mr. Hannity added, “I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party.”

* * *

In a legal filing before the proceeding on Monday, Mr. Cohen revealed that he had worked as a lawyer since 2017 for 10 clients, seven of whom he served by providing “strategic advice and business consulting.” Of the other three, two were President Trump and the Republican fund-raiser Elliott Broidy, the filing said. The third person remained unnamed — at least until Judge Wood forced Mr. Cohen’s lawyers to identify him as Mr. Hannity before a packed courtroom.

Finally, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood on Monday rejected an attempt by President Trump and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, to block prosecutors in Manhattan from immediately reviewing a trove of materials seized in F.B.I. raids last week on Mr. Cohen’s office, home, hotel room and safe deposit box. Judge Rejects Trump’s Request to Review Seized Cohen Materials.

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