Cohen puts fresh focus on WikiLeaks

Cohen puts fresh focus on WikiLeaks
© Greg Nash

Michael Cohen’s bombshell claim that President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Bob Woodward book will include details of 25 personal letters between Trump and Kim Jong Un On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Biden commemorates anniversary of Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally: 'We are in a battle for the soul of our nation' 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE is likely already exploring as part of his own investigation.

ADVERTISEMENT

The president’s former lawyer alleged during his public congressional testimony on Wednesday that he heard longtime Trump confidant Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneHow would a Biden Justice Department be different? Matt Gaetz, Roger Stone back far-right activist Laura Loomer in congressional bid Barr: The left 'believes in tearing down the system' 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 SchultzMichelle Obama wishes Barack a happy birthday: 'My favorite guy' Florida county official apologizes for social media post invoking Hitler  The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Lauren Underwood says Americans face economic crisis if Senate fails to act on unemployment benefits extension; US surpasses 4 million cases, 1,000+ deaths for third straight day 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I think it’s a very interesting allegation,” Sen. Angus KingAngus KingSenate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Trump's pitch to Maine lobstermen falls flat OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court cancels shutdown of Dakota Access Pipeline | US could avoid 4.5M early deaths by fighting climate change, study finds | Officials warn of increasing cyber threats to critical infrastructure during pandemic MORE (I-Maine) said. “Question is, whether it will be corroborated.”

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerElection security advocates see strong ally in Harris Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling Hillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick 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 HarrisCandidates on Biden's VP list were asked what they thought Trump would nickname them as part of process: report Bass on filling Harris's Senate spot: 'I'll keep all my options open' Election security advocates see strong ally in Harris 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 BluntDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Skepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal 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 CornynEnough legal games — we need to unleash American energy Three pros and three cons to Biden picking Harris The Hill's 12:30 Report - Speculation over Biden's running mate announcement 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 SchiffNewsom says he has already received a number of pitches for Harris's open Senate seat Here's who could fill Kamala Harris's Senate seat if she becomes VP Democrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling 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 Swalwell'This already exists': Democrats seize on potential Trump executive order on preexisting conditions Swalwell: Barr has taken Michael Cohen's job as Trump's fixer The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Chris Christie says Trump team wasn't aggressive enough early in COVID-19 crisis; Tensions between White House, Fauci boil over 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 ClintonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden, Harris make first public appearance as running mates Trump campaign spox rips GOP congressman over rejection of QAnon conspiracy Biden hits back after Trump's attacks on Harris 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.