During his two-year passage from President Trump loyalist to convicted criminal and prosecution witness, Michael Cohen is unique in the number of conspiracies imprinted on him by Democrats.
The tales are not confined to his legendary secret trip to Prague for which no public evidence has emerged and for which he has denied repeatedly at the risk of perjury.
The conspiracies sprout in different directions. Mr. Cohen has multiple passports and an alias. He secretly traveled to Prague by yacht or Russian plane. His father-in-law is a rich Russian land developer. Donald Trump Jr. was involved in the Prague trip because he visited his Czech Republic ancestral home. Cohen knows about a secret computer server tied directly to Russian oligarch bankers. He knows about a Trump love child.
Then there is the elevator story.
In the Trump-Russia collusion hunt, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and his allies on the panel took the lead in endorsing the Christopher Steele anti-Trump dossier.
Republicans, on the other hand, consider Mr. Steele’s list of allegations a hoax based on Kremlin disinformation to sow chaos in Washington’s political process.
One of Mr. Schiff’s committee allies is Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat. When Cohen appeared Feb. 27 before another of her committees, House Oversight and Reform, she tried to determine whether Mr. Trump battered his wife, first lady Melania Trump, in an elevator.
This discussion transpired:
Ms. Speier: There is an elevator tape that has been referenced as a catch and kill product. It was evidently of Mr. Trump and a woman, presumably Mrs. Trump. Is that correct? … There’s an — there’s an elevator tape that went up for auction, ostensibly in 2016. Is that correct?
Cohen: Yes, I’ve heard about — I’ve heard about this. … The story goes that he struck Melania while in that elevator because there’s a camera inside, which I’m not so sure. Actually, I’m certain it’s not true. I’ve heard about that tape for years.
Ms. Speier: So — but there was some tape that went up for auction, correct?
Cohen: I don’t believe that auction was real, and I don’t believe anybody — I don’t believe Mr. Trump ever struck Mrs. Trump ever. I don’t believe it.
Ms. Speier: And are you aware of anyone purchasing that tape then?
Cohen: No, ma’am. And I know several people who went to go try to purchase it for catch and kill purpose. It doesn’t exist. Mr. Trump would never, in my opinion, it’s — that’s not something that he —
Ms. Speier: Good to know. Good to know. Is there a love child?
Cohen: There is not to my — to the best of my knowledge.
The Washington Times interviewed Cohen in late 2018 after he testified before the House intelligence committee. He was still supporting the president at the time. Today, he accuses Mr. Trump of dirty dealings including campaign finance violations and crooked business practices. Cohen will begin a three-year prison term in May.
‘Stupid to idiotic’
In 2017, Mr. Cohen told The Times, “This whole thing is just nonsense.”
During his closed House hearing that year, he said, Democrats accused him of owning multiple passports and implied that he used one of them to enter Prague.
Mr. Steele wrote that Cohen secretly met with two aides of Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss paying hush money to those who hacked Democratic Party computers.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat, implied that Cohen called himself “Michael Hacking” because he conducted cyberattacks. Cohen explained that the nickname stemmed from his taxicab business, in which drivers’ monikers traditionally derived from the original locomotion: hackney horses. He named his firm “Sir Michael Hacking Corp.”
“I’m so brazen I actually changed my name to ‘Hacking,’ ” he quipped to The Times.
He described his eight hours of questioning as “stupid to idiotic and went back to stupid.”
“This is what is infuriating to the president,” he said. “We all have to defend ourselves from allegations that are false.”
Democrats also pressed him on the mythical computer server that liberals said existed as a direct line of communication with Putin-aligned oligarchs who control Alfa Bank, a large commercial institution in Moscow.
Cohen said a Trump Organization tech specialist briefed him.
He told The Times: “Here’s what it was. It was not a server controlled by the Trump Organization. It’s a third-party server that’s licensed as a hosting server for hotels. So if you stayed in a hotel and you leave your email address, they will send you, ‘How did you like your stay. We have a special going on this week.’ It’s a third-party server. So maybe somebody from Alfa Bank did stay at one of the various Trump hotels somewhere in the world. But that server is not owned or controlled by Trump. They provide a service.”
Cybersleuths tracked the server’s IP address to a site outside Philadelphia.
The major charge by Mr. Steele is that Cohen went on a clandestine trip to Prague in August 2016, along with three colleagues, to meet with operatives from Mr. Putin’s office. The purpose was to arrange cash payments to Romanian hackers.
Glenn R. Simpson, Mr. Steele’s handler, is a big promoter of this scenario. He told the House intelligence committee that Cohen may have traveled by yacht and Russian plane.
Mr. Swalwell, who to this day accuses Mr. Trump of being a Russian agent, asked Mr. Simpson in November 2017 whether Cohen assumed new identities.
“Did you ever research whether Michael Cohen had any aliases or other names that he used? Did you ever find anything out about that?” Mr. Swalwell asked Mr. Simpson, a paid Democratic Party researcher.
“A little bit. The possibility that he had two passports or used a different formulation of his name was something — I can’t remember — we asked around about or thought about trying to get information on, but ultimately did not,” Mr. Simpson answered.
“Did you ever come across the name Michael Cohn, C-O-H-N, with links, common addresses but different Social Security numbers?” Mr. Swalwell inquired.
“I think my staff probably did come across stuff like that, but we didn’t make much of it. It looked like a typo,” Mr. Simpson said.
Mr. Simpson said he was counting on the FBI to confirm the Prague story.
“My assumption is that, you know, the FBI or the special counsel, like one of their methodological first steps would be to get all the travel records for all these people, as they are relatively doable if you are in law enforcement,” he testified. “And I think that would tell you a lot.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller has ended his Russia investigation without establishing that there was a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. This means he rejected Prague, a trip Cohen has denied taking many times. Whoever the supposed “three colleagues” were has never materialized.
What’s more, there is no evidence that Romanian hackers were involved in Moscow’s hacking of Democratic Party computers.
Cohen told The Times, “They make me look like a combination between Ray Donovan and Jason Bourne. … I have multiple passports? No, I have one passport.”
Mr. Schiff is relying on Mr. Simpson’s allegations as he ramps up an investigation into Mr. Trump’s and his family’s business ties.
Ms. Speier, who later inquired about Melania Trump, asked whether Mr. Simpson had tied Mr. Trump’s first wife, Ivana, to Russian collusion. Divorced from Mr. Trump in 1992, the Czech-born Ivana is the mother of Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump.
“Ivana Trump, did she have any involvement in any of this?” Ms. Speier asked.
“Not to my knowledge,” Mr. Simpson said. “But we have looked at the Czech issue and, you know, Ivanka and Don Jr. speak a little bit of Czech, spent summers in the Czech countryside. And we examined, you know, whether that had any connection to the allegations of a Prague meeting. But other than that, I mean we have looked at — her continuing involvement.”
Mr. Steele wrote that Cohen’s wife is Russian-born and her father is a real estate developer in Moscow.
Cohen said his wife was born in Ukraine and came to the U.S. at age 7. His father-in-law lives in Florida and New York.