Michael Cohen sat before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday for the last of four sessions. His story is far from over.
The Wall Street Journal reports that President Trump’s embattled former attorney and fixer told his lawyer last year to look into the possibility of a presidential pardon. Lanny Davis, who currently represents Cohen but did not at the time of the pardon inquiry, confirmed the WSJ‘s reporting, which at least on the surface appears to contradict some of his client’s testimony. While appearing publicly before the House Oversight Committee last week, Cohen claimed that he never sought a pardon from his former boss. “I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from Mr. Trump,” he said.
NEWS: Michael Cohen *directed* his attorney last spring to inquire with Trump's lawyers about the possibility of a presidential pardon.
Cohen told the Oversight Committee last week: “I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from Mr. Trump.” https://t.co/CUJfnugHhI
— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) March 7, 2019
Cohen’s pardon request came in the weeks following the FBI’s April 2018 raid of his office, apartment and hotel room. Four months later, Cohen pleaded guilty to several crimes, including campaign finance violations both Cohen and the Southern District of New York say were directed by Trump. In December, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison.
Davis acknowledged to the WSJ that in the period following the FBI’s raid, Cohen was open to the possibility of a pardon, and characterized discussions between Cohen’s attorney at the time, Stephen Ryan, and Trump lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani, as the “ongoing ‘dangling’ of a possible pardon by Trump representatives privately and in the media.”
So ,Cohen lied to the House Oversight Committee, right?
Not exactly, according to Davis, whom Cohen hired last summer after Ryan and Trump’s lawyers finished reviewing the files seized by the FBI to determine which of them were protected under attorney-client privilege. “After July 2, 2018, Mr. Cohen authorized me as a new lawyer to say publicly Mr. Cohen would never accept a pardon from President Trump even if offered,” Davis told the WSJ. “That continues to be the case. His statement at the Oversight Hearing was true — and consistent with his post-joint defense agreement commitment to tell the truth.”
The issue gets to the heart of the bizarre before-and-after contrast of the period when Cohen said he’d “take a bullet” for Trump and the period after it became clear the president wasn’t going to bail him out of legal jeopardy. Following his testimony last week, Trump tried to blur this line by citing Cohen’s early-2018 proposal to write a pro-Trump book as proof his comments disparaging the president before Congress were untruthful. Cohen’s testimony, however, included an admission that he lied for Trump repeatedly, and such a book proposal would have been consistent with his behavior during this period.
Nevertheless, House Republicans, led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) have repeatedly cited Cohen’s past corruption as evidence that nothing he said before Congress last week should be taken seriously. But since Cohen hired Davis, turned on Trump and began cooperating with federal investigators, he has at least appeared to be telling the truth in regard to several key aspects of his dealings with the president. His claim about Trump directing him to pay off Stormy Daniels has been corroborated by the SDNY, and he’s provided several authenticating documents to Congress, including a copy a $35,000 reimbursement check for the payment to Daniels that Trump signed while in office.
Though Trump has said he had no knowledge of the payment, he seemed to acknowledge it on Thursday morning, tweeting that it did not constitute a campaign finance violation because it was not a campaign contribution. (The Department of Justice disagrees.)
It was not a campaign contribution, and there were no violations of the campaign finance laws by me. Fake News!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2019
Despite the overwhelming evidence that Trump appears to have violated campaign finance law, Senate Republicans don’t seem too concerned. On Tuesday, they said they have no plans to investigate the president’s role in the hush money payments. “We’ll let the justice system work its way,” said Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI). “I want to see the definitive information as opposed to show-trial type testimony at congressional hearings.”
While Republicans continue to kick the can down the road, Michael Cohen is scheduled to begin a three-year prison term on May 6th, due in no small part to his role in the payments. Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s policy of not indicting a sitting president has insulated Trump from facing any legal ramifications. This could be the case for a while. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that people close to the president have predicted he will run for re-election in 2020 partly “because of his legal exposure if he is not president.” Just as the Founding Fathers intended.