Michael Cohen, longtime loyal soldier for Donald Trump and the Trump organization, is under a lot of pressure to give evidence in the ongoing investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election campaign.
The special counsel heading that investigation, Robert Mueller, has focused on episodes involving Cohen, as a possible intermediary between Donald Trump and Russians and/or pro-Russia Ukrainians.
In April, federal agents raided both Cohen’s home and his office, seizing papers and hard drives.
Also in April, Judge James Otero of the US district court, central district of California, issued a stay on a lawsuit by Stephanie Clifford, aka “Stormy Daniels.” Clifford was suing to void a non-disclosure agreement concerning her alleged 2006 sexual liaison with Donald Trump. The NDA was arranged on Trump’s behalf by Cohen. There has been a good deal of confusing back-and-forth from the Trump side about the Trump/Cohen/Daniels negotiations, but it seems that Cohen did represent Trump in these talks and at some point he did convey money on Trump’s behalf, although whether and when Trump reimbursed his lawyer for this remains unclear.
Otera stayed the proceedings in a lawsuit arising out of the NDA for 90 days in part on the ground of an overlap between discovery in such a civil suit and the criminal investigation underway into Cohen’s activities.
On June 20,Cohen sent a letter of resignation to the Republican National Committee, where he has served as deputy finance chair. Some of the language in this letter seems to some observers to represent an odd new twist in the story of Mueller ‘s probe: it represents a forum in which Cohen can distance himself from Trump.
Cohen writes: “As the son of a Polish holocaust survivor, the images and sounds of this family separation policy is heart wrenching,” and though he strongly supports “measures that will secure our porous borders, children should never be used as bargaining chips.” It sounds as if Cohen is comparing his old boss to Adolf Hitler.
Also, Cohen received some good news on June 20. Judge Otera refused to lift his stay of proceedings on the Stormy Daniels dispute. “While it is undeniable that plaintiff has a valid interest in the prompt resolution of her claims, plaintiff has not established that she has actually been deterred from speaking,” he wrote.
Right Wing View
On June 23, the National Review, that paradigmatically conservative publication founded by William F. Buckley back when Eisenhower was President, weighed in with an effort to put the Mueller probe in a historic context, quoting Tocqueville, the author of Democracy in America (1840).
In a nation without nobility or monarch, Tocqueville worried, the formalities of the rule of law would themselves come to seem quaint obstructions, and would be brushed aside. Amidst that brushing, “men lose all scruples about freely sacrificing particular interests and trampling private rights.” It is plainly the concern of the NR’s writer here, Richard Reinsch, that Mueller is the one doing the trampling, and that Cohen along with others on Trump’s political team, are being sacrificed by the excesses of democracy.
Although Reinsch is vague about specifics of the trampling he has in mind, presumably at least part of his concern is that the raids on Cohen’s home and office risk violating old principles of lawyer-client confidentiality.
Reinsch is also critical of deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein for appointing Mueller with a vague mandate, in violation of the relevant federal regulations governing special counsel. Reinsch does’t remain within the confines of Tocqueville’s texts here, he cites former US attorney Andrew McCarthy on the anti-Rosenstein point.
Meanwhile at a right wing blog called The Conservative Treehouse, one writer finds it alarming that Kimba Wood, the judge making determinations about the investigation of Michael Cohen, “is the same person who officiated George Soros’ wedding.” Anything that can be related to Soros in any way is, on a common right wing view, deeply tainted.
Although the conservative attitude toward the Mueller probe in general has been unfriendly, this has not translated into axiomatic acceptance of Cohen’s claims as he has resisted its discovery proceedings. In American Conservative, Bruce Fein (who was associate deputy attorney general under Ronald Reagan) has clarified for his fellow conservatives that the law on attorney-client privilege “only protects communications pertinent to the receipt of legal advice, not everything in an attorney’s office.” Fein doesn’t think the Mueller investigation re Cohen is “pushing the edge of the law” at all.
Left Wing View
On twitter, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D) of California’s 43d district, offers Cohen advice: “flip, flop, do the drop.”
Liberal blog The Palmer Report says that Mueller’s team, whom it refers to simply as “the Feds,” have “begun setting everyone around Cohen on fire” in hopes of increasing the pressure on him to take Waters’ advice. TPR observes that the Feds have recently subpoenaed the National Enquirer and its poohbah, David Pecker, due to the high level of Enquirer coordination with Cohen, and through him with the Trump campaign, during the election campaign. The Enquirer may have been sending its front covers and articles to Cohen for approval.
TPR is not only in that observation, Many better-known publications or news platforms have shared these juice bits about the Enquirer.
Given the pressures on him, and the range of non-public information about President Trump to which Cohen is presumed to be privy, Donny Deutsch, on Ari Melber’s cable show, said: “If I were Donald Trump — and this is me speaking, not Michael Cohen — I would be very worried.”
That segment of The Beat with Ari Melber was titled “Michael Cohen’s Fee Deal.” That is a pun on the phrase “plea deal,” but it also illustrates another common element in the leftward response to Cohen and Trump. The high legal fees that his precarious legal situation imposes upon him, and his disillusionment that Trump is not covering those fees for him, is said to be pushing him toward a flip.
The fact that the President isn’t paying these fees, and Cohen’s unhappiness on that point, is the nut of a story on these matters by Max de Haldevang, in Quartz. De Haldevang relates the non-payment to POTUS’ public distancing of himself from Cohen and Cohen’s difficulties, and quotes Trump saying “I haven’t spoken to Michael in a long time.”
Many in the press, left and right, have also been profiling Cohen’s new lawyer, and speculating on the role he, Guy Petrillo, might play in whatever deal Cohen now makes. Petrillo has been an assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) in the ‘90s when he worked both in the appellate division and in narcotics and, later, in 2008-09, he returned to that office to serve as head of the SDNY criminal division.
Hiring Petrillo likely means that something is afoot.
A Final Thought
And ‘90s comedian Tom Arnold is somehow involved in all this, although no one really knows why. Arnold claimed that he and Cohen were “teaming up to take Trump down,” and talking about how they would be spending the weekend together. Cohen politely but firmly denied this, and Arnold backed away from the claim. There was a minor tweet storm over the weekend about this odd aspect of the Cohen/Trump matter in itself.