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US Outlet Touts Dubious Claim That Michael Cohen’s Cell Phone Pinged in Prague

© AP Photo / Richard DrewMichael Cohen
Michael Cohen - Sputnik International
A US media company is doubling down on its report that sought to substantiate key allegations contained in the infamous Steele Dossier ‒ primarily that Trump’s personal lawyer traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials ‒ but have still not provided any evidence to back up their claims.

The portion of the Steele Dossier in question revolves around Michael Cohen, formerly US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, and an alleged trip Cohen took to Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin officials and coordinate Moscow's assistance to the Trump campaign.The dossier refers to Konstantin Kosachev, a Russian politician, as a "Duma figure." Kosachev has not been a member of the Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, since 2012.

© Mark Schoofs, BuzzFeedPortion of the Steele Dossier concerning Michael Cohen's alleged trip to Prague in the summer of 2016.
Portion of the Steele Dossier concerning Michael Cohen's alleged trip to Prague in the summer of 2016. - Sputnik International
Portion of the Steele Dossier concerning Michael Cohen's alleged trip to Prague in the summer of 2016.

The idea that the Kremlin would send Kosachev to serve as its architect of collusion with the Trump campaign is laughable, even to Mike Carpenter, "a former Russia specialist at the Pentagon." He told McClatchy for an article published on Thursday that doing so would be "as discreet as sending [Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo to meet with an informant on a sensitive issue."

And surely if Cohen did indeed travel to Prague, there would be records of it. Well, there aren't, but that doesn't mean that the story — the implications of which could be huge for Trump's presidency — doesn't meet the evidentiary threshold required to run a report in a major publication.

In fact, McClatchy DC published a story in April on Cohen's alleged trip to Prague, citing still more anonymous sources, despite the admission several paragraphs into the article that it is "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." 

Michael Cohen, formerly a lawyer for President Trump, leaves his hotel Monday, July 30, 2018, in New York. - Sputnik International
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Nonetheless, the article, entitled "Sources: Mueller has evidence Cohen was in Prague in 2016, confirming part of dossier," has underpinned much of the grand collusion narrative since its publication in April.

Cohen has roundly rejected the allegation that he ever went to Prague, never mind with the intention of spearheading collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in November but that was unrelated to the alleged Prague trip and allegations of collusion.

On Thursday, following the publication of the new report in McClatchy, Cohen tweeted I hear #Prague #CzechRepublic is beautiful in the summertime. I wouldn't know as I have never been. #Mueller knows everything!"

"I have never been to Prague in my life. #fakenews," Cohen also tweeted after BuzzFeed published the unverified dossier on January 10, 2017. Later, Cohen allowed BuzzFeed to inspect his passport.

Kosachev has also denied traveling to Prague in 2016.

Michael Isikoff, the author of a book on collusion between Trump and Russia and one of the first journalists to report on the Steele Dossier, recently cast doubt on the notion of a mystery trip, arguing in a podcast that Cohen "wasn't charged with lying about his denials about ever flying to Prague to meet with Russian figures."

According to McClatchy, the fact that no records exist of Cohen's trips can be attributed to Cohen entering Prague through Germany "because both countries are in the so-called Schengen Area in which 26 nations operate with open borders," meaning his passport would not have been stamped, the outlet reported in April.

"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 reported in April. Months later, the outlet still has no explanation.

Cohen has said that he was in New York and, very briefly, Los Angeles during the month of August 2016, but McClatchy underscored that its sources say that Cohen's trip to Prague "could have been held in early September." 

Journalist Michael Isikoff and co-author of his book on Russiagate, David Corn, talk to MSNBC's Chris Hayes about the relationship between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. - Sputnik International
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Eight months after the McClatchy article, the outlet has corralled more anonymous sources to bolster its claims. "Four people with knowledge of the matter" told the outlet that Cohen's phone briefly sent signals to cell towers "in the Prague area in late summer 2016."

The outlet claims that those signals left "an electronic record to support claims that Cohen met secretly there with Russian officials."

"The records show that the brief activation from Cohen's phone near Prague sent beacons that left a traceable electronic signature, said the four sources," the outlet reports. It isn't clear whether McClatchy reporters actually viewed said records, or whether the data was merely described to them.

According to the "several experts" the outlet spoke with, such data would allow investigators to track Cohen's whereabouts as long as the phone was on him and the battery was in, even if it was shut off.

The sources, however, "could not definitively pin down the date or dates that the intelligence indicated Cohen was in the vicinity of Prague." It isn't clear why that is the case, as the signals should theoretically be timestamped as would normally be the case with that kind of metadata.

The "new information regarding the recovery of Cohen's cell phone location doesn't explain why he was apparently there or who he was meeting with" either, the outlet said. 

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, departs Capitol Hill following a closed door meeting in Washington. (File) - Sputnik International
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Two sources told McClatchy that an "Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague" around the late August to early September 2016 time period.

The phone data and that intercept were both shared with Mueller's team, according to the outlet's sources.

The attorney that represented Cohen during the course of Mueller's probe, Democratic operative Lanny Davis, told McClatchy that Cohen "has said one million times he was never in Prague.

"One lingering mystery" in the Cohen saga, according to McClatchy, is that even though Cohen could have gotten into Prague without getting his passport stamped or securing a visa, "US and European authorities should have a record if he took a trip to Europe."

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