Cell signal puts Cohen outside Prague around time of purported Russian meeting | McClatchy Washington Bureau


Michael Cohen was Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and avid supporter. On Aug. 21, 2018, Cohen plead guilty to eight counts, including campaign finance violations.

Davis said he hopes that, after Mueller has completed his investigation, Cohen “will be able to tell his story about Donald Trump and what caused him to change his mind about working for Trump and telling the truth about Trump … Then he’ll be able to talk about all the reasons why he believes Trump is a dangerous man to be president.”

Another former Watergate prosecutor, Nick Akerman, said Davis’ denials about a Prague trip can’t be taken too seriously because it would be “standard for Mueller to tell Cohen and his lawyers not to discuss publicly the details” of the investigation.

Cohen and Trump gradually became estranged after Trump’s election victory, and they severed ties entirely last May, as multiple investigations into Cohen’s activities heated up.

The cell phone evidence, the sources said, was discovered sometime after Cohen apparently made his way to the Czech Republic.

The records show that the brief activation from Cohen’s phone near Prague sent beacons that left a traceable electronic signature, said the four sources.

Mueller’s investigators, some of whom have met with Steele, likely also pursued Cohen’s cell phone records. It would be a common early step in such an investigation for a prosecutor to obtain a court warrant for all U.S. and foreign phone company records of key subjects, even those dating back more than 18 months.

Such data might enable investigators to track Cohen’s whereabouts whenever the phone was in his possession, even if it was turned off, said several experts, including a former senior Justice Department official who declined to be identified.

These officials said intelligence agencies and federal investigators often can examine electronic records to trace the location of a cell phone or any other device sending signals over phone lines or the Internet, so long as the data was still stored by phone carriers or cell phone manufacturers that offer location-tracking services, such as Apple and Google.

Jan Neumann, the assumed name of a former Russian intelligence officer who defected to the United States years ago, said that Cohen’s electronic cell tower trail appears to reflect sloppy “tradecraft.”

“You can monitor and control cell phones in Europe same as you do it here in US,” Neumann told McClatchy. “As long as the battery is physically located in the phone, even when it’s turned off, the mobile phone’s approximate location can be detected and tracked. Any attempt to use an app, to get mail, send texts, connect to a Wifi network, your phone and your location will be detected.”

“It would not be very professional to take your phone to a secret meeting,” said Neumann, who has consulted for the U.S. intelligence community. In this case, he said, “it would be more logical to leave it turned on and connected to a WIFI network in a hotel in Germany.”

It was during the same late August-early September time span in 2016 that an Eastern European intelligence agency eavesdropped on a conversation in which a Russian official advised another that Cohen was in Prague, two of the sources said.

The sources could not definitively pin down the date or dates that the intelligence indicated Cohen was in the vicinity of Prague. Cohen has insisted that he was in Southern California with his son from Aug. 23-29, 2016, but his public alibis have not been so airtight as to preclude flights to and from Europe during the relevant period.

Even if Cohen has told investigators about a furtive meeting in Prague, it could be difficult for Mueller to corroborate his story. Any Russians with whom he met are likely out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement officials, because the United States has no extradition treaty with Moscow.

If Cohen indeed made the journey to the Czech Republic, one lingering mystery is how he entered Europe’s visa-free, 29-nation Schengen area without detection. While those countries’ open-border arrangements would have spared Cohen from having to produce a visa to travel between Germany and Prague, U.S. and European authorities should have a record if he took a trip to Europe. Those records are not public.

Congressional committee chairs, including California Rep. Adam Schiff, who will lead the House Intelligence Committee beginning in January when Democrats take control, have asked Cohen to return to Capitol Hill to testify further about his knowledge of Trump’s ties to Russia.

But Davis said Cohen won’t appear publicly until Mueller completes his investigation.

Peter Stone is a McClatchy special correspondent.

Kevin G. Hall contributed to this report.

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