Opinion writer

Often in recent years, Michael Cohen has said such things as, “I will do anything to protect Mr. Trump,” or “I will always protect our @POTUS.” What he’d do if his loyalty were tested was always an important question, because of the assumption — shared by both the president’s critics and his defenders — that if Cohen flipped on President Trump, he could do some real damage.

Almost no one honestly believes that there isn’t plenty of criminality within Trump’s business dealings, so if Cohen starts singing like a bird, the president could be in serious trouble. And now that day may have arrived:

As attorneys for Michael Cohen rush to meet Judge Kimba Wood’s Friday deadline to complete a privilege review of over 3.7 million documents seized in the April 9 raids of Cohen’s New York properties and law office, a source representing this matter has disclosed to ABC News that the law firm handling the case for Cohen is not expected to represent him going forward.

To date, Cohen has been represented by Stephen Ryan and Todd Harrison of the Washington and New York firm, McDermott, Will & Emery LLP.

No replacement counsel has been identified as of this time.

Cohen, now with no legal representation, is likely to cooperate with federal prosecutors in New York, sources said. This development, which is believed to be imminent, will likely hit the White House, family members, staffers and counsels hard.

The connection between Cohen’s attorneys leaving and the possibility of him flipping is not that you don’t still need a lawyer if you’re cooperating (you do), but that these particular lawyers have been paid by the Trump campaign. That would mean that they’d have a conflict in representing him if in fact he is going to testify to something Trump or others involved in the Trump campaign might have done.

That’s a bit of speculation on my part — maybe there’s some other reason Cohen’s lawyers are leaving — but as of now, it’s the only connection that’s evident.

Let’s try to put this in context.

We’re not talking here about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of the Russia scandal; this has to do with the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Back in April, Mueller handed off information he had learned about Cohen to the U.S. attorney’s office, which got a warrant to search Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room. This was an extraordinary step, one that requires multiple layers of approval from not just a judge but also Justice Department officials. Getting that warrant isn’t possible if a prosecutor is on a fishing expedition for something they can use to flip someone like Cohen; they need to have strong evidence that the attorney has committed a crime.

Investigators seized a trove of documents, not to mention computers and cellphones that were no doubt filled with fascinating material. The judge in the case appointed a special master to determine which files fell under attorney-client privilege, and it turned out to be only a tiny amount. As one report described it, “Of the 291,770 electronic files contained on two of Mr. Cohen’s cellphones and on one of his iPads, 148 are privileged and will be withheld if the judge approves.” That leaves an awful lot for prosecutors to examine.

If you’ve become familiar with Cohen’s history, the questions you may have asked yourself are whether he committed crimes — and whether the president of the United States is implicated in them. While Cohen was often described as Trump’s personal attorney, for most of his employment with Trump he was acting not as a lawyer but as a fixer, the kind of guy who would go to the Republic of Georgia to try to make a deal with corrupt oligarchs to build a Trump Tower, or arrange hush money for the porn star Trump may have slept with soon after his wife gave birth. He’s not the guy who represents you in court; he’s the guy you can count on to do the dirty work.

We should be clear that it’s at least possible this all has nothing to do with Trump. Cohen’s entire career has been spent in strikingly close proximity to organized (and not-so-organized) crime, and perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is that unlike so many of his associates over the years, he has never gone to jail. It could be that Cohen has something to offer prosecutors on, say, the Russian mob, something important enough for them to want to strike a deal with him.

But there’s little question that Trump is very worried about what Cohen might tell prosecutors. Here’s what the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman tweeted this afternoon:

This story is still developing, and there will be more to learn. But we should consider one more possibility: that Cohen fed the story of his possible flip to the press in order to convince Trump to pardon him. And if you think that the president would never take such a brazenly corrupt step as to pardon the one person who probably has more dirt on him than anyone? Then you might want to familiarize yourself with who Trump is.