Recent reports have claimed that attorney Michael Cohen may have accepted $400,000 from Ukrainian agents in return for arranging talks between President Petro Poroshenko and Donald Trump. Cohen is the personal lawyer of US President Trump and a trusted member of his inner circle.
US President Donald Trump is currently facing an investigation linked to his 2016 Presidential campaign. In May 2017, the Department of Justice (DoJ) appointed former FBI Director Robert Muller as the head of a Special Council investigation regarding an alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The Special Council is also investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the elections. Under the special counsel, 19 indictments and guilty pleas have been recorded.
In the past few months, the special counsel has brought charges against multiple people within the Trump campaign. Paul Manafort is a political consultant and lobbyist who joined the Trump Presidential campaign in March 2016 as Chairman. In August 2016, reports noted that Manafort had ties to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions. It was also alleged that he illegally received $12.7 million. He left the campaign shortly thereafter.
Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates have been indicted on 12 counts - including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder $75 million through offshore accounts, conspiracy against the United States, and false statements. The two men were accused of lobbying for a foreign government, Ukraine, illegally. Gates has pleaded guilty to criminal charges brought forward by the Muller special council investigation.
Michael Cohen is a Manhattan based lawyer, who has worked with US President Donald Trump and his family for many years. It was recently revealed that Cohen had paid $130,000 of his own money to an adult actress, Stormy Daniels, who has claimed to have had an affair with Trump. In April this year, the FBI conducted raids on Cohen’s offices. The raid was reportedly carried out after a referral from the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Earlier this month, lawyer Michael Avenatti, who represents Stormy Daniels, also released documents showing that Cohen may have accepted payments up to $2 million from corporations including AT&T, Novartis, and Korea Airspace Industries. These companies reportedly hoped to gain insider knowledge on Trump and his policies after the 2016 election. Furthermore, reports claim that a Russian company affiliated with oligarch Viktor Vekselberg has made payments to Cohen. The Washington Post also recently reported that Cohen had asked the Qatari government for $1 million in 2016, for insight into the Trump administration, an offer that the Qatar government turned down.
It has now been reported that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen may have indirectly received a secret payment of $400,000 from Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine. If true, this would be illegal as Cohen is not registered as a foreign agent. According to the BBC, sources in Kiev confirmed that the payment was made in exchange for a meeting between Poroshenko and President Trump last June.
A senior intelligence official in Kiev said that Cohen had been identified as someone who could arrange more substantial talks between Poroshenko and Trump. In addition to this, US lawyer Avenatti said that Suspicious Activity Reports filed by Cohen’s bank to the Treasury showed that Cohen had received payments from "Ukrainian interests", the BBC noted. Poroshenko was reportedly keen to discuss Trump’s former election campaign manager Paul Manafort’s ties to the pro-Russia Party of Regions. The BBC’s sources claimed that Poroshenko had authorised the leak of the documents linking Manafort to the Party as he had been sure that Hilary Clinton would win the presidency.
After Poroshenko’s return to Ukraine, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) dropped its investigation of Paul Manafort’s activities as a political adviser to the Party of Regions. NABU and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office released a statement stating that the “mentioning of Paul Manafort’s name on the list of the so-called “black ledger” of the Party of Regions does not mean that he actually received the money.” Manafort had not signed the ledger, and according to Ukrainian law, the bureau could only investigate Ukrainians, the statement added.
The BBC reported that some members of western intelligence agencies believe that Poroshenko and Trump had a mutual understanding of non-aggression.
The BBC report has noted that there is “no indication” that President Trump knew about the alleged transaction. Cohen told Reuters that the allegations are false. In an e-mailed statement, Poroshenko’s office said that the story was a “Blatant lie, slander and fake.” Trump’s outside attorney Rudy Giuliani told Business Insider that he was not aware of the payment and that he had “no reason not to believe” Cohen. “As far as I know, Cohen never acted as [a foreign agent],” Giuliani said. “I have to assume that maybe there was a discussion of doing this. And on neither end was it consummated.”
Our assessment is that if the FBI is able to bring criminal charges against Michael Cohen, it could greatly aid the Special Council investigation against Trump. As stated previously, we believe that a key question is what Cohen’s involvement means for the Trump presidency. If investigators are able to prove criminal culpability within the Trump campaign, that would be a catastrophic blow to the Trump presidency.