Investigations

Mueller report states Cohen was not in Prague. It is silent on whether a Cohen device pinged there

The newly released report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller says Donald Trump’s fixer and personal lawyer was not in the Czech Republic months before the 2016 election.

The redacted report is silent on whether investigators received information placing one of Cohen’s devices in or near Prague, as McClatchy reported.

The so-called Steele Dossier, a collection of private memos from a former British spy that became one of the triggers for Mueller’s two-year probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, alleged that Michael Cohen was in Prague to meet with Kremlin officials and computer hackers.

McClatchy reported in April 2018 that Mueller’s office had been presented with evidence of Cohen entering the Czech Republic via Germany in late August or early September 2016. Cohen denied the allegation.

In a subsequent story in December 2018, McClatchy reported that it was a pinging cell signal, picked up by a foreign intelligence agency, that geo-located Cohen’s phone to the Prague area. While a contradiction to the assertions in the dossier, compiled by Christopher Steele, this scenario raised the possibility that Cohen was not there but one of the many phones he used was.

The Mueller report states Cohen was not in Prague: “Cohen had never traveled to Prague and was not concerned about those allegations, which he believed were provably false,” the report says on page 139. That statement is part of a review of Cohen’s testimony to the investigators and is included in a section about what the Mueller team called Cohen’s “false statements to Congress minimizing the Trump Tower Moscow Project.”

The report was silent on the issue of a device linked to Cohen pinging from the Czech Republic, and whether the investigation was ever presented with such evidence. The report confirms the investigation used this type of evidence, noting cell-tower records geo-located another person relevant to the investigation. (The investigation geo-located Erik Prince, former head of security firm Blackwater, at Trump Tower, for example.)

The attorney general’s office and the Mueller team declined to comment following release of the report. Cohen and his representative did not respond to requests for comment.

McClatchy’s December 2018 report about the cell-phone ping came after Cohen’s testimony cited in the Mueller report, which was given on Nov. 20, 2018. It is unclear whether Mueller subsequently pursued this line of investigation, or whether it fell under sensitive intelligence gathering.

“The Mueller report states Mr. Cohen was not in Prague. It makes no statement on whether the investigation ever had evidence that Mr. Cohen’s phone pinged in or near Prague, as McClatchy reported,” said Kristin Roberts, McClatchy’s East Region Editor.

McClatchy’s Dec. 2018 reporting was based on information from five individuals with foreign intelligence connections, who all requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information shared and concerns about sources and methods. Each obtained their information independently from each other. McClatchy stands by the reporting.

Because parts of the Mueller report were redacted to protect secret grand jury testimony and information coming from intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence operations, it is difficult to independently gauge what Mueller knew about the Prague allegations or how he reached his conclusions.

Congress is expected to call Mueller to testify, and this could shed more light on the investigation.

 

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