The Slatest

Michael Cohen’s Claims About Trump and Russia Are Either Currently Unprovable or Inconsistent With Other Evidence

Cohen, walking, is surrounded by a crowd of people.
Michael Cohen leaves the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen will testify publicly before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday. His prepared statement has been released; it includes a number of sensational claims, of which three are particularly relevant to the Big Question of Trump-Russia “collusion” during the 2016 election. They are:

• That Trump “lie[d] to the American people” by publicly denying business connections to Russia on the campaign trail at the same time that Cohen was “actively negotiating” a potential Trump Tower Moscow deal for him in private.

• That Trump seemingly knew in advance that his son Don Jr. and other campaign officials were meeting in June 2016 with Russian figures regarding purportedly incriminating information involving Hillary Clinton. (Trump and Don Jr. have denied that the elder Trump knew about the meeting, but Cohen says he believes he saw Don Jr. discuss it with his father in person in early June.)

• That Trump knew in advance that WikiLeaks was going to release emails damaging to Clinton’s campaign in July 2016 because Roger Stone told him as much after speaking directly to Julian Assange. (There was no suggestion in special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of Stone that he knew about the July WikiLeaks dump in advance or talked about it with anyone on the Trump campaign, and Stone has denied having ever spoken directly to Assange. But Cohen claims Trump and Stone discussed the matter in a conversation he overheard on speaker phone.)

The latter two claims rely on Cohen’s accounts of events that, as of now, at least, have not been corroborated by other sources. So we’ll seemingly have to take Cohen at his word on those matters until the special counsel (or the other individuals involved) back him up, which may or may not happen.

The first claim, though, involves events that have been documented elsewhere—and that don’t seem to track with Cohen’s timeline.

Here’s what his statement says:

In conversations we had during the campaign, at the same time I was actively negotiating in Russia for him, he would look me in the eye and tell me there’s no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. 

The problem with that, as far as I can find, is Trump didn’t deny having business interests in Russia until late July 2016, when he was prompted to do so by press coverage of the Democratic National Committee hack/leak and of the past work of Paul Manafort, his then–campaign chairman, for Russia-connected clients. Per the Washington Post’s timeline here, the Trump campaign’s denials of business connections to Russia began on July 24. But both BuzzFeed’s thorough reporting on the subject and Cohen’s own prepared testimony suggest that Cohen’s involvement with the Trump Tower Moscow project ended in June. BuzzFeed’s timeline of Cohen’s involvement in the deal stops on June 14, the day that the first press report about Russia’s potential involvement in the DNC hack was published in the Post. Cohen’s testimony seems to match this—it says he never spoke to Trump about Trump Tower Moscow after the “end of June.”

Trump’s post–July 24 denials, meanwhile—while certainly misleading by omission—never seem to have actually involved claiming that he had never considered or began negotiating deals in Russia. They tended instead to use the present tense. For example:

Or this, from the second presidential debate in October: “I know about Russia, but I know nothing about the inner workings of Russia. I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia.”

In other words, Trump doesn’t appear to have ever claimed he didn’t have business in Russia while Cohen was still “actively” pursuing a deal there, i.e., before June 14. And in sum, unless Cohen is saving some astounding evidence regarding Trump Tower Moscow or his other Russia-related claims for Wednesday’s hearing itself, it seems like it’s worth taking his testimony with a grain of salt.