Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III may have referred an investigation of Michael Cohen's business practices to federal prosecutors in New York two months ago, but Mueller is not done with President Trump's personal lawyer yet.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Mueller, investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race and possible coordination with Trump's campaign, continues to probe episodes involving Cohen. A witness who testified in front of Mueller's grand jury last week said many of the questions he faced were related to the president's fixer.
Ongoing scrutiny by Mueller means multiple pressure points for Cohen, who once said he would take a bullet for Trump. Cohen's loyalty is being tested.
ABC News was first to report Wednesday that Cohen will split from the legal team that has represented him in the business investigation, which focuses on possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. Some legal observers have speculated that the move could signal that Cohen is preparing to turn on Trump and cooperate with Mueller, but The Post's Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger reported that Cohen has not indicated to associates whether he would be willing to cut a deal.
The president and his allies seem to be taking no chances. They have a ready-made, public-relations strategy to deploy if Cohen caves. In fact, they began rolling it out weeks ago.
Trump tweeted in April that “most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories.”
“I don't see Michael doing that,” Trump added, but the message to voters was clear: In the event that Cohen does trade dirt on the president for leniency, don't believe anything Cohen says.
The apparent plan is to discredit Cohen by arguing that whatever compromising information he might share about Trump is a lie, concocted to please Mueller's band of witch hunters and save his own skin.
Alan Dershowitz, a retired Harvard Law School professor who defends Trump on television and serves as an informal adviser, has sought to cast doubt on the reliability of Cohen's potential testimony. Here's part of his April op-ed in the Hill:
It is doubtful that Cohen would cooperate, even if he has anything on his client. But prosecutors often try to get lawyers to “sing” against their clients — to become “canaries” — in order to save their own feathers. Some flipped witnesses will tell prosecutors anything they want to hear in order to earn a “get out of jail free card.” They know that the “better” their story, the more leniency they will earn. So, in addition to singing, they “compose” by making up incriminating details.
I have seen this on many occasions.
Also in April, the National Enquirer took aim at Cohen's credibility by publishing a cover headline that read, “TRUMP FIXER'S SECRETS & LIES!”
Enquirer publisher David Pecker is a friend of Trump who has talked openly about trying to protect the president through his tabloid's coverage.
When CNN asked Cohen whether the Enquirer story was designed to send a message, Cohen replied, “What do you think?”
Though Trump has projected confidence that Cohen will remain loyal, the president and his backers are prepared to make the case that Cohen is a traitor and fabricator who will say anything to stay out of jail.