For Family and Country: The Questions Michael Cohen Won’t (Yet) Answer

Yesterday, Michael Cohen continued his public campaign to get an invitation from Robert Mueller to flip on Donald Trump with a(nother) interview with George Stephanopoulos. This interview clearly reflects the coaching of his new attorney, Guy Petrillo.

“Once I understand what charges might be filed against me, if any at all, I will defer to my new counsel, Guy Petrillo, for guidance.”

And while Cohen has actually always been complimentary of the FBI agents who raided his home, he has gotten downright effusive about the fact-finding wonders of federal prosecutors, and even condemned the Russian attack.

“I respect the prosecutors. I respect the process,” Cohen said. “I would not do or say anything that might be perceived as interfering with their professional review of the evidence and the facts.”


“I don’t like the term witch hunt,” he said, adding that he condemned Russia for interfering in the 2016 election.

“As an American, I repudiate Russia’s or any other foreign government’s attempt to interfere or meddle in our democratic process, and I would call on all Americans to do the same,” he said.

The big headline quote comes where he vows to put his family and country ahead of Donald Trump’s interests (the latter, in my mind, is the more interesting).

“To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty.”

I’m most interested, though, in the questions that Petrillo has coached Cohen to remain silent on. Cohen does answer a few questions, asserting Mueller will find he had no improper dealings with Russia and that those who attended the June 9 meetings were idiots for doing so.

Cohen believes Mueller will not find any evidence that he had any illegal or improper dealings with the Russians.

But Cohen did criticize those members of the Trump campaign who participated in that now infamous Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 with several Russians after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

“I believe it was a mistake by those from the Trump campaign who did participate,” he said. “It was simply an example of poor judgment.”

But Cohen smartly got quiet when asked about crimes he himself might be accused of.

Prosecutors in New York’s Southern District are investigating Cohen for alleged violations of election law and possible financial crimes associated with his personal business dealings.

He has not been charged with any crime. But on the advice of his attorney, Cohen declined to address specific questions about matters currently under investigation.

He won’t repeat his earlier answers as to whether he or Trump decided to pay off Stormy Daniels.

I asked Cohen if the president directed him to make that payment or promised to reimburse him. In the past, Cohen has said that he acted on his own initiative.

Not this time.

“I want to answer. One day I will answer,” he said. “But for now, I can’t comment further on advice of my counsel.”

The big one, though, pertains to whether Cohen knew whether Trump knew about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting before it happened.

When I asked Cohen if President Trump knew about that meeting before it happened, he declined to answer.

“I can’t comment under advice of my counsel due to the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York,” Cohen said.

That information — what Trump knew about the June 9 meeting before it happened — is what Cohen is publicly offering up to Mueller’s team in an effort to minimize his own criminal penalties.

Which pretty much confirms that Trump did know about it.

54 replies
  1. Trip says:

    Let’s hope he redeems himself in no small fashion. His motive (and means) may be to protect his own ass, but the ends may be a great service to democracy. We shall see. Maybe he doesn’t have enough ‘goods’ to get a deal with Mueller. Or perhaps his own crimes are too great.

  2. Trip says:

    Enter Cohen’s perpetual thorn (and honey badger), Avenatti:

    Michael Avenatti‏Verified account @MichaelAvenatti

    Mr. Cohen is trying to get Trump to pay his legal bills & is playing games. If he has info & truly loves this country then he needs to come forward NOW. There is nothing stopping him. If not, it will be obvious he lied to the public in an effort to paint himself as a good guy.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Mickey must have given up on the Don paying his legal bills.  His signal that he’s happy to talk to Mueller will have buried that idea.  Cooperating will reduce them significantly over putting up a full-throated defense.

      Ditto with the pardon.  The pardon only works as a carrot to keep Mickey from talking.  Once, he talks or even makes a proffer of what he might talk about, the cat’s out of the bag as far as Trump is concerned.  At that point, for Trump it would be all stick.  He would want to punish Mickey and, in good don fashion, anyone who matters to him.

      • emptywheel says:

        I bet that when Don didn’t pay for the entire Special Master fees, if not his lawyers to assert 4A on Trump’s behalf, that was already made clear.

  3. jharp says:

    I’ve always thought it beyond belief that Trump was ignorant of the meeting before it happened.

    And the fact that Trump and his team have concealed his knowledge of the meeting tells me they were well aware it was a big no no to take the meeting.

    • William Bennett says:

      At the very least, they knew that Russia was looking to interfere in the election, because the FBI had informed both campaigns and asked them to be on the alert for such activity. Under those circumstances, to go ahead and accept such a meeting in the first place is bad enough, but then to fail to inform the FBI about it after the fact, irrespective of the outcome, was already so egregious that “poor judgment” or naivete doesn’t remotely cover it. IANAL, but if that’s not your mens rea right there then I have no idea what is. The only legitimate response to the original come-on was to report it to the FBI. Galling stupidity might just barely account for the decision to go ahead and take the meeting if you squint really really hard, but even then the only legitimate action after the fact would have been the same: report it to the FBI. There’s no third alternative.

  4. sdemetri says:

    When asked about the June 9th meeting and Trump knowing about it he’s instructed by his attorney not to discuss because of the SDNY’s investigation… Not Mueller’s? That’s interesting. I’ve missed a lot in this whole complicated saga but what interest does the SDNY have in that meeting? This is new to me.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Money Laundering and/or Illegal Campaign money usage has to be involved.

      Note Cohen now mum on the $130K payment.

      What if the $130K actually never came from Cohen’s pocket, but came from another group (not trump himself), but he just said that he paid from his own pocket, in an attempt to protect the president?

      If this is what happened, believe Cohen understands rat-fucking now.

  5. Willis Warren says:

    It’s pretty obvious that tRUmp knew about the Russian interference before it happened.  He was alluding to the election being rigged and had specific numbers about how many illegals voted, and all kinds of shenanigans that suggested he was in on the whole thing from the beginning.  I’m curious about what crime it would be to knowingly assist a foreign gov’t interfering in our election.

    The June 9th meeting, when we find out about it in detail, was probably a progress report.  It was part of Russia’s “Continuing efforts to support” his campaign, whatever that means.

  6. pseudonymous in nc says:

    So Mikey the Medallion replaced his mall lawyers with a serious white-collar defense attorney who plans to end the information-sharing agreement with the Family Business? Hm.

    Also notable that David Broidy very publicly withheld a payment to Shera Béchard, citing a breach of the NDA by Keith Davidson. (Though Broidy broke the NDA when the initial WSJ story ran.) That news broke after Stephanopoulos spoke to Cohen on Saturday night, otherwise it might have made it into the conversation. The timing might not be a coincidence. And Béchard is presumably free to speak whenever her lawyers think it appropriate.

    • Bob Conyers says:

      Could you expand on the implications here?

      I know the rumors that Broidy didn’t have the affair and abortion, Trump did, and Broidy just paid the hush money. But it’s not clear to me how this would fit in, if that is even the case. Would it somehow signify cooperation with Mueller or SDNY on Trump?

      Or would this be something just related to Cohen? Or has he been feeling separate legal pressure, maybe from an attorney for Bechard?

      • RWood says:

        Does anyone really believe Broidy didn’t take the fall for Drump in return for a favor down the road? I wonder what the evangelicals will say when that is revealed as fact? Might have some impact on his SCOTUS nomination.

        • Bob Conyers says:

          Considering Broidy’s history, I can believe it, although there are so many crazy twists I can always be open to other possibilities – it was Don Jr. who got in trouble, or she’s Trump’s daughter, or something involving identical twins and an illegally imported giant panda….

      • lamsmy says:

        IANAL, but it appears that if the “Broidy impregnated Playboy bunny” was a cover story for Trump, then Broidy’s payments to Bechard would amount to illegal campaign contributions.

        If Broidy has a reason to believe that Cohen might soon reveal the truth behind this story, doesn’t it make sense that he stop payments tout suite? To stop digging the hole so to speak?

    • Avattoir says:

      We got “Mickey Medallions” awready. Now you say “Mikey the Medallion”? In the singuller? What’s wid dat? Eh, I got a guy by dis here plant: com’on out, Runyan.

      • Trip says:

        Mickey Medallions, (multiple/plural), ’cause he tried to hoard ownership when they were prized and pricey.

        Also, I vote FlynnFoil hatters, BTW.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    As EW notes, Mickey signaling that he has something to trade pretty much says there’s something there.  If he were proffering a nothing burger, the Feds would be inclined to come down hard and heavy on other crimes they might have on him. Since his current lawyers are less Park Avenue and more Center Street, it’s most unlikely Mickey is offering a nothing burger.

    But I think Avenatti’s right: Mickey is working hard to be a victim and valuable witness instead of the job he spent over a decade doing: being Donald Trump’s lawyer fixer. The price of that transfiguration would be lots of hard evidence on the Don that would stand up in court and on appeal.

  8. Nanute says:

    Couldn’t this also be a signal to Trump? Which raises the question: If Trump were to issue a pardon,  pre-trial, and Cohen implicates Trump in the matter, could that lead to an obstruction charge against the president*?


  9. Dev Null says:

    I thought this was interesting:

    Once Petrillo fully assumes his role, a joint defense agreement Cohen shared with the president, which allowed their lawyers to share information and documents with each other, will come to an end, ABC News has learned.

    (from the ABC post…)

    EDIT: Ah, I see that PinNC made reference to this.

  10. bmaz says:

    Yeah, what exactly is Cohen “signaling”? If you buy into the @NYTimes and other major media bullshit, including @ABC, you would see the meme.

    I wonder where actual lawyers, which now supposedly involved come into play? Cohen, via Petrillo, still has one.

  11. orionATL says:

    it is hard to know who cohen is working or why.

    in the first place, the jurisdiction of concern to him at the momment is sdny to which mueller referred him. so he might be angling to get out of that jurisdistion for some reason and move on to mueller’s grand jury symposium. what is he charged with there vs might he charged with with.. mueller?

    in the second place, if cohen wants to talk to mueller he has only to pick up the phone. he does not need to appear on teevee. is cohen talking out loud to mueller or trump

    thirdly, cohen, in speaking out publicly, is sounding like a chasened, contrite michael flynn, which could as easily be an implied threat to trump – lend me a hand or i’ll pull michael.

    all this drama may be for naught if the house republicans do what i think they are determined to do – impeach and remove rosenstein in order to protect trump in general, but more specifically to protect their president from another obstruction charge for his having to fire rosenstein in order to end the mueller investigation before it can make public its findings of russian interference in the 2016 election with the active communication and cooperation of the trump campaign, in short, that russia and trump colluded.

    right now mueller has cohen, manafort, and stone in his sights and he’s proven a good shot.

  12. x174 says:

    cohen’s new plan seems to involve talking about talking.

    cohen may be trying to push back against the avenatti narrative, which paints him as a corrupt loser and lackey. (cohen’s motion to restrain avenatti was just denied.)

    the whole trump et al never-ending media charade seems nixon inspired: trial by media.

    cohen seems to be merely attempting to put a patriotic varnish on his public image: all american, doing it for his children, his family and his country!

    avenatti’s counter seemed quite devastating given this context: “whaddaya waitin’ for patriot?”

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Anybody get the sense that Chuck Schumer is doing an Obama and giving the GOP what they want before they ask for it?

    No fight for the Supreme’s nomination, no delaying tactics, no holding collateral issues hostage to a larger strategy. Just civility.

    And these guys wonder why a newbie like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat out Joe Crowley. Why don’t Schumer & Co., just cross the aisle and admit their Republican affiliation?

  14. SteveB says:

    Cohen is twisting in the wind: he plainly wants Trump love/money reassurance else why the effort.

    Which comes onto all the boxes of documents DJT wanted him to fight over: it must be fairly damning else why the privilege fight, but if it was damning to DJT in and of itself then Cohen would have nothing to offer in respect of them.

    One of the things Cohen could offer is a routemap through the million plus documents, which has got to be of some value to SDNY, and presumably Mueller in respects Cohen will know whereas others would have to figure.

    One other thought which has occurred to me is Cohen’s repeated public references to his family being the most important thing to him. Of course this may be no more than an expression of his own interests. However might Cohen be emphasising family as a reference to dirt he has which affects the Don’s family: such dirt as Cohen has on DJT, Trump may just brazen it out and perhaps get away with it, but if Cohen has dirt on Jr or more particularly Ivanka this may be a weak point for DJT. Even the dirt on Trump re affairs etc is somewhat of a weak point with Trump as it affects his relationship with Melania, though that ship has already weighed anchor and hoisted the mainsail.

  15. pseudonymous in nc says:

    He still doesn’t know what SDNY might charge him with, but he probably doesn’t want to wait for an indictment to drop before he starts looking for a deal.

  16. Yeskld says:

    I have a far fetched theory. What if Cohen is actually working with prosecutors and is trying to bait Trump into reaching out and offering a pardon in exchange for silence?

    I can’t think of any other upside to what Cohen is doing. He has a competent attorney, whose advice he seems to be taking. It seems unlikely that he’s trying to negotiate a plea deal in public.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      The FBI does things that are basically entrapment with schmucks who dream of going with a bang, but SDNY isn’t going to try to entrap the president.

      The simplest explanation is (surprisingly) the one he admits: he doesn’t know what SDNY has on him, and what potential sentence that might translate into, which means he can’t yet put a value on his cooperation.

    • Trip says:

      Hahaha! And some kind of strap-on one man band apparatus that has drums and cymbals that he can play while singing “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”.

  17. M says:

    I find it completely credible that Trump didn’t know about the 6/9 meeting or if he did, for whatever reason, didn’t care. Even if he knew it was improper, getting away improper things is the story of his life.
    And speaking of collusion: It’s the least of Cohen’s problems or involvements.

    • Trip says:

      Collusion is no one’s problem, conspiracy is.

      I find it completely incredible that Trump did not know about the meeting and I think he really cared.  Trump’s a cheater. He has lived his entire business career screwing over everyone and bucking the system. Having the meeting and getting unfair illegal advantage is right up his alley (modus operandi). Junior, trying to establish his own worth for a cold father, would be giddy and unable to contain his get. Plus, Manafort, Kushner and Ivanka all witnessed the party’s meeting. A micro-manager like Trump wouldn’t be oblivious to this happening in his own building with his own family.

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        Yep. We have a good sense of how King Idiot enjoys “I know something you don’t know” and that the Family Business traded in blackmail material on potential adversaries. You can pay hush money but you can also pay money to professional dirt-diggers like Bo Dietl to “deter” opposition.

        You could credibly argue that the active measures campaign was tailored to King Idiot’s long history of seeking dirty advantage.

  18. Charlie says:

    If it is true that the Kremlin was behind the death of Mikhail Lesin earlier this year (per Christopher Steele), then Mickey needs to watch his back. All the Don needs to do is have a word with his buddy Vlad when he meets him in the next few days. Problem solved.

  19. Frank Probst says:

    I defer to @bmaz and all of the other lawyers on here when it comes to legal strategy, but I think it’s worth pointing out that it’s unlikely that Cohen needs to “signal” to prosecutors whatever information he has to offer.  The prosecutors almost certainly already know.  Almost nothing that was seized by the FBI has been found to be covered by attorney-client privilege, so they’ve got almost all of his documents.  It’s possible Cohen has a storage locker full of boxes somewhere, a la Manafort, but if that’s the case, the prosecutors probably know that there are things that they should have found that weren’t in the documents that they seized, and now they’re looking for things like storage lockers.  Almost every legal analyst that I’ve seen has said that no lawyer in his right mind would have let Cohen go on Good Morning America.  That suggests to me that he’s on there for PR purposes.  This is a man who knows how to fight Trump on his own turf, and that seems like what he’s doing here.  If he were trying to cut a deal, he’d have his lawyers talking to the SDNY.  Instead, he’s doing image management.  It’s entirely possible that both are happening at the same time (and I suspect that that’s the case), but what Cohen is doing seems to be making himself more presentable as a witness, not “signaling” to prosecutors that he wants to cut a deal.  That’s his lawyers’ job.

    • Trip says:

      Maybe he’s doing it proactively because he knows how Trump dirties up witnesses or adversaries.

      If Cohen flips, the dirtbag at the National Enquirer, Harvey Levin and Trump TV (Hannity) along with Trump (himself) twitter will be flinging poop every which way to destroy him and his credibility. Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing (as long as he has, and gives up, the goods).

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        ‘flinging poop’

        Sure sounds like shit hitting the fan.

        The metadata will be odoriferous next few months.

  20. JNagarya says:

    Why are the media not asking this question? —

    “How did Cohen know who to pay off?”

    The obvious answer being:

    “Trump told him who.”

    That prolix dyslexic pretzel is a lead as wide as a four-lane highway.  And Avenatti knows it.

  21. SpaceLifeForm says:

    It’s pretty clear now, that not only Congresscritters and Judges are being Blackmailed, Trump is also.

    [Trump could stop this warlock attack immediately]

    [But US Citizens can actually help by voting out those that are being Blackmailed. While those being Blackmailed will be on their own, at least the citizens can minimize further damage to the Country]

    [Don’t know which are being Blackmailed? The elders]

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