The government of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko paid at least $400,000 to Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer of US president Donald Trump, to arrange a meeting at the White House, according to a blockbuster report by the BBC, citing “sources in Kiev close to those involved.”
Poroshenko was reportedly distressed that he would only have a brief “drop-in” meeting with Trump in June of 2017. After the fee was paid to Cohen, he had a substantial meeting with Trump, followed by a photo op. One week later, Poroshenko’s government canceled a Ukrainian investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who is accused of receiving millions of dollars in illicit payments from pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.
Here’s why this story is a very big deal:
- broke a US law requiring people to register as lobbyists for foreign governments.
- It’s the first time we’ve heard of payments to Cohen that resulted in action by the White House.
- It suggests the Trump camp received a quid pro quo—the cessation of the investigation into Manafort.
The BBC’s Paul Wood reported that after Ukraine’s embassy and official lobbyists initially failed to set up a sit-down with Trump, the government set out to establish a back channel:
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.
There have been previous reports linking Cohen to Ukrainian interests. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has reportedly investigated “a Russia-friendly peace proposal for Ukraine that was delivered to Cohen by a Ukrainian lawmaker one week after Trump took office,” the Washington Post reported. The lawmaker, Andrii Artemenko, has been interviewed by Mueller’s office at least twice.
Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, another Cohen client, has also been linked to Ukraine, where he allegedly signed a deal to represent the sanctioned Russian bank VTB.