President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was at the center of a bombshell New York Times report published Sunday that said he hand-delivered a “peace” plan for Russia and Ukraine to former national security adviser Michael Flynn before Flynn was asked to resign.
The plan — which the Times said was “pushed” by Cohen, businessman Felix Sater, and Ukrainian lawmaker Andreii Artemenko — involved lifting sanctions on Russia in return for Moscow withdrawing its support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine. It would also allow Russia to maintain control over Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.
Hours after the Times story was published, however, Cohen told The Washington Post that he had never delivered the peace plan to Flynn nor discussed it with anyone in the White House.
In an interview with the Post, Cohen corroborated the Times’ report that he had met with Sater and Artemenko in a hotel lobby on Park Avenue in Manhattan in late January to discuss the proposal. He said the meeting lasted fewer than 15 minutes and acknowledged that he left with the plan in hand.
He “emphatically” denied, however, “discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn,” adding that he told Artemenko that he could “send the proposal to Flynn himself by writing him at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave,” the Post reported.
Cohen shifted his story again on Monday, telling Business Insider in a series of text messages that he denies “even knowing what the plan is.”
However, he later acknowledged that he met with Artemenko in New York for “under 10 minutes” to discuss a proposal Artemenko said “was acknowledged by Russian authorities that would create world peace.”
“My response was, ‘Who doesn’t want world peace?'” Cohen said.
A New York Times spokesperson pointed Business Insider to a statement the newspaper had given Sunday: “Mr. Cohen told The Times in no uncertain terms that he delivered the Ukraine proposal to Michael Flynn’s office at the White House. Mr. Sater told the Times that Mr. Cohen had told him the same thing.”
Sater, a businessman of Russian descent who has boasted of his “relationship with Trump,” told the Post last May that he “handled all of the negotiations” for the Trump Organisation’s dealings in Russia in the mid-2000s. Trump has distanced himself from Sater, insisting in sworn testimony as part of a 2013 lawsuit that “if [Sater] were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”
Sater told the Post that he thought Cohen was going to deliver the plan to Flynn, but that Cohen had to wait because Flynn was in the middle of a Russia-related firestorm. Cohen, for his part, was named as a “liaison” between Trump and the Kremlin in the explosive, unsubstantiated dossier presented by top US intelligence officials to Trump and senior lawmakers last month.
Sater was “not practicing diplomacy” in pushing the plan, which he entertained only because he “wanted to promote peace,” he told Fox News on Monday. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii V. Artemenko, who met with Trump’s campaign team during the election, was also involved in drafting the proposal. Artemenko told the Times he had evidence of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s corruption that could lead to his ouster.
Poroshenko has been locked in a war with pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine since he took power in 2014. He is considered more friendly to the West than his ousted predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych’s political rise was heavily aided by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who worked as an adviser on Yanukovych’s presidential campaign.
Cohen, for his part, called the reporting surrounding the meeting “#fakenews.” He said he stands by his story that he never did anything with the plan.
“Change your fake story or lose my number,” Cohen said. “I have no time for Trump haters.”
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