President Donald J. Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, just dropped his defamation lawsuit against Buzzfeed for publishing the so-called “Steele dossier,” a series of 17 reports written over six months by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele that detail Trump’s connections to Russia.
If Cohen’s decision seems curious, it’s not: Truth would be an absolute defense to defamation in that case, and Michael Cohen doesn’t want anyone to have an excuse to dig into the dossier’s claims about him, especially as a federal investigation into Cohen heats up in New York.
Cohen filed the suit against Buzzfeed in January in New York in a self-righteous rage.
Cohen has consistently and strongly denied any personal role in Russia's involvement in the 2016 election, both publicly and when he appeared before the House and Senate intelligence committees in October.
NBC News reported that Cohen told the committees that his reputation had been damaged by the "entirely and totally false" accusations in the "lie-filled dossier" about the Trump campaign, which was prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent, for Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm.
"Let me be totally clear that the allegations raised against me in the public square and raised largely by BuzzFeed, Fusion GPS and others in the press are based upon misinformation, unnamed or unverifiable sources," Cohen said. "Their actions are so malicious, despicable and reckless, one can only presume that their motives were intentional."
The problem is (for Cohen), since January, one particularly damning, especially specific claim around Cohen’s involvement may have already been proven.
Did Trump lawyer Michael Cohen secretly visit Prague to meet with Russians in 2016? The future of Donald Trump’s presidency could hinge on whether the answer to that question is yes.
That’s because the claim that such a meeting happened is one of the most specific claims in Christopher Steele’s dossier alleging collusion between the Trump team and Russia to influence the 2016 election — and because, since the very first day that dossier was publicly released, Cohen has adamantly denied taking any such trip, and Trump’s team has relied on that denial to dispute the dossier’s accuracy. “I have never been to Prague in my life. #fakenews,” Cohen tweeted on January 10, 2017, hours after the dossier was posted.
Yet a new report from McClatchy’s Peter Stone and Greg Gordon claims that special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Cohen did, in fact, enter Prague through Germany at the height of the 2016 campaign, in “August or early September.”
Cohen has continued to claim he didn’t go to Prague.
As Andrew Prokop notes, if the FBI does have evidence that Cohen went to Prague, Cohen’s adamant denials are a red flag. In short: Why lie unless there’s a “there” there?
When he filed the defamation suit, Cohen was focused on allegedly false statements about his wife and father-in-law. Perhaps he just wasn’t concerned—as of January—about statements that could be proven true, i.e., his trip to Prague. At the time it may have seemed like a good PR move that could yield a tidy settlement.
In the action, Cohen highlights several allegations in the dossier that he says are provably false. For example, the dossier claimed that Cohen's wife is Russian and that her father is a leading property developer in Russia, allowing Cohen to carry on a possibly criminal relationship with the Russian government.
The suit says Cohen's wife was born in Ukraine, immigrated to the United States more than 40 years ago and "has never been to Russia." Her father, it says, has been to Russia only once.
Cohen also dropped a suit against Fusion GPS, the political research firm behind the dossier, which presented the same threat of discovery.