McClatchy news organization is standing by its reports that Michael Cohen visited Prague during 2016, as alleged in the Steele dossier, even though the former Trump attorney disputed the claim in sworn congressional testimony last week.
“We stand behind our reporting,” McClatchy spokeswoman Jeanne Segal told The Daily Caller News Foundation on Tuesday.
Last Wednesday, Cohen told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that he has never visited Prague or the Czech Republic.
The denial was a significant development in the longstanding debate over the Steele dossier. Cohen’s alleged Prague visit is key to the dossier’s most serious allegation of collusion between Trump associates and the Russian government.
Christopher Steele, a former British spy, claimed that Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin officials to discuss making secret payments to Russian hackers.
Cohen has denied the dossier’s allegations since the report was published by BuzzFeed on Jan. 10, 2017. He sued BuzzFeed and Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Steele, a year later. But Cohen’s denials carried little weight until after he began cooperating with the special counsel’s office as part of the Russia probe.
And his testimony last week was the first time he has publicly disputed the Prague claim under oath.
“I’ve never been to Prague,” Cohen testified, adding: “I’ve never been to Czech Republic.”
Other than BuzzFeed, McClatchy has done the most of any news outlet to promote the Cohen-Prague theory.
On April 13, McClatchy reporters Greg Gordon and Peter Stone reported that special counsel Robert Mueller received evidence that Cohen traveled to Czech Republic through Germany. The story was attributed to two anonymous sources who claimed to be familiar with the matter.
A spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller issued a rare statement following the report suggesting that investigators had issues with McClatchy’s story.
“What I have been telling all reporters is that many stories about our investigation have been inaccurate. Be very cautious about any source that claims to have knowledge about our investigation and dig deep into what they claim before reporting on it,” a spokesman for the special counsel told TheDCNF.
The McClatchy story went unconfirmed for months, with no other news outlets matching the reporting. Then on Dec. 27, Gordon and Stone followed up on their original story by reporting that, according to four sources, Mueller was provided evidence that Cohen’s cell phone pinged off of towers near Prague in Summer 2016. They also reported that a foreign intelligence service had picked up chatter from Russian operatives discussing a possible meeting with Cohen.
Gordon gave an interview in which he acknowledged that neither he nor Stone has seen the cell tower records or intelligence intercepts cited in their report. Neither he nor Stone have described their sources, so it is unclear whether they are government officials or outside government.
Cohen again disputed the story, saying in a tweet on Dec. 28 that he has never visited Prague.
That denial carried more weight than those Cohen gave months earlier because he had already been sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to charges in the special counsel’s investigation and one being led by federal prosecutors in New York. If Cohen lied to Congress last week, he would potentially face additional charges by the special counsel and run the risk of receiving more prison time on top of his three-year sentence.
Cohen disputed even more of the dossier’s claims about him in a closed-door deposition he gave last Thursday before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, according to California Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking member on the Intelligence committee.
Neither McClatchy nor BuzzFeed have published reports on Cohen’s House testimony. Segal, the McClatchy spokeswoman, did not elaborate in her statement to TheDCNF.
In an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Monday, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith dodged questions about whether his site has a duty to publish Cohen’s denials given BuzzFeed’s role in publishing the dossier.
“Since you’re the one who published the dossier in the first place don’t you have an obligation to kind of tie a bow in the story and tell us what happened in the end?” Carlson asked.
“You know, I guess we don’t see tying bows as our primary obligation,” Smith replied.
Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, did not respond to requests for comment about Cohen’s testimony.
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