WASHINGTON – When Michael Cohen appears this week before three separate congressional committees, the former Trump lawyer can expect to face questions about allegations leveled against him in the infamous Steele dossier, the Democrat-funded report that alleges a massive conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian government to influence the 2016 election.
Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote the dossier, makes several claims about Cohen in his 35-page report. The most jarring allegation is that Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin officials to discuss paying off computer hackers.
The Prague allegation has been one of the most hotly debated claims made in the dossier, which was funded by the Clinton campaign and DNC. Cohen has vehemently denied the charge, including as recently as December, well after he began cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion. Steele’s defenders claim that the Prague claim is still an open question and that much of the dossier has been verified.
The dossier does contain some clear inaccuracies about Cohen and members of his family, specifically in a memo that Steele wrote on Oct. 18, 2016. But those false claims have largely flown under the radar during the dossier debate because they were one of only a couple of sections of the dossier that BuzzFeed redacted prior to publishing it on Jan. 10, 2017.
An unredacted version was unsealed earlier this month in a lawsuit that was filed against BuzzFeed by another target of the dossier.
In the memo, Steele alleged that Cohen’s wife was born in Russia and that her father was a leading property developer in Moscow.
“Speaking separately to the same compatriot in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider with direct access to the leadership confirmed that a key role in the secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin relationship was being played by the Republican candidate’s personal lawyer Michael COHEN. COHEN had a wife of Russian origin, whose father, Efim SHUSTERMAN, was a leading Moscow property developer,” reads the memo.
“It appears that SHUSTERMAN has a country house (dacha) in the settlement of Barvikha, west of Moscow. This village is reserved for the residences of the top leadership and their close associates.”
BuzzFeed acknowledged in its initial report on Jan. 10, 2017 that some claims in the dossier were inaccurate. The site specifically pointed to the misspelling of the Russian bank, Alfa Bank, as well as the claim that Bervikha is reserved for wealthy Russians. The site did not acknowledge the inaccurate claims about Cohen’s family.
Contrary to what the Steele memo claims, Cohen’s father-in-law is named Fima Shusterman, not Efim. He was also born in Ukraine and not Russia, as The New York Times and other outlets have reported. He left Soviet-controlled Ukraine for the United States in 1975, initially working as a taxi driver. Shusterman reportedly built a taxi medallion business worth millions of dollars. He has faces legal problems in the past, having been convicted in 1993 of tax evasion.
Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison on Dec. 12 on various crimes under investigation by the special counsel and New York prosecutors, has previously disputed the dossier’s allegations about his family.
“Plaintiff does not have any relationship with Russian officials and his father-in-law is not a leading property developer in Moscow; he has only been to Russia once,” Cohen’s lawyers claimed in a lawsuit filed Jan. 9, 2018 against BuzzFeed and Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Steele.
“In fact, Plaintiff’s father-in-law does not even own a vacation home in Sochi, nor has he ever been there. Additionally, Plaintiff’s wife was born in the Ukraine region and immigrated to the United States over forty (40) years ago; she has never been to Russia.”
A spokesman for BuzzFeed acknowledged that the site added the redactions about Cohen and his family to the dossier.
“We added those redactions, but it has nothing to do with the information being false or not,” BuzzFeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The dossier’s inaccuracies about Cohen’s family could have deeper implications for other claims made in the report. That’s because the same source that Steele used for the Cohen allegations provided Steele with information about Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
The FBI relied heavily on Steele’s reporting to obtain surveillance warrants against Page, an energy consultant who has done business in Russia. Republican lawmakers have accused the FBI of abusing the warrant process by relying on the dossier even though it is unverified political opposition research.
According to the dossier, Steele’s source spoke with someone described as a “close associate” of Rosneft president Igor Sechin. The source claimed that Sechin “was so keen to life personal and corporate sanctions” imposed on Rosneft, that he offered Page a brokerage fee on the sale of a 19 percent stake in Rosneft.
“PAGE had expressed interest and confirmed that were TRUMP elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted,” reads the dossier.
Page has vehemently denied ever meeting Sechin or discussing a brokerage deal. He also denies ever meeting Igor Diveykin, a Kremlin official who the dossier claims met with Page in July 2016.
It is unclear how much of the dossier Cohen will be able to discuss when he appears before Congress this week.
The former Trump fixer is scheduled to testify at a public hearing on Wednesday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. He will testify behind closed doors before the House Intelligence and Senate Intelligence Committees. Cohen is not expected to discuss Russia-related matters in the Oversight hearing, but he may be able to answer questions on that topic during his closed-door hearings.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Dec. 12 in cases handled by the special counsel’s office and federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Cohen had pleaded guilty to tax evasion and bank fraud related to a taxi medallion business he operated in New York. He also pleaded guilty to making an illegal campaign contribution in the form of a $130,000 payment he made in October 2016 to Stormy Daniels, the porn star who claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006.
On Nov. 29, Cohen pleaded guilty in the special counsel’s probe to lying to Congress. He falsely claimed in testimony in 2017 that he stopped negotiating to build a Trump Tower in Moscow in January 2016.
Cohen did not plead guilty to and has not been charged with lying to Congress when he denied various claims in the dossier.