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The White House can’t hide Trump’s worry about Michael Cohen

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on April 23 sidestepped questions about a pardon for Michael Cohen. (Video: Reuters)

President Trump has not been tweeting like a man with nothing to fear.

Over the weekend, he tried to project confidence that his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen — under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations — will not flip to avoid legal trouble. But in doing so, and skipping a denial of wrongdoing, the president implied two things.

One is that Cohen would need to strike a deal with prosecutors to avoid charges or prison time. Trump's tweet did not even entertain the idea that the investigation will turn up nothing because Cohen committed no crimes.

The second is that Cohen possesses damaging information about the president. Trump said he believes Cohen will keep his mouth shut, not that Cohen can talk all he wants because there is no dirt to dish.

During a White House press briefing on Monday, Bloomberg's Justin Sink said the president's Twitter thread “prompts two questions: The first is what the president believes his personal attorney might have done to get him in trouble with the government. And, secondly, what the president's done that he is worried Michael Cohen could flip about.”

“The president's been clear that he hasn't done anything wrong,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied. “I think we've stated that about a thousand times. Beyond that, I don't have anything to add.”

It is the absence of “anything to add” that is striking. The simple, playing-it-cool response would be that the president encourages Cohen to cooperate fully with an investigation that will surely end in exoneration. But the White House hasn't said anything of the kind.

Michael Cohen, once at pinnacle of Trump’s world, now poses threat to it

In fact, the White House appears to be leaving open the door to a presidential pardon for Cohen — which, of course, would be necessary only if there were a crime to pardon.

“I don't think that we are going to talk about hypotheticals that don't exist right now,” Sanders told reporters.

Hours later, in the White House briefing room, CNN's Jim Acosta followed up with Sanders:

ACOSTA: I wanted to ask you a question, sort of following up on what you were asked this morning about Michael Cohen. It was noticed by some that you didn't close the door one way or the other on the president pardoning Michael Cohen. What is your — what's your read on that right now?
SANDERS: It's hard to close the door on something that hasn't taken place. I don't like to discuss or comment on hypothetical situations that may or may not ever happen. I would refer you to the personal attorneys to comment on anything specific regarding that case. We don't have anything, at this point.

Sanders's answer made little sense: The White House can't rule out a pardon because a pardon has not taken place? If the White House were to rule out a pardon, then a pardon would never take place. And if a pardon were to take place, then it would be too late to rule out a pardon. (Dizzy yet?)

Also, questions about a presidential pardon fall squarely in the domain of the White House, not Trump's outside attorneys.

Trump seems clearly worried about Cohen, and he and his White House aren't doing anything to change that perception.