Cohen puts fresh focus on WikiLeaks

Cohen puts fresh focus on WikiLeaks
© Greg Nash

Michael Cohen’s bombshell claim that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE knew in advance that WikiLeaks would release damaging Democratic emails in 2016 is shaking up congressional investigations into Russia's election interference.

Democrats working on the Russia probes in the House and Senate are pointing to the claim as an area of interest.

And it’s one that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE is likely already exploring as part of his own investigation.

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The president’s former lawyer alleged during his public congressional testimony on Wednesday that he heard longtime Trump confidant Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneRoger Stone won't testify as defense prepares to rest case The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems, GOP dig in for public impeachment hearings Ex-Trump campaign official testifies Stone gave updates on WikiLeaks email dumps MORE tell Trump that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the group would be releasing damaging Democratic emails ahead of the party’s convention.

Cohen also suggested that Mueller may have the evidence to back up his revelation.

“I suspect that the special counsel's office and other government agencies have the information that you're seeking,” Cohen told Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzDem rep defends calling Ken Cuccinelli a white supremacist Both sides claim win in White House official's impeachment testimony Ex-Rep. Livingston pressed for Ukraine ambassador's firing, says witness MORE (D-Fla.) when she asked him how they could corroborate his allegation at a hearing of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Stone has denied Cohen’s new allegation. WikiLeaks has also disputed the account, saying that Stone and Assange have never spoken.

Questions surrounding the WikiLeaks release of stolen Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails ahead of the Democratic convention have been a staple of both the congressional and special counsel inquiries into Moscow’s election meddling. The group also released hacked emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta weeks ahead of the 2016 vote.

Multiple members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which privately questioned the former lawyer this week, declined to comment on what they learned during their closed-door interview.

But they indicated that the WikiLeaks revelation is a claim they’ll be looking into.

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“I think it’s a very interesting allegation,” Sen. Angus KingAngus KingOvernight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing MORE (I-Maine) said. “Question is, whether it will be corroborated.”

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Google sparks new privacy fears over health care data GOP senators warn against Trump firing intelligence community official MORE (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Intelligence panel, called it “curious” that Trump had reportedly said in his written responses to Mueller’s questions that he wasn’t aware that WikiLeaks had the hacked emails ahead of their release.

“Pure conflict,” Warner said of the two accounts.

And Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisOutsider candidates outpoll insider candidates Poll: Buttigieg leads Democratic field in Iowa Press: Another billionaire need not apply MORE (D-Calif.) said she believes the public “should be very concerned about what’s been going on, and what went on in connection with the 2016 election.”

Fellow committee member Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcConnell, GOP leaders say they won't be watching House impeachment hearing Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week MORE (R-Mo.) declined to comment on the WikiLeaks claims. But he suggested that Cohen’s private interview with the committee has offered investigators new avenues in their Russia probe.

“Obviously when somebody tells you the truth about things they said weren’t the truth, it should lead you in other directions,” he said.

Others weren’t so quick to buy Cohen’s story.

“He’s an admitted liar, I don’t think he’s credible,” said committee member Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell, GOP leaders say they won't be watching House impeachment hearing GOP senators warn against Trump firing intelligence community official Falling investment revives attacks against Trump's tax cuts MORE (R-Texas).

Cohen last year pleaded guilty to several federal crimes, including making false statements to Congress. He will report to federal prison in May to serve his three-year sentence.

Cohen also may have faced questions about WikiLeaks during his private questioning with the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, as Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGiuliani pens op-ed slamming 'unprecedented' impeachment inquiry Jim Jordan: Latest allegation of ignoring sexual misconduct is 'ridiculous' Democrats face make-or-break moment on impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) said ahead of the interview that WikiLeaks would be one of the topics raised.

Lawmakers on that panel who questioned Cohen provided few details as they emerged from the interview. But even if WikiLeaks didn’t come up, it could be raised during his second round of questioning with the committee next week.

Committee member Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Republicans, Democrats brace for first public testimony in impeachment inquiry MORE (D-Calif.) said during a break in Thursday’s interview that, considering that Stone and Trump were in touch during the 2016 presidential campaign, it would make sense for Stone to have told the president about the WikiLeaks email release.

“If [Stone] thought he was doing something wrong, then maybe you could say ‘oh well he didn’t want to bring Trump in,’ ” Swalwell said. “If he honestly didn’t think he was doing anything wrong, then why wouldn’t he tell him about something he spent so much time working on?”

Mueller’s investigation has also focused on WikiLeaks’ email dumps. The special counsel has indicted 12 Russian military officers in the hack of the DNC. And he charged Stone earlier this year with making false statements to Congress, obstructing a congressional investigation and witness tampering over his statements on WikiLeaks.

Stone made statements during the 2016 election that appeared to show that he had prior knowledge of the WikiLeaks email dump. He has since said that he had a back channel tipping him off about the organization's actions.

Stone has denied the charges and is now preparing for a legal battle with the special counsel. And while he hasn’t been charged in relation to WikiLeaks’ actions themselves, it remains possible that Mueller could still indict him in the case, if he has evidence showing that Stone committed a crime.

Trump has praised WikiLeaks in the past. During the 2016 election, he infamously challenged Russia to find his opponent Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment Outsider candidates outpoll insider candidates MORE's missing emails from the private server she used while serving as secretary of State.

Trump also declared "I love WikiLeaks!" at a 2016 campaign rally just days before the election, as he read aloud from hacked Democratic emails published by the organization.

But Trump has repeatedly denied having any prior knowledge of the emails' release: He told The New York Times earlier this year that he had never discussed WikiLeaks with Stone, a marked departure from Cohen's testimony.

Cohen said during his public hearing with the Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday that he has met with Mueller’s team seven times since agreeing to cooperate with investigators.

Mueller also suggested in a court filing last month that he has evidence of Stone communicating with WikiLeaks. Stone at the time claimed that evidence only referred to messages he exchanged with WikiLeaks after the 2016 election.

And there’s speculation that Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, is already facing charges in the U.S. that have been filed under seal, after a filing in a separate case mistakenly referred to him by name.

Those charges could refer to classified documents released by WikiLeaks under Assange’s watch. But it’s another sign that the organization is under intense pressure from the U.S. federal government.