Background Briefing: December 30, 2018


Did Cohen Meet Russians in Prague in 2016?

We begin with the two latest stories of evidence emerging revealing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia with McClatchy reporting that cell signals off a cell tower in Prague place the mobile phone of Trump’s “fixer” Michael Cohen near Prague in late August early September of 2016. The other story from an investigation by TIME reveals that Victor Boyakin, a former military intelligence officer working for the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, pressured Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort over debts he owed but when approached by Robert Mueller’s investigators told the Special Counsel’s team to “go dig a ditch”. Scott Horton, a professor at Columbia Law School and a contributing editor at Harper’s in legal affairs and national security joins us to discuss the disconnect between Cohen denying that he went to Prague on Trump’s behalf to meet with Russians at the height of the presidential campaign as alleged in the Steele dossier, and the fact that Cohen spent 70 hours providing evidence to Mueller and recently tweeted that “Mueller knows all”. We will also look into the likelihood that Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Putin, got Manafort hooked on his money then after Manafort had squandered $20 million of it on luxury items, Derispaska had Boyakin lean on the greedy American for access and favors once Manafort had become Trump’s campaign manager.


The Criminalization of Russia’s Intelligence Services

Then we look further into the intelligence aspects of the cell phone evidence of Cohen’s possible presence in the Czech Republic indicating that yet more of the Steele dossier could be verified, and speak with a former CIA operations officer Robert Baer who was hired by the U.N. tribunal investigating the assassination of Lebanon’s president and used cellphone meta data to track down the Hezbollah assassins operating with Iran. We look into whether the Russians abandoned tradecraft in conspiring with amateurs from the Trump campaign because Putin likes to have it both ways as he did with the assassinations of Russian dissidents in the U.K., he has plausible deniability while at the same time signaling he approves of what happened.


Trump’s Politicization of the US Military

Then having already politicized the judiciary, we examine Trump’s latest efforts to politicize one of the few American institutions left that try to stay above and away from politics, the U.S. military. Patrick Mondaca, an instructor at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York who served in the U.S. Army in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003, joins us to discuss his article at CNN “Trump is a fair-weather friend to the troops”. We will assess whether in turning a Christmas visit to troops in Iraq and Germany into campaign rallies at which Trump lied about giving the men and women in uniform a big pay raise, the Commander-in-Chief crossed a red line.