Embroiled in a new legal dispute after an FBI raid earlier this month, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has dropped a $100 million defamation lawsuit filed against BuzzFeed news, and the head of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which spearheaded the development of the Steele Dossier, paid for by Democrats in 2016, which made accusations of ties between Russia and President Donald Trump.
“Michael Cohen hereby voluntarily dismissed the above-entitled action as to all named Defendants without costs to any party as against the other,” Cohen’s lawyers stated in a one page filing with a federal court in New York.
Democrats in Congress quickly pounced.
“Bullies wilt when their bluff is called,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA). “Buzzfeed should demand legal fees for Cohen’s frivolous suit.”
Let’s review what Cohen charged, what issues he is no longer pursuing in this lawsuit, and why some of it may still be a focus of discussion in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
1. The general questions about the Steele Dossier. The main charge made by Cohen – and many supporters of President Donald Trump – is that the dossier is filled with false stories and accusations against Mr. Trump and his associates. “This action arises from the immensely damaging and defamatory statements,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote in their original complaint against BuzzFeed news and Glenn Simpson, the head of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which assembled the dossier through the work of ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. The Cohen defamation lawsuit was simple – the statements about Cohen in the dossier were false, and he wanted millions of dollars in damages. Now, that lawsuit has been dropped.
2. The very first charge – the Prague trip. In Cohen’s lawsuit, the first specific item that is challenged is the report in the Steele Dossier that Cohen went to the Czech Republic in August of 2016, possibly to meet with people linked to Russia. “I have never in my life been to Prague or anywhere in the Czech Republic,” Cohen has said. Hours after the dossier was released, Cohen tweeted a denial, with a picture of his passport. “No matter how many times or ways they write it, I have never been to Prague,” Cohen tweeted just last week. If this lawsuit had proceeded, there would have been legal discovery about Cohen’s allegations. Now, that won’t take place in the context of this proceeding.
3. Does the Special Counsel have different evidence? A story last week from McClatchy Newspapers said exactly that – that Cohen was in Prague. But it is notable that the details of that have not been matched by any other news organizations. And as with most questions about the Trump-Russia investigation, we can only go off the verified documents in the public square – and at this point, there is nothing to contradict Cohen’s denial. But if there is more to this story, it certainly could be a central part of the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office. No one knows the answer to that right now, other than Mueller’s team.
4. Cohen’s testimony to Congress remains secret. In late October of 2017, Cohen went before the House and Senate Intelligence committees to testify about the Russia investigation, and was evidently asked about the allegation in the dossier – the basis for his lawsuit – that he met in the Czech Republic with a Russian intelligence operative. That testimony has not been released, but lawmakers sparred about it in another transcript which was made public by the House committee. This exchange is between Rep. Peter King (R-NY), and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).
5. Cohen’s legal focus now on FBI raid. What’s next for Cohen is waiting to see what the feds do with the materials seized in the April 9 raids executed against him under a federal magistrate’s approval. Federal Judge Kimba Wood could either allow a special FBI “taint team” to continue to go through that material to look for any attorney-client privilege items related to President Donald Trump. Or, a special master could be appointed to oversee the process. No matter the choice, Cohen faces a tangled legal situation involving what was seized by the feds.