Lefty Jonathan Chait noticed that no one in Trump’s orbit seems to dismiss the “Will Cohen flip?” question as unimportant since, after all, surely he and the president have committed no crimes together. The assumption seems to be that Cohen really might have information that could place Trump in dire legal jeopardy, in which case Cohen’s willingness to cooperate with the feds is hugely consequential both for POTUS himself and the country.
No one thinks Cohen would turn on Trump in lieu of serving a light sentence of a few years, but if the sentence is stiff, all bets are off. Which raises another question: What could Michael Cohen have possibly done that might warrant decades potentially in a federal pen?
In any case, Trump lawyer Jay Goldberg has two words for POTUS: Be careful.
‘Anybody who is facing 30 years never stands up,” Goldberg says he told the President. “Without exception, a person facing a prison term cooperates.”
Goldberg also added that in addition to cooperation, the person “may also wear a wire.”
Goldberg was adamant that anyone facing a long prison term “will testify because they need the government’s affection,” he said. “That way, the government can say they have testified in a truthful manner.”
It’s not just Goldberg who’s worried:
“That’s what they’ll threaten him with: life imprisonment,” said Alan Dershowitz, the liberal lawyer and frequent Trump defender who met with the president and his staff over two days at the White House last week. “They’re going to threaten him with a long prison term and try to turn him into a canary that sings.”…
“I think for two years or four years or five years, Michael Cohen would be a stand-up guy. I think he’d tell them go piss up a rope. But depending on dollars involved, which can be a big driver, or if they look at him and say it’s not two to four years, it’s 18 to 22, then how loyal is he?” said one defense lawyer who represents a senior Trump aide in Mueller’s Russia investigation.
“Is he two years loyal? Is he 10 years loyal? Is he 15 years loyal?” the attorney added. “That’s the currency. It’s not measured in inches. It’s measured in years.”
The X factor is the pardon power. Pardoning Cohen would look even sleazier than pardoning Mike Flynn would. Trump has spent months calling Russiagate a partisan witch hunt so he could sell a Flynn pardon along those lines. Flynn served his country nobly for years, he made a mistake, he doesn’t deserve to be humiliated with prison time arising out of a dubious, politically motivated investigation, etc. None of those arguments are available to sell a Cohen pardon. He’s an old-school Trump hanger-on from the private sector. He’s known to the public mainly for paying hush money to Trump’s ex-girlfriends and threatening reporters working on unflattering stories. His crimes, if there are any, are unlikely to have anything to do with politics. They’ll be business- or campaign-finance-related. Pardoning him would be pure cronyism and would reek of Trump wanting to protect himself by short-circuiting the feds’ leverage over Cohen. It would be a much clearer-cut attempt to obstruct justice (whether or not it could be charged as such) than, say, firing James Comey was.
But if it’s a choice between pardoning Cohen and risking him turning on Trump, it’s an easy choice. Trump will suffer a nuclear blast of outrage from his critics if he were to pardon Cohen, but the blast won’t last forever in the public imagination like criminal allegations fueled by Cohen’s testimony would. The wrinkle is that, once pardoned, Cohen would no longer be able to claim his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in refusing to testify about his business with Trump. But that’s no biggie: Cohen would refuse to testify anyway, would be sent to jail for contempt for a short while, and then be released a la Susan McDougal to a hero’s welcome in TrumpWorld. He protected the boss! He did his duty. The only way to outmaneuver Trump and Cohen on a pardon would be for New York state prosecutors to swoop in afterward and charge Cohen with state offenses, to which Trump’s pardon power *probably* wouldn’t apply. But that’s ambiguous. Just yesterday, the anti-Trump state attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, lobbied Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature to close a loophole by which federal pardons might prevent state prosecutions on double jeopardy grounds.
Which raises another question. If Schneiderman’s request gains traction in Democratic-run New York State, will Trump rush to pardon Cohen before the new NY law about double jeopardy goes into effect?
Oh — in other Cohen news today, he’s dropped his libel lawsuit against BuzzFeed and Fusion GPS over the claims about him in the Steele dossier. Maaaaaybe that’s because the McClatchy report from last week is true, that there’s evidence that he was in Prague in 2016 after all. More likely, though, Cohen’s motive was the same as the National Enquirer’s in letting Karen McDougal out of her catch-and-kill deal: They’re both under federal scrutiny right now and don’t want to be subject to any new discovery demands from lawyers. Better to take the loss and keep quiet than have to face a hard choice about coughing up potentially incriminating information in pursuit of a victory that was unlikely to happen to begin with.