Cohen signals closer cooperation in bid to stem prison term
By JIM MUSTIAN
Friday, March 1
NEW YORK (AP) — With prison looming, Michael Cohen now says he’s in “constant contact” with federal prosecutors in New York, providing them with information in an attempt to get his sentence reduced.
That would be a big turnaround from three months ago, when prosecutors told a judge that President Donald Trump’s estranged ex-lawyer deserved hardly any credit for the information he’d given law enforcement. Back then, prosecutors said Cohen was exaggerating his helpfulness while keeping his mouth shut about some subjects.
Cohen told members of a House committee during hours of testimony Wednesday that he couldn’t discuss details of the work he was doing with prosecutors, but he dropped several tantalizing hints.
When U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat, asked Cohen if he was aware of “any other wrongdoing or illegal act regarding Donald Trump” that hadn’t been discussed at the hearing, Cohen said “yes,” but he couldn’t talk about it.
“Those are part of the investigation that’s currently being looked at by the Southern District of New York,” he said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan declined to comment, but it has already revealed in court filings that it has an ongoing investigation into potential campaign finance violations. It has also subpoenaed the committee that raised $107 million to stage Trump’s inaugural events.
Cohen hinted there were other probes that hadn’t yet been disclosed.
At one point, Krishnamoorthi asked Cohen to describe the last communication he had with Trump or “someone acting on his behalf.”
Cohen said that last communication happened within two months of the FBI raiding his home and office in April 2018, but he couldn’t talk about what was said.
“Unfortunately, this topic is actually something that’s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York,” Cohen responded, “and I’ve been asked by them not to discuss it.”
Cohen was one of Trump’s closest advisers before he pleaded guilty to tax crimes, fraud, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations. Cohen’s lawyers had touted his cooperation with investigators before he was sentenced to three years in prison in December. But at that time prosecutors pushed back.
Cohen, they said in a scathing court filing, did not deserve to be called a “cooperating witness,” even after he admitted to a host of financial crimes and implicated the president in coordinating payments to two women who were threatening to talk publicly about their affairs with Trump.
He had refused to discuss certain subjects of interest to investigators, they said, or to give them a full debriefing on any criminal acts he may have committed in the past.
But on Wednesday, Cohen said he’s hoping through his continued cooperation to persuade prosecutors to file a so-called Rule 35 motion, an unusual court filing in which prosecutors ask a judge to reduce someone’s sentence for providing “substantial assistance” in a criminal investigation.
“If those investigations become fruitful, then there is a possibility for a Rule 35 motion,” Cohen told the committee.
Under Southern District of New York guidelines, Cohen’s chances of having his sentence reduced depend on his willingness to submit to debriefings he eschewed before sentencing, said Jennifer Rodgers, a former prosecutor in the district who now lectures at Columbia Law School.
“The question for the Southern District now is whether they’ll stick to their normal procedures of requiring cooperators to do that,” Rodgers said. “It’s not a hard and fast rule from the Justice Department but rather a practice of the Southern District.”
Cohen’s testimony was also followed closely by state prosecutors in New York. Delaney Kempner, a spokeswoman for New York Attorney General Letitia James, said the office was “reviewing Michael Cohen’s testimony carefully to determine if it will impact any ongoing proceeding or investigation that the office is undertaking.”
Cohen has met with the New York attorney general’s office regarding its investigation into Trump’s charitable foundation, provided the office with documents “concerning a separate open inquiry,” and cooperated with requests from the state’s tax department, his attorneys said in court filing before his December sentencing.
A few more clues about what prosecutors might have on their radar could come when a court, sometime in the coming weeks, releases documents related to the searchers on Cohen’s home and office in April.
Federal prosecutors filed court papers Thursday identifying portions of search warrants they say should be blacked out when they are made public.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report
Democrats eye new inquiries, witnesses after Cohen testimony
By MARY CLARE JALONICK, ERIC TUCKER and LAURIE KELLMAN
Friday, March 1
WASHINGTON (AP) — After three days of grilling Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Democrats are quickly using his words as a roadmap to open new lines of investigation into the president’s ties to Russia and summon additional witnesses.
Cohen completed a third day of testimony on Capitol Hill Thursday, one day after publicly branding his former boss a racist and a con man who lied about business dealings in Russia and directed him to conceal extramarital relationships. He was interviewed behind closed doors by the House Intelligence Committee for more than eight hours.
As he left the House intelligence interview, Cohen said he would be returning to Capitol Hill on March 6 for another round of questioning with that panel.
The weeklong gauntlet of interviews with Cohen launched what is expected to be months of investigations of Trump and those connected to him. Multiple Democrat-led House committees are pledging to investigate not only Trump’s campaign’s ties to Russia, which are also the subject of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, but presidential conflicts of interest, possible money laundering and other oversight matters that Democrats say were ignored under GOP control.
House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff called the closed-door session with Cohen productive and said lawmakers were able to “drill down in great detail” on issues they are investigating. Another Democratic committee member, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, said Cohen “has been asked, based on a lot of new evidence we learned today, to bring corroborating materials that he believes he has.”
Schiff said the committee will hear from Felix Sater, a Russia-born executive who worked with Cohen on an ultimately unsuccessful deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, in an open hearing March 14.
In addition, a committee aide said the panel also anticipates inviting Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to testify. Cohen mentioned the Trump Organization chief financial officer several times in his public House Oversight testimony, linking him to hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with Donald Trump. Trump denies the affair.
The Oversight Committee is also planning on calling additional witnesses after Cohen’s testimony. The committee’s chairman, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, indicated the panel could bring in a broad swath of people that Cohen mentioned in Wednesday’s hearing. He told reporters that his panel is poring over the transcript and anyone mentioned multiple times has a chance of hearing from them.
Based on who was mentioned in the hearing, possible witnesses could include Weisselberg and two of the president’s children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump. Daniels was also mentioned frequently.
Cohen, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to Congress about the Moscow real estate project and reports to prison in May for a three-year sentence, gave harsh testimony about Trump on several fronts Wednesday. He said Trump knew in advance that damaging emails about Democrat Hillary Clinton would be released during the 2016 campaign — a claim the president has denied — and accused Trump of lying during the 2016 campaign about the Moscow deal.
Cohen also said Trump directed him to arrange the hush money payment to Daniels. He said the president arranged to reimburse Cohen, and Cohen brought to the hearing a check that he said was proof of the transaction.
He said prosecutors in New York were investigating conversations Trump or his advisers had with him after his office and hotel room were raided by the FBI last April. Cohen said he could not discuss that conversation, the last contact he said he has had with the president or anyone acting on his behalf, because it remains under investigation.
Two of Trump’s most vocal defenders, GOP Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, sent a referral to the Justice Department alleging Cohen lied in his testimony. Their letter to Attorney General William Barr details several Cohen statements they said were false, including claims that he “never defrauded any bank” and did not want a job in Trump’s White House.
They pointed to Cohen’s guilty plea for making false statements to a banking institution and to court filings that say Cohen told friends he wanted a White House job.
Cohen’s testimony unfolded as Trump was in Vietnam meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said he tried to watch as much of Cohen’s marathon hearing as he could. Trump called the hearing “fake” and said it was a “terrible thing” for Democrats to hold it during his summit.
He seized on Cohen’s concession that he had no direct evidence that Trump or his aides colluded with Russia to get him elected, the primary question of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Trump said he was a “little impressed” that Cohen had said that to the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Cohen, shaking off incessant criticism from Republicans , was the first Trump insider to pull back the curtain on a version of the inner workings of Trump’s political and business operations. He likened the president to a “mobster” who demanded blind loyalty from underlings and expected them to lie on his behalf.
“My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything: my family’s happiness, friendships, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honor, my reputation and soon my freedom,” Cohen said. “I will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.”
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Chad Day, Michael Balsamo and Colleen Long contributed to this report.
Follow all of AP’s Trump Investigations coverage at https://apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations
What Michael Cohen’s betrayal reveals about our messed-up workplace loyalties
Updated February 28, 2019
Author: Elizabeth C. Tippett, Associate Professor, School of Law, University of Oregon
Disclosure statement: Elizabeth C. Tippett made a donation to Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign. She is not a member of any political party.
Partners: University of Oregon provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
During Michael Cohen’s Feb. 27 testimony, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar asked the former Trump lawyer and fixer about his legal duties to the president.
“I’m sure you remember, maybe you don’t remember, duty of loyalty, duty of confidentiality, attorney-client privilege,” he said, implying that Cohen’s testimony was a betrayal of his former employer.
It was the ultimate betrayal.
Besides detailing allegations of wrongdoing, Cohen went out of his way to repudiate Trump, calling him a “racist,” “con man” and “cheat.” Like a rueful divorcee, Cohen recounted one Trump-related misdeed after another, repeating “and yet, I continued to work for him.”
I have spent the last nine months working on a book about the duties we owe to our employers and how they’ve changed over time. For me, there was something familiar – albeit extreme and repugnant – about Cohen’s initial loyalty and eventual public rebuke of the most famous boss in the country.
Gosar brings up Cohen’s ‘duty of loyalty.’
The duty of loyalty is the idea that you should not cheat, rob, undermine or disclose the secrets of the person or entity you represent. This duty is especially strong for lawyers, because the acts they undertake on behalf of their clients are binding upon their clients, sometimes in life-altering ways.
But the duty of loyalty also applies to most employees as part of their employment relationship. And the duty of loyalty is deeply embedded in both our legal and social fabric. In fact, New York still follows a legal concept known as the “faithless servant” doctrine, which allows companies to recover wages paid to an employee proven to have been disloyal.
Cohen’s testimony was a stunning reversal from his past professions of devotion. In 2017, Cohen told Vanity Fair that he turned down a US$10 million book offer, insisting “There’s no money in the world that could get me to disclose anything about them.” In that same interview, Cohen said, “I’m the guy who stops the leaks. I’m the guy who protects the president and the family. I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.”
He didn’t end up taking a bullet. But he did incur a prison sentence for criminal conduct, some of which was done on the president’s behalf and, according to Cohen, behest.
We’re in a weird time when it comes to our relationships with our employers, which, like Cohen, reflect strong attachment and loyalty.
At a time when trust in many institutions – like the federal government, the church, the medical system and the media – is quite low, Americans trust their employer above all.
A survey by the Edelman group found that 80 percent of the Americans they surveyed trust their employer, and at higher rates than many countries in Europe. Americans have also been staying with their employer longer, rising from a median of 3.5 years in 1983 to 4.6 years today.
We also tend to worship work, as Derek Thompson recently wrote for The Atlantic. Millennials, despite their reputation, place almost as much trust in the workplace as baby boomers. The internet is replete with content evangelizing productivity hacks, work inspiration and the promise that waking up at 5 a.m. to answer email will be the best thing you’ve never done.
Edward Snowden may have violated U.S. law, yet most Americans deem him a whistle blower.
A trend toward betrayal
Yet we are also witnessing a countervailing trend – a broader cultural acceptance of those who speak out publicly against their employer.
In the 1980s, few state courts offered protection for whistle blowers who exposed wrongdoing at work. Now most states do, and there’s a similar trend at the federal level.
Courts and politicians are likely following a cultural shift. And with it comes a grudging recognition that whistle blowers – even one as tainted as Cohen – are imperfect, and may be compromised in numerous ways that color but do not necessarily cancel out the public function of their disclosure.
Consider, for example, Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked highly classified information about government surveillance, and fled to Russia. Snowden comes nowhere close to fitting an idealized image of a whistle blower, and he may very well have violated the Espionage Act. Yet a 2013 poll found that more than half of Americans across the political spectrum considered him a whistle blower.
The increased latitude we give whistle blowers is also visible in the whistle blower bounty in the Dodd-Frank financial reform statute. Under the law, whistle blowers get to share up to 30 percent of the amount the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recovers for securities fraud.
Americans have, apparently, made peace with the idea that someone with a selfish motive might still have useful information.
A whistle blower or just a liar?
Reconciling the two
These two countervailing cultural tendencies seem, at first, impossible to reconcile, in the same way that it seems bizarre for Michael Cohen to go from professing an undying loyalty to Trump, to condemning him before Congress, while also insisting that “he can and he is doing things that are great.”
Perhaps, as some Republican lawmakers argue, he is just a “pathological liar,” with a record of criminal conduct entirely unrelated to the president. But perhaps Cohen is an exaggerated – and highly unflattering – portrait of our noncriminal loyalty to our less famous employers. In other words, the grand public betrayal is made possible by our excess of loyalty.
After all, Cohen wouldn’t have had so many secrets to spill had he not been devoutly loyal to Trump for so long.