Of all of President Trump’s former associates who have come under scrutiny in the special counsel’s Russia investigation, his former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, has undertaken perhaps the most surprising and risky legal strategy.
Mr. Cohen has twice pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to a litany of crimes, and he has volunteered information to the special counsel and other agencies investigating Mr. Trump and his inner circle. He did all this without first obtaining a traditional, ironclad deal under which the government would commit to seeking leniency on Mr. Cohen’s behalf when he is sentenced on Dec. 12.
Mr. Cohen has concluded that his life has been utterly destroyed by his relationship with Mr. Trump and his own actions, and to begin anew he needed to speed up the legal process by quickly confessing his crimes and serving any sentence he receives, according to his friends and associates, and analysis of documents in the case.
He has told friends that he is mystified that he is taking the fall for actions he carried out on behalf of Mr. Trump, who remains unscathed. Still, he is resigned to accepting responsibility.
.. Mr. Cohen’s commitment to Mr. Trump began to wane after a highly publicized F.B.I. raid on his home, office and hotel room in April. Last July, he told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News he was seeking “resolution.” Asked if he would provide prosecutors information about Mr. Trump in return for leniency, Mr. Cohen replied, “I put family and country first.”
.. Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in Manhattan to eight felonies — including campaign finance violations, tax evasion and making false statements to a bank
.. Cooperating witnesses are often not sentenced until investigations are completed, months or even years later. Mr. Cohen was concerned that signing a deal would delay his sentencing, his lawyers explained in their filing on Friday.
.. “Thus, the necessity, at age 52, to begin his life virtually anew, including developing new means to support his family, convinced Michael to seek an early sentence date, fully understanding that this court will determine the timing under which his efforts to rebuild will commence,” the memorandum said.
Mr. Cohen’s lawyers said that their client began meeting with Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors as early as Aug. 7, even before his first guilty plea in New York. He ultimately met with the special counsel’s office seven times through November.
.. Rebecca Roiphe, a professor at New York Law School, called Mr. Cohen’s maneuver “an unusual and creative way to get what he wants out of a situation that’s unorthodox.”
.. “Tying it up in a bow gives Cohen the best chance at getting significant credit for his cooperation — and a good sentence.”
legal experts are calling Monday’s missives a newsworthy development that amounts to evidence of obstructing justice.
Trump’s first statement went out after Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney who pleaded guilty last week for lying to Congress about the president’s real estate project in Russia. In his tweet, Trump alleged that Cohen lied to Mueller and called for a severe penalty, demanding that his former fixer “serve a full and complete sentence.”
.. After the overt attack on Cohen came a tweet encouraging Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to Trump, not to become a witness against him:
.. “We’re so used to President Trump transgressing norms in his public declarations,” Eisen said, “but he may have crossed the legal line.”
.. Respected figures across party lines also responded to Trump’s tweets on the social media platform.
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) called it “serious,” adding that “the President of the United States should not be using his platform to influence potential witnesses in a federal investigation involving his campaign.”
.. Attorney George Conway, husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, referenced the federal statute most likely to create legal liability for Trump: 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512, which outlines the crime of witness tampering.
I think Trump has regretted becoming President from the moment he knew he had won on election night. I don’t think Trump thought he had any more chance of winning than anybody else did, which is to say unlikely in the extreme. Trump probably understood winning would have consequences, but I don’t think he really understood them. Trump is not someone who carefully thinks through the possible consequences of his actions. It can be taken for granted Trump knew there would be consequence, because at least Cohen, and his Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg would have sat him down and explained to him that even running for President was drawing a dangerous amount of attention to himself, let alone winning. Given how Trump has historically gone about doing business, he can not afford close scrutiny.
I think on one level Trump is loving being President, it is the ultimate ego boost, he probably likes the pomp and ceremony. although the fact he has to go to Paris to get a military parade, with real tanks and missiles must be driving him nuts. He isn’t enjoying the constant mockery, he hates that everybody is always critical of everything he does, he hates the complexity of a job he can’t get his head around, and he really hates that he can’t just order everybody about. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he really did believe he would be able to lock up Hillary with no more processes than an executive order.
Add to all that he has the Mueller investigation, the New York’s Southern District investigation. He’s lost his compliant congress, come January Congress is going to be making his life miserable, and I think you can expect to see these investigations multiplying. Plus all his old business colleagues are going to be turning on him, Cohen already has, and Allen Weisselberg probably has as well.
At some point, if he isn’t already, Trump is going to be thinking that the only way he can survive this is to follow in Xi Jinping’s footsteps and make himself President for life, Trump’s problem he is not even remotely in Xi Jinping’s league. Trump has surrounded himself with the foolish, the greedy, and the outright stupid. The problem is that Trump is stupid enough, and perhaps desperate enough he might conceivably try it. If that day ever does come, the opportunists, and grifters will savage each other getting to the exits, the real danger for Trump and the office is going to be in the fools he has surrounded himself with. While what in effect would be an attempted coup will have zero chance of ever actually working, and it would probably end up having all the elements of a farce, the precedent could still end up being very damaging.
So yes I would put good money on the fact that Trump spends a lot of his time feeling sorry for himself, and wishing that he gotten a handful less votes in the right places. Maybe he even wishes he hadn’t taken that ride down his golden elevator.
President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, has reportedly spoken to prosecutors in the Mueller probe for hours, about collusion, Russia, business and pardons. This reporting suggests he is a cooperating convict, as he awaits sentencing in New York and means that each of the 5 guilty Trump aides, are now working with Bob Mueller.
We can be grateful for some unlikely gifts this week. We’re lucky, as it turns out, that U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III was so sharp in criticizing prosecutors in the Manafort case that an upset lead attorney, Greg Andres, protested at one point, “The court interrupts every single one of the government’s [direct questions], every single one.” After Ellis’s interjections, it will be difficult for Trump’s defenders to argue that the trial was biased in favor of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team.
We’re probably fortunate, too, that the jury reached a split verdict, convicting Manafort on eight of 18 counts. Reportedly because of one holdout juror, the panel was not unanimously convinced by the entire case presented by the government. For a divided America, this outcome ought to evoke our national icon of justice — blindfolded and holding a balance in her hand to weigh the evidence fairly.
And however odd it seems, we should celebrate the fact that Cohen, the man who did Trump’s legal dirty work for so many years, decided that he wanted to cop a plea — and, in the process, to present himself as a man seeking to serve his country by telling the truth at last about his former boss.
.. But interestingly, Russia does figure in Cohen’s motivations, according to Davis: After watching Trump support Russian President Vladimir Putin against U.S. intelligence agencies at the news conference following the Helsinki summit, Cohen “worried about the future of the country with somebody who was aligning himself with Mr. Putin,” Davis told NBC on Wednesday.
As Trump’s world collapses around him, the danger for the country arguably increases. Trump could lash out at his tormentors, reasoning that a constitutional crisis is his only possible salvation; the partisan fever in America could spike even further, with angry people on both sides taking to the streets; and foreign adversaries could seek to exploit our troubles.
.. For Republicans, there is a last chance over these next two months to finally show some guts and principle by separating themselves from Trump.
Mr. Trump voiced disdain for “flipping,” saying that people lie to prosecutors about “whoever the next-highest one is,” so that they can get more lenient terms.
“I’ve seen it many times,” he said. “I’ve had many friends involved in this stuff. It’s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal.”
.. Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor, said that Mr. Trump’s comments amount to “an absolutely outrageous statement and to any prosecutor would just be shocking to hear.”
“It’s hard to overstate how fundamental” to prosecutions cooperating witnesses are, Mr. Zeidenberg said. Noting the president praised his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, for not seeking a plea deal in his tax- and bank-fraud trial, he said, “He doesn’t talk like a president. He talks like a crime boss.”
.. “Trump’s idea would effectively demolish one of the basic and valuable tools of criminal law enforcement in the U.S.,” said Stephen Gillers, a professor at the New York University School of Law.
.. Mr. Trump said that Mr. Cohen, who has described himself as the president’s “fixer,” was a lawyer who “didn’t do big deals” but “did small deals.”
“Not somebody that was with me that much,” he said.
.. “For 30, 40 years I’ve been watching flippers,” he said. “Everything is wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go….It’s not fair.”
.. In the Fox News interview, Mr. Trump suggested that Democrats still have great sway over the Justice Department, which is now led by his appointees. He suggested that his annoyance with Mr. Sessions stems in part from the Justice Department’s failure to prosecute his 2016 election opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, over her email practices when she served as secretary of state.
.. “Even my enemies say that ‘Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself, and then you wouldn’t have put him in.’ He took the job, and then he said I’m going to recuse myself,” Mr. Trump said.
For weeks, the president had been distancing himself from Mr. Cohen, including by stopping paying his longtime attorney’s legal fees, making clear amid the pressure that he was on his own.
Under oath on Tuesday, before a packed courtroom, Mr. Cohen created a spectacular moment without parallel in American history when he confessed to two crimes that he said he committed at the behest of the man who would become president.
.. For the president, it opens up a perilous new legal front.
.. Mr. Trump denied he directed Mr. Cohen to buy the women’s silence. Contradicting earlier statements, the president said he became aware of the payments to the women “later on” and said Mr. Cohen was reimbursed from his personal funds, not his 2016 campaign coffers.
.. On April 5, days before the raids, Mr. Trump told reporters on Air Force One he didn’t know about the payment to Ms. Clifford, and referred questions about the matter to Mr. Cohen. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” Mr. Trump said. “Michael is my attorney.”
Mr. Cohen, who that night was staying aboard the yacht of Trump donor Franklin Haney, which was docked in Miami, grew irate on the ship soon after Mr. Trump made his remarks distancing himself from the Clifford payment, according to a person familiar with the episode. Mr. Cohen was swearing loudly as others on the boat were sipping their drinks, the person said.
.. Initially, Mr. Cohen seemed unlikely to turn on the president. Although their relationship was at times turbulent, Mr. Trump appreciated Mr. Cohen’s absolute loyalty. On the day of the raids, Mr. Trump called the move a “disgrace” and a “witch hunt.”
Soon after the April raids, Mr. Cohen’s relationship with Mr. Trump began to deteriorate.
The estrangement began over legal bills, said a person who has spoken with Mr. Cohen about the matter. The Trump family covered part of Mr. Cohen’s legal fees after the raids, but then stopped paying.
Mr. Cohen felt exposed. Public comments by Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, put distance between the president and Mr. Cohen and further alienated the attorney, the person said.Mr. Cohen told associates and friends he felt Mr. Trump didn’t have his back and vented that the president hadn’t personally offered to pay his legal bills in the Manhattan investigation, which he said were “bankrupting” him... By then, prosecutors and the Internal Revenue Service had focused on Mr. Cohen’s personal income taxes. In conversations with a potential witness in June and July, investigators asked “very pointed” questions about various tax filings, according to a person familiar with the conversations.
“They knew what they wanted, they knew what they had, and they went after it,” the person said.
In late June, Mr. Cohen openly broke with Mr. Trump... Mr. Cohen’s father urged him not to protect the president, saying he didn’t survive the Holocaust to have his name sullied by Mr. Trump.. On June 20, Mr. Cohen stepped down from his position as the Republican National Committee’s deputy finance chairman and tweeted his first public criticism of his former boss: “As the son of a Polish holocaust survivor, the images and sounds of this family separation policy [are] heart wrenching.” The tweet no longer appears on Mr. Cohen’s Twitter account... In July, a recording became public that Mr. Cohen surreptitiously made of a conversation he had with Mr. Trump in September 2016 about buying the rights to Ms. McDougal’s story. The president has denied the affair.The president’s legal team had waived attorney-client privilege on the recording, which had been seized in the April 9 raids.
.. Given the Justice Department’s policy of not indicting sitting presidents, a guilty plea from Mr. Cohen and his public implication of Mr. Trump were among the strongest outcomes prosecutors could have hoped for.. For prosecutors, the guilty plea meant they could avoid a contentious trial and free up resources to pursue other investigations... one of Mr. Cohen’s lawyers, Lanny Davis, appeared on cable news shows to say Mr. Cohen wouldn’t accept a pardon from Mr. Trump and “is more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows.”