Thursday, December 27, 2018

Vicinity of Prague

Bohemian forest retreat, by Uhlik Architekti.

Very startled by this story from McClatchy that seems to corroborate one of the key details of the Steele memos, according to which
A mobile phone traced to President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, leaving an electronic record to support claims that Cohen met secretly there with Russian officials, four people with knowledge of the matter say.
During the same period of late August or early September, electronic eavesdropping by an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague, two people familiar with the incident said.
Which is consistent with two of Steele's most startling reports, in BooMan's paraphrase, placing Cohen somewhere around Prague at that point
The language is very similar to the October 19, 2016 dispatch in the Steele Dossier. At that time, Steele’s source (“a Kremlin insider”) knew only that Cohen “had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016.” But that insider could not establish the county, the precise dates or the identities of Cohen’s Russian interlocutors.
Some of those details were provided in Steele’s post-election missive on December 13, 2016, which clarified that the meeting may have actually occurred in early September, that it had taken place in the vicinity of Prague in the Czech Republic, and that the deputy chief of Rossotrudnichestvo’s operation in the Czech Republic, Oleg Solodudkhin, was one of his main contacts.
to discuss in particular
how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.
which sounds like something right up the alley of the Michael Cohen we've come to know and love.

Marcy hates this story, for quite reasonable reasons, because she thinks it's ridiculous to treat the Steele dossier as some kind of Golden Tablets of truth, as opposed to the materials the Mueller team has gathered and studied over the past nearly two years and the FBI gathered before that, because it's only Steele's raw intelligence collection, and it's likely he was given at least some disinformation (word invented in Russia, dezinformatsiya), and we have no simple way of knowing what is and isn't true, although I would come back saying it really does look better and better all the time, as we acquire more bits of certified information from the Mueller court filings, the public testimony of various actors, and leaks from lawyers and others, see Sarah Grant and Chuck Rosenberg for a brilliant summary. She's right to insist Mueller doesn't need it, but I think it's just mean on her part to tell us we can't think about it, as we game out the narratology.

Cohen has consistently publicly denied the story since it came out, memorably showing reporters his passport cover as proof that he had never been to Czechia, and the inside of the passport (seen by Buzzfeed) doesn't show any travel inside the EU at the right period, though a visit to Italy in 9-17 July is awfully close. He denied it before he flipped on Trump, and he continues to deny it after, in increasingly cutesy terms:

The phone evidence doesn't say he was in Prague, just in the vicinity. Is that a non-denial denial? I dunno, I kind of wish it was true in any case. The more stuff from Steele comes true, the more likely there's a pee tape, and while that's not even slightly important to me in my idea of Trump's criminality, it's maybe the one thing that would make his base throw up and sadly walk away.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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