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Michael Cohen connection to Ukraine could be problem for Trump

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Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen’s
relationship with President Donald Trump has
soured.

Yana Paskova/Getty; Shayanne
Gal/Business Insider


  • A former DOJ prosecutor said revelations that Michael
    Cohen secretly recorded a sensitive conversation with President
    Donald Trump talking about payments to a Playboy model isn’t
    the most interesting revelation to the story.
  • The former federal prosecutor said the key is
    where the payments originated.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former longtime fixer and
lawyer, threw the media and politics spheres into a frenzy late
Tuesday night.

His lawyer released a secret recording Cohen made featuring
himself and Trump discussing how to buy the rights to a former
Playboy model’s story about an alleged affair with Trump.

The model, Karen McDougal, was eventually paid $150,000 by the
publisher of The National Enquirer, a Trump-friendly tabloid
whose owner is close friends with the president. The story was
never published, a tactic known as “catch-and-kill.”

But Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12
years at the Department of Justice, said the existence of Cohen’s
tape is not the most significant piece of the story.

“We knew, as best as anyone on the outside of an investigation
can know, that Trump and Cohen were somehow involved in this
payment,” Cramer said. “This tape proves that and it certainly
gives Cohen credibility and gives us more proof that Trump used
other people to do his dirty work. But as far as having a
substantive impact, I don’t think the tapes themselves will
change much.”

Cramer said the amounts of the payments are “chump change” and
amount to “a rounding error” in the grand scheme of Trump’s
spending.

The key question now, he said, is where the money came from.

‘We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia’


Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen was Trump’s longtime
fixer.

Jeenah
Moon/Reuters


Cohen’s links to Russia and Ukraine date back to his childhood.

Seth Hettena, a longtime investigative journalist formerly of The
Associated Press, wrote in Rolling Stone this
year that Cohen spent much of his youth around Russian organized
crime.

Cohen first met Trump through his father-in-law, the
Ukrainian-born businessman Fima Shusterman.

Shusterman and two partners owned a taxicab business, and all
three men were convicted of crimes related to money laundering in
1993, Hettena wrote.

“Fima may have been a (possibly silent) business partner with
Trump, perhaps even used as a conduit for Russian investors in
Trump properties and other ventures,” a former federal
investigator told Hettena. “Cohen, who married into the family,
was given the job with the Trump Org as a favor to Shusterman.”

Cohen told Hettena the allegation was “untrue,” adding that his
source was “creating fake news.”

In May, Michael Avenatti, the attorney for the adult-film actress
Stormy Daniels, released an “executive summary” saying a Russian
energy tycoon reimbursed Cohen for a
$130,000 payment to Daniels prior to the 2016 election.

Cramer, who worked on public corruption, fraud, and organized
crime cases at the DOJ, said finding out where the payments Cohen
made came from could help answer some of the
biggest questions about Trump’s ties to
Russia
.

“If you’re following the money, and everything always comes down
to money … you have to figure out where Trump’s and Cohen’s
loans are coming from,” Cramer said. “If they’re from [Russian or
Ukrainian] oligarchs, through Cohen, there’s your connection.”

The Trump campaign is currently wrapped up in the investigation
into whether any Trump associates colluded with Russia during the
2016 election. Trump also floored observers last week when he
praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and appeared to refuse
to hold Russia accountable for its election meddling. The
performance prompted national security experts to suggest that
Trump is acting more and more like a Russian asset — wittingly
or not
.

“If you’re wondering about Russian influence, money is the No. 1
major coercion or enticement,” Cramer said. “If these guys are
getting their loans or payments from Russia, that would answer a
lot of questions about how beholden Trump is to Russian
interests.”

‘Picture a wheel and spokes. Kiev is in the middle’


Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin
Donald Trump met with
Vladimir Putin in a controversial summit in Helsinki last
week.

Chris McGrath/Getty
Images


Trump has well-documented public financial connections to
Russians.

His eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., said in 2008 that “in terms of
high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty
disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”

“Say, in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo, and
anywhere in New York,” he added. “We see a lot of money pouring
in from Russia.”

Reuters reported last year that at
least 63 people with Russian passports or addresses bought a
combined $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded
luxury towers in southern Florida.

The report said about one-third of the owners of units in the
seven Trump buildings were LLCs, which are able to hide the
identity of a property’s true owner.

Cramer pointed out that this would be where Trump’s tax returns,
which he has not released, would come into play.

“Picture a wheel and spokes,” he said. “Kiev is in the middle.
I’d be shocked if there weren’t loans on there originating from
Ukraine or other parts of eastern Europe. And Cohen may very well
know about that, given his family’s connections to the region.”

Glenn Simpson, the cofounder of opposition research firm Fusion
GPS, also touched on Cohen’s link to Russia while testifying
before the House Intelligence Committee last year.

He told lawmakers Cohen “had a lot of connections to the former
Soviet Union, and that he seemed to have associations with
organized crime figures in New York and Florida — Russian
organized crime figures.”

Simpson also emphasized another observation.

During Trump’s presidential campaign, he said, “serious questions
about Donald Trump’s activities in Russia and the former Soviet
Union went to Michael Cohen. … He was the only person who had
information on that subject or was in a position to answer those
questions.”

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