The FBI executed search warrants for the office, home, and hotel room used by Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen Monday morning. According to The New York Times, documents seized relate to matters that "date back years," including allegations about the cover-up of Trump's alleged affair with porn actress Stormy Daniels. But the fact that Robert Mueller's special counsel referred the matter to federal attorneys in the Southern District of New York suggests that the ultimate objective of this search may be to flip Cohen as a witness to a key detail of the so-called "Steele dossier."
Because unlike some of the more marginal characters in this sordid saga (cough, Carter Page cough), Cohen is a central player. He appears to have been instrumental in bringing Russian oligarch money into Trump's businesses during the decade before the 2016 campaign. Along with fellow Trump Organization figure Felix Sater, Cohen was part of the scheme to build a Trump Tower Moscow that carried over into the campaign. Cohen had developed those ties by way of his business dealings in Ukraine, so it was not really a surprise to see him involved in the abortive attempt to broker a "peace plan" right around the inauguration that would have rewarded Russian aggression.
Disclosure of Cohen's role in that affair brought further news that he was a subject of the FBI's ongoing counterintelligence investigation of the Donald Trump campaign. Cohen had expected to take on a job in the new administration, but he was never appointed to one. By the Summer, the reason was all too clear: Cohen really was under investigation by the FBI.
Which brings us back to the dossier. In one of his private intelligence reports for Fusion GPS, former MI6 spy Christopher Steele asserted that Michael Cohen had met with a Russian senator named Konstantin Kosachev in Prague during August of 2016. When Cohen filed a lawsuit against BuzzFeed for publishing the document, he specifically denied ever having met Kosachev or visiting Prague. He has also waved his United States passport around as "proof" he was never there, denying persistent rumors that he used an Israeli passport for the trip. If that report is true, then Cohen lied to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He certainly would not be the first major figure in the Trump-Russia investigation who lied about holding multiple passports.
It is worth noting here that Cohen's alleged interlocutor Kosachev was just added to the US Treasury Department's list of sanctioned Russian oligarchs last week. Former Moscow investor Bill Browder has claimed that Kosachev is one of the original gangsters behind the cover up of the Magnitsky affair. Kosachev has certainly been a very prominent Kremlin mouthpiece -- on Syria, the Magnitsky Act, Trump, and denying Russian interference in America's 2016 elections. For Mueller's investigators, putting Cohen in the same room with Kosachev would go a long way towards establishing a criminal conspiracy.
Such proof may already exist. For instance, recall the deliberately-vague story about a Baltic ally of the United States recording unnamed people from the Trump organization (Cohen?) communicating with unspecified Russian government officials (Kosachev?) that was published last February. If such intercepts exist, Mueller already has them. Yet he would rather not use them -- first because America's ally doesn't want Russian retaliation, but also because wiretaps are not the best kind of evidence to present a jury. Instead, they are usually investigative tools or leverage to get witnesses cooperating.
By contrast, if Michael Cohen became a cooperating witness and confirmed that a Prague meeting took place, his testimony would be golden evidence in a courtroom -- or an impeachment hearing. At the very least, if just one witness confirmed any key detail of the Steele dossier, everyone would stop calling it "unsubstantiated," "uncorroborated,"or "dodgy." The conversation would immediately shift to: "What else about the dossier is true?"
It is likely that Mueller has always seen Michael Cohen as a far more important witness than outside observers generally understood. As I have explained elsewhere, Mueller is probably much savvier about the impact of public opinion on the success of his investigation than most of us appreciate. Cohen's alleged shady past behavior -- witness intimidation, sex silence slush funds, sketchy Ukrainian or Russian investors -- could catch up with him, and then he might just change his tune about that Prague meeting.