A little known U.S.-based attorney quietly poured six figures into foreign influence operations for President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, hoping to be rewarded with a job in his administration, foreign agent records identified by OpenSecrets show.
The new Foreign Agent Registration Act records reveal previously unreported meetings with Trump administration officials and details of a six-figure lobbying campaign promoting Zelensky’s interests in the U.S. during the leadup to his election and now-infamous phone call with President Donald Trump.
The attorney, Marcus Cohen, claims his advice focused on “interactions with the U.S. government” in an “effort to offer advice to a potential new administration in the Ukraine” on issues such as “anti-corruption efforts.” Trump used similar language to push back against calls for impeachment after he reportedly pressured Zelensky to investigate his potential 2020 presidential election opponent and former Vice President Joe Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine.
Cohen’s foreign agent registration follows a request by the Justice Department, the FARA records show, as first noted by public relations outlet O’Dwyer’s. He has previously operated under the radar with little paper trail. Cohen previously said he voluntarily helped Zelensky “out of good will” after meeting him in Kyiv during the presidential campaign earlier this year, though Zelensky has vehemently denied any links to Cohen and told RFE/RL he did not recall the meeting.
However, Cohen’s new filing suggested that his efforts were not driven purely by good will after all. Instead, they were made “with the hope (but not expectation) that any eventual new Ukrainian administration might formally hire [Cohen] for a position within the Government,” the filing noted.
Despite his lack of notoriety, Cohen not only provided “internal advice to the Zelensky campaign” but continued advising Zelensky’s representatives after his election, according to new FARA records.
Cohen’s FARA filing also reveals a previously undisclosed meeting with former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and former Trump campaign manager Mike Rubino along with Matt Mowers, a Trump campaign adviser who was on Trump’s State Department “beachhead team” and among the president’s first batch of political appointees. Foreign agents from Signal Group Consulting attended the April 16 meeting, according to Cohen, but had not disclosed it in earlier FARA records on file with DOJ.
Since his first reported meeting with Zelensky in February, Cohen’s spending benefiting the Ukrainian president’s campaign has topped $100,000. Cohen spent more than $35,000 between February and June on other expenses such as travel, food, beverages and lodging. That’s on top of $70,000 in payments to Signal Group Consulting previously reported by OpenSecrets, bringing Cohen’s spending into the six-figures. The American attorney frequently flew to Kyiv for ambiguous matters related to the Zelensky campaign, staying at the hotel Premier Palace and sometimes traveling by cruise with Riviera Travels and Tours.
Cohen claims he received no compensation and had no contract or agreement with Zelensky despite multiple meetings with the Zelensky campaign.
Amended FARA paperwork filed by Signal Group around a week before Cohen’s registration also divulged initially undisclosed contacts with Trump administration officials after the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election earlier this year. Notable among the Trump officials contacted was Alexander Vindman, who oversees European affairs at the National Security Council. Vindman was one of five Trump administration officials chosen for a delegation to Zelensky’s inauguration featured in the whistleblower complaint alongside Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine who resigned after fallout from the whistleblower’s allegations.
Also among the delegation members was the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, a longtime Republican donor and Trump campaign bundler who funneled $1 million into Trump’s inaugural committee after he won the race. Text messages surrounding the Trump-Ukraine controversy, released following Volker’s testimony before Congress last week, suggested that Sondland was coordinating the communications between U.S. and Ukrainian government officials.