George Stephanopoulos’s interview with President Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen should panic the president. Stephanopoulos reports:
After federal agents searched Cohen’s New York properties, Trump described the raid as a break-in, an “attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”
“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 told me. “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.”
Cohen also refused to criticize [special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s] investigation.
“I don’t like the term ‘witch hunt,’ ” he said, adding that he condemned Russia for interfering in the 2016 election.
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.
The range of topics on which Cohen could offer prosecutors is potentially jaw-dropping. We know about the Stormy Daniels settlement, but we can speculate about topics which might, if substantiated by facts (and the president enjoys the presumption of innocence in court), prove harmful for Trump:
- Any other settlements with other women, and details about those affairs, including possible violations of campaign-finance or other laws.
- Any financial dealings by Trump that might have violated state or federal laws, relating to Russia or otherwise.
- Trump’s financial dealings (which he has denied) with Russia.
- Any Trump meetings with Russians, or meetings that Cohen took at Trump’s behest.
- Any campaign contacts with Russians about which Cohen had knowledge or discussed with Trump.
In short, just about any topic which is a source of liability for Trump could be illuminated by Cohen.
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.