Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 (£300,000) to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved.
The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law.
Mr Cohen denies the allegation.
The meeting at the White House was last June. Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country’s anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.
A high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence officer in Mr Poroshenko’s administration described what happened before the visit to the White House.
Mr Cohen was brought in, he said, because Ukraine’s registered lobbyists and embassy in Washington DC could get Mr Poroshenko little more than a brief photo-op with Mr Trump. Mr Poroshenko needed something that could be portrayed as “talks”.
This senior official’s account is as follows – Mr Poroshenko decided to establish a back channel to Mr Trump. The task was given to a former aide, who asked a loyal Ukrainian MP for help.
He in turn used personal contacts in a Jewish charity in New York state, Chabad of Port Washington. This eventually led to Michael Cohen, the president’s lawyer and trusted fixer. Mr Cohen was paid $400,000.
There is no suggestion that Mr Trump knew about the payment.
A second source in Kiev gave the same details, except that the total paid to Mr Cohen was $600,000.
None of our sources say that Mr Trump used the Oval Office meeting to ask Mr Poroshenko to kill the Manafort investigation. But if there was a back channel, did Michael Cohen use it to tell the Ukrainians what was expected of them?
Perhaps he didn’t need to.
One source in Kiev said Mr Poroshenko had given Trump “a gift” – making sure that Ukraine would find no more evidence to give the US inquiry into whether the Trump campaign “colluded” with Russia.
Mr Poroshenko knew that to do otherwise, another source said, “would be like spitting in Trump’s face”.
A report by a member of a Western country’s intelligence community says Mr Poroshenko’s team believe they have established a “non-aggression pact” with Mr Trump.
Drawing on “senior, well placed” intelligence sources in Kiev, the report sets out this sequence of events…
As soon as Trump was elected, the report says, Ukraine stopped “proactively” investigating Manafort.
Liaison with the US government was moved away from the National Anti Corruption Bureau to a senior aide in the presidential administration.
The report states that Poroshenko returned from Washington and, in August or September, 2017, decided to completely end cooperation with the US agencies investigating Manafort. He did not give an order to implement this decision until November 2017.
The order became known to the US government after scheduled visits by Poroshenko’s senior aide to see Mueller and the CIA director, in November and December, were cancelled.
The report says that an “element of the understanding” between Poroshenko and Trump was that Ukraine agreed to import US coal and signed a $1bn contract for American-made diesel trains.
These deals can only be understood as Poroshenko buying American support, the reports say.
In March, the Trump administration announced the symbolically important sale of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Even under President Obama, the US did not sell arms to Ukraine. A well known figure in Kiev, now retired from his old job in government, told me he didn’t like what had happened with the Manafort inquiry; however, Ukraine was fighting for its survival.
“I want the rule of law,” he said, “but I am a patriot.”
He said he had kept in touch with his former subordinates and had heard many of the details about a “Cohen backchannel”.
Ukraine’s domestic intelligence service, the SBU, did their own – secret – report on Mr Manafort.
It found that there was not one “black ledger” but three and that Mr Manafort had been paid millions of dollars more from Ukraine than had been made public. (Mr Manafort has denied any wrongdoing.)
This information was given to me by a very senior police officer who saw the report. He said it had not been passed to the Americans.
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