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Michael Cohen, anti-hero

Michael Cohen, anti-hero

by digby


My Salon column this morning:

Last June, after Michael Cohen pled guilty to a number of federal crimes, including paying hush money on behalf of the President of the United States, he came forward and talked to ABC's  George Stephanopoulos and said he wanted to "do the right thing for his family." I wrote at the time that he seemed to be contemplating becoming the John Dean of the Trump Russia scandal, quoting Vanity Fair's Emily Jane Fox reporting that people were coming up to Cohen on the street saying he could be a hero if he stepped up and told the truth.

No one really expected him to do that at the time. After all, he had said he'd take a bullet for Trump. But it turned out that for all Cohen's loyalty to Trump it wasn't reciprocated. Trump had a fit when the feds served their search warrant on Cohen's office but almost immediately turned on his old friend, behaving as if he hardly knew him. In truth, Trump had been treating Cohen like a lackey for years, denying him respect and refusing to bring him into the White House despite it being his fondest wish to be treated like family.

Looking at years of jail time and the loss of all your property tends to focus the mind and Cohen wised up. He realized that he had been abandoned and would have to save himself. He hired an old Washington hand, Lanny Davis, and threw himself at Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, practically begging him for a chance to tell everything he knew about the unethical and illegal activities of the President of the United States. You can imagine it was a heady feeling to have that kind of power over the man he believed had betrayed him.

Mueller played hard to get. Cohen was not offered one of those cooperation agreements like Manafort and Flynn. The prosecutors didn't seem very interested in what he might have to say. There were sporadic reports of him talking to them but it was as if they were just indulging a desperate man. That was wrong. They were listening and they were just biding their time. On Thursday, in a move that surprised everyone, including the White House which only got a heads up just before it happened, Cohen appeared in court and pled guilty to lying to Congress about his dealings with Trump and Russia. This is the first time that Trump himself has been connected to the Russia conspiracy in a court of law.

It was first reported back in 2017 that Trump had been negotiating a Trump Tower deal in Moscow during the first few months of the Republican primary. Trump signed a letter of intent in October of 2015 and supposedly the deal fell through that  December.  Last spring Buzzflash further reported that this negotiation had actually continued all the way up until June 2016 after Trump had clinched the nomination. Cohen and Trump denied it and it seemed not to make much of an impression on the public although it probably should have. On Thursday that story was confirmed.

It had been reported that the Trump organization's partner in the deal, a fascinating character and old friend of both Trump's and Cohen's named Felix Sater,  had bragged to Cohen that he could get to Putin, telling the lawyer, “buddy, our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.”  That's an odd statement, to say the least.  Until yesterday it was assumed that this was just hyperbole between the two old friends. As it turns out, Cohen actually dealt directly with the Kremlin, as well as a former General with Russian Military Intelligence,  while Trump was cinching the presidential nomination.  And he testified that he kept Trump and members of the family (assumed to be Don Jr and Ivanka) apprised throughout the campaign about how the deal was going.

And that's not all. Buzzfeed reported last night that they planned to offer Vladimir Putin a 50 million dollar "gift" of a penthouse in the new building. It's unknown if Trump was aware of that but you can bet they wouldn't have ever followed through on such a thing without his ok. As it happens the deal was abruptly canceled on the day the DNC hack was publicly reported, just before Cohen was slated to fly to Russia to prepare for Trump to make the same trip after the convention to seal the deal.

Trump told the voters that he knew nothing of Russia.  He said it over and over again. Yet his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort,  was 20 million dollars in debt to a Russian oligarch and his oldest buddy, Roger Stone, was plotting with Russian hackers and Wikileaks to sabotage Hillary Clinton's campaign. His chief foreign policy adviser, Michael Flynn, was on video cozying up to Putin and had to resign after it was reported that he reassured the Russian ambassador that they were going to lift sanctions the Obama administration imposed for interfering in the election on Trump's behalf. Two others, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos had strange ties and contacts with Russians during the campaign, one of whom is doing time in jail today for lying to the feds about it.

And now we know Trump's personal lawyer was secretly negotiating with the Kremlin for a Moscow Trump Tower development as the candidate was fawning over Vladimir Putin on the campaign trail like a moonstruck schoolgirl.

Whether or not what Trump did was technically illegal is beside the point. Trump lied to the American people about all of it --- and the Kremlin knew he lied. It's easy to imagine that Trump's good friend Vladimir Putin may have reminded him about that in those private meetings they like so much. It's not as sexy as some of the other rumored kompromat but it's got teeth.

Trump canceled his meeting with Putin at the G-20 that was set for this week-end. He said it was because of the recent skirmishes between Russia and Ukraine. More likely Trump just didn't want to face him. After all, all this was supposed to be their little secret.

In Emily Jane Fox's latest story about Cohen she describes him getting into his car outside the courthouse yesterday as a skateboarder rides by and shouts,  “Yo! That’s Michael Cohen. You’re gonna take down Trump!”   Maybe if Trump had shown just a little more loyalty to his man Cohen he wouldn't be in this position. No one with Trump's ethics should ever make his lawyer into his enemy.


Here are a couple of videos from yesterday: