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Jul 02 2018

Cohen-cidence?

Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence. We have known knowns, we have known unknowns, and we have unknown unknowns. It would be irresponsible not to speculate.

So if you didn’t spend yesterday under a rock (and you should have, Heat Index 116) the most encouraging news of the day was the George Stephanopoulos interview with Michael Cohen.

The conventional wisdom-

Why Michael Cohen should flip and the damage he will do
by Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
July 2, 2018

Cohen all but said he’d be a cooperating witness, and made clear he’s not taking any bullet, as he once said, for Trump. (“To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty.”) In criticizing the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, he suggested he knows quite a bit more than what has publicly been revealed. He opined that it demonstrated “poor judgment” by those involved.

Most ominous for Trump were Cohen’s high praise of prosecutors, his selection of a new lawyer (“a highly regarded former federal prosecutor who once led the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan — the very same office currently conducting the criminal investigation of Cohen”) and his impending decision to end a joint defense deal with Trump.

This is not a man who sounds as though he has no legal liability, or that he is mounting a defense resting on prosecutorial excess. This is a man desperate to remain in the good graces of prosecutors — who hold his fate and that of his family in their hands. And here’s the kicker: Even if Trump decided to pardon Cohen (a move that would set off impeachment talk), Cohen almost certainly has state criminal charges to worry about. Trump cannot pardon him for those. Cohen has zero incentive to stick by Trump at the expense of his own freedom and his family’s well-being.

I’ll pause here to note that’s the most significant point of all. Trump can not pardon Cohen for violations of State Law and he has sufficient liability under New York Statutes to keep him in Ossining for the rest of his life as well as bankrupting him and his family (his wife is reportedly not a big Trump fan).

I am told by people who would know that Cohen would do much better in the friendly confines of FCI Danbury than the General Population of OCF, who would eat him alive.

Several points deserve emphasis: First, if Cohen flips and begins providing evidence that could support serious charges against Trump, the argument for delaying any Supreme Court confirmation hearing becomes stronger. Does the Senate want to risk confirming a justice nominated by a president accused of serious wrongdoing by his own attorney, a president who might have committed actions that call into question the legitimacy of his presidency?

Second, we saw from the handling of documents seized from Cohen that very little of his work is protected by attorney-client privilege. That goes for Cohen’s own recollection of conversations with Trump, as well as with Trump associates and family members.

Third, aside from any potential liabilities, Cohen surely has knowledge of Trump’s finances — how rich he really is, how deep in debt he is, the identity of lenders, etc. For Trump, that might be the scariest part of all.

So, done deal right? Cohen flips and Trumpland starts its swift and inevitable collapse.

Not so fast.

‘He’s playing games’: Michael Avenatti sounds a warning about Michael Cohen’s ABC News interview
by Noor Al-Sibai, Raw Story
02 Jul 2018

While the rest of the country reacted to news that Donald Trump’s longtime “fixer” and personal attorney Michael Cohen appeared to be distancing himself from his previous sworn loyalty to the president, attorney Michael Avenatti pointed out the bigger picture.

The lawyer for Trump mistress Stormy Daniels told MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson that Cohen’s off-camera interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos was “a big nothingburger.”

“This is Michael Cohen trying to send a message to the president that he wants the president to pay his legal bills or he’s going to flip,” Avenatti said.

“You know, he’s playing games with the American people,” he continued. “If he has information that’s damaging to this president — and I know for a fact that he does — then he should come forward and state it and disclose it now. He doesn’t have to wait for anything. He doesn’t have to wait for charges to be issued. He could do the right thing now.

Instead, Avenatti noted, Cohen is “playing games by giving these off-camera interviews like you saw today.”

Unfortunately Michael Avenatti has a disturbing habit of being right most of the time. The most balanced assessment I’ve found so far is this one-

The not-so-subtle message in Cohen’s ABC interview
by Ryan Koronowski, Think Progress
Jul 2, 2018

Cohen makes a number of points during the interview indicating to someone that he’s willing to cooperate. He said his loyalty is not to President Trump. “My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told George Stephanopoulos. “I put family and country first.”

This should worry Trump, for whom Cohen said he would “take a bullet,” and on whose behalf Cohen has made nasty legal threats in previous years. Cohen is no longer Trump’s lawyer, and he resigned from the Republican National Committee’s finance team in a public letter two weeks ago, oddly citing immigration as a reason.

Stephanopoulos also asked Cohen about what would happen if Trump’s legal team began to target Cohen as the investigation ramps up. “I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy,” Stephanopoulos reported Cohen replied with a stiff spine. “I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.”

Another point Cohen made relates to the question of who — essentially either Cohen or Trump — paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels to stay silent about her relationship with Trump during the 2016 campaign. Cohen said he would like to provide answers about who directed him to give the $130,000 to Daniels, but he cannot do so in public. “I want to answer. One day I will answer,” he said. “But for now, I can’t comment further on advice of my counsel.” Of course, Donald Trump knows the answer to this, so there is little other reason for Cohen to dangle this in a public setting. Cohen gave a similar answer when asked about the meeting senior members of the Trump campaign took with Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016.

Cohen is not attacking Mueller or the FBI as his old boss does. For someone whose office and hotel room were famously raided by the FBI — which prompted a great deal of uproar from Trump and his allies — Cohen has nothing but respect for the FBI.

“I don’t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI. I respect the FBI as an institution, as well as their agents,” Cohen said. “When they searched my hotel room and my home, it was obviously upsetting to me and my family. Nonetheless, the agents were respectful, courteous and professional. I thanked them for their service and as they left, we shook hands.” He also said he did not like the term “witch hunt.”

Though Cohen claims he cannot talk about the specifics of the case, there are some areas where Cohen provides detail. He denied going to Prague for Trump, and further denied colluding with Russians in any way, according to ABC News.

Cohen has a new lawyer, Guy Petrillo, and once he officially comes on board, the legal relationship between Cohen and Trump will change drastically. In Stephanopoulos’ story about his Cohen interview, he said that “ABC News has learned” — from an anonymous source that may or may not be Cohen himself — that “a joint defense agreement Cohen shared with the president, which allowed their lawyers to share information and documents with each other, will come to an end.”

Cohen will therefore soon be charting out his own legal strategy, giving Trump no visibility into what his old fixer is planning for his defense against prosecutors. Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, target of the Russia investigation, also had his lawyers stop sharing information with Trump’s lawyers right before he flipped on Trump and cooperated with prosecutors.

If Cohen truly wanted to cooperate with prosecutors as he said in the interview, he would not be doing an interview. Cohen’s lawyer could speak to prosecutors and reach an agreement.

Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, told MSNBC on Monday morning that Cohen would flip on Trump “to avoid significant prison time,” and giving an interview like this is an example of him “playing games.”

It all goes back to Trump. Cohen’s phone calls in the weeks leading up to the FBI raid were monitored, if not wiretapped, which makes attempting to privately speak to Trump over the phone or in person very difficult. If Trump and Cohen were to talk at this point in the investigation, it would risk accusations of colluding together to get their story straight.

So the only way he can speak to the only person who has the power to pardon him is through someone like George Stephanopoulos.

But remember, a Trump pardon won’t do it in the State of New York under their new AG Barbara Underwood.