Cohen puts fresh focus on WikiLeaks

Cohen puts fresh focus on WikiLeaks
© Greg Nash

Michael Cohen’s bombshell claim that President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller 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 MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump 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 StoneJudge finds Stone violated gag order, blocks him from using social media Counterprotesters outnumber far-right extremists at DC rally Judge orders Roger Stone to file rebuttal to allegation he violated gag order 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 SchultzEpstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse NYT: Don't make Acosta a political martyr Epstein charges put Trump Labor secretary back in spotlight 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 Stanley KingPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Senate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey MORE (I-Maine) said. “Question is, whether it will be corroborated.”

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency at hearing 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 HarrisHarris faces pressure to define policy proposals Harris voices support for Puerto Rico protesters: 'I stand with them' What to expect when Mueller testifies: Not much 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 BluntGOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime 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 CornynGOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school 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 Schiff10 questions for Robert Mueller Court filings show Trump, Cohen contacts amid hush money payments House passes annual intelligence bill 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 SwalwellHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Moulton campaign makes formal case to DNC to be added to debate stage Bullock makes CNN debate stage 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 ClintonGeorge Takei: US has hit a new low under Trump Democrats slam Puerto Rico governor over 'shameful' comments, back protesters Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' 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.