Which Came First: The Indemnity Fail or Cohen’s Cooperation Curiosity?

Michael Cohen is suing Trump Organization for refusing to fulfill an indemnity agreement they had. By itself, the suit offers the promise that these shitholes will rip each other apart in court. Discovery could be awesome, especially since the suit names Eric and Don Jr.

It also may lead other members of the Joint Defense Agreement to question how long Trump will remain loyal to them.

But I’m acutely interested in the timeline the lawsuit draws out for what it says about Trump’s efforts to cover-up his own criminal actions, laid out below. The italicized entries are ones I’ve added to Cohen’s own timeline — many of those dates come from this post on the timeline of the Special Master review of materials seized in the raid of Cohen’s home. The underlined ones are ones in Cohen’s complaint that I’ve editorialized on, to note where someone is known to have told a lie that coordinated with Cohen’s own lies.

As you can see, Trump’s spawn were happy to pay Cohen’s legal bills so long as he continued to tell the agreed upon lies.

But that changed when he got raided in April 2018. As I’ve noted, even though Cohen and Trump succeeded in getting a Special Master appointed to review all the discovery, that appointment didn’t succeed in withholding any of the most damning materials. But the Special Master process did give Trump an opportunity to review what Cohen had — including to identify what he had tape recordings of.

This probably led them to two conclusions. First, because Cohen had taped incriminating conversations (to ensure he’d get paid, Cohen explained in his OGR testimony), he had exposed Trump where he otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed. But because he hadn’t taped the most damning conversations — those implicating the Trump Tower Moscow deal and other Russia-related issues — they could fuck him over with relative impunity.

And that’s about when Trump stopped paying for Cohen’s silence. Notably, Cohen’s filing states that “On June 2018, Mr. Cohen began telling friends and family that he was willing to cooperate with the Special Counsel,” as if there once was a date there. He doesn’t give us that date.

But we can see from the timeline that it happened at a key point in the Special Master review, which is the same time Trump stopped paying for Cohen’s silence.

Two things are unclear to me.

First, as the title suggests, which came first, Cohen’s willingness to cooperate, or Trump’s newfound unwillingness to pay. My bet is it’s the latter, and my bet is it was a response to what they were seeing in the Special Master review. That is, once they decided that Cohen couldn’t hurt them, they cut him free, to sink on his own.

I’m also curious about why Cohen included Papadopoulos, Manafort, Gates, Page, Sessions, and Flynn in his timeline. He is not known to have testimony relating to any of these people — except, perhaps, Manafort. And they weren’t the only ones in Trump’s JDA (Gates has said he was never in the JDA) to have testified in this period (for example, KT McFarland had her first interview).

But it suggests Cohen may have more on the JDA he’s hanging over the others. Which may get litigated in this suit.


August 2016: Karen McDougal catch and kill.

October 2016: Stormy Daniels hush payment.

January 13, 2017: SSCI opens Russian investigation.

January 25, 2017: HPSCI opens investigation.

January and February 2017: Cohen seeks reimbursement for hush payment to Daniels.

March 2017: Cohen named RNC Deputy Chair.

May 17, 2017: Mueller appointed.

~May 18, 2017: Cohen meets with Trump and Jay Sekulow, implicitly agree to tell a cover story.

End of May 2017: Cohen lawyers up with McDermott Will & Emery.

May 31, 2017: HPSCI subpoenas Cohen.

July 2017: Trump Organization enters into indemnity agreement in context of joint defense agreement.

August 28, 2017, Cohen sends letter making false statements to HPSCI and SSCI.

September 7, 2017: Don Jr testifies before SJC, repeating Cohen’s false statement on Trump Tower Moscow.

September 19, 2017: Cohen lies to SSCI about Trump Tower Moscow.

September 26, 2017: Roger Stone lies to HPSCI about relaying information about WikiLeaks to campaign, including Trump.

October 5, 2017: George Papadopoulos pleads guilty to making false statements to FBI agents relating to contacts he had with agents of the Russian government while working for the Trump Campaign.

October 25, 2017: Cohen testifies to SSCI, lying about Trump Tower Moscow.

October 25, 2017: First payment, in sum of $137,460, to McDermott.

October 30, 2017: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indicted by a federal grand jury, including conspiracy against
the United States

November 2, 2017: Carter Page testifies before HPSCI.

November 14, 2017: AG Jeff Sessions testifies before HJC.

December 1, 2017: Mike Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador.

December 6, 2017: Don Jr testified before the HPSCI, sustaining Cohen’s lies about Trump Tower Moscow.

December 2017: Don Jr and Eric Trump confirm they will continue to pay Cohen’s attorneys’ fees and expenses.

March 6, 2018: Daniels files a lawsuit against Trump and Cohen in CA seeking to invalidate NDA.

March 26, 2018: Daniels amends lawsuit to allege that Cohen defamed Daniels through public statements he made in or around February 2018.

~March 20, 2018: McDougal files a lawsuit against AMI seeking to invalidate the NDA.

April 5, 2018: Trump says, of payment to Daniels, “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.”

April 9, 2018: Cohen raided.

April 9, 2018: Trump states, “So, I just heard that they[, the FBI,] broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, a good man, and it’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time. . . . It’s an attack on our country in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”

April 13, 2018: Challenge to seized materials, leading to appointment of Special Master.

April 21, 2018: Rudy Giuliani associate Robert Costello emails Cohen and tells him he “can sleep well tonight” because he “has friends in high places” to reassure Cohen that the President was not made him. Emails also say,

I just spoke to Rudy Giuliani and told him I was on your team. He asked me to tell you that he knows how tough this is on you and your family and he will make (sure) to tell the President. He said thank you for opening this back channel of communication and asked me to keep in touch.

There was never a doubt and they are in our corner, Rudy said this communication channel must be maintained. He called it crucial and noted how reassured they were that they had someone like me whom Rudy has known for so many years in this role

April 21, 2018: Trump tweets, “The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip.’ They use . . . non-existent ‘sources’ and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if . . . it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!”

April 26, 2018: On Fox & Friends Trump states that Mr. Cohen is a “good person” and “great guy” who handled “a percentage of my overall legal work. . . . He represents me – like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal he represented me. And, you know, from what I see he did absolutely nothing wrong. . . . I hope he’s in great shape.”

April 27, 2018: Kimba Wood appoints Barbara Jones as Special Master. 

Through May 2018: Trump Organization continues to pay Cohen’s legal fees, totaling $1.7 million.

May 6, 2018: George Stephanopoulos asks Rudy Giuliani, “Are you concerned at all that Michael Cohen’s going to cooperate with prosecutors?” Mr. Giuliani responds, “No. I expect that he is going to cooperate with them. I don’t think they’ll be happy with it because he doesn’t have any incriminating evidence about the president or himself. The man is an honest, honorable lawyer.”

June 4, 2018: Jones issues first report (covering a number of Cohen’s recordings), disagreeing with three claims of privilege. 

June 6, 2018: Trump lawyer Joanna Herndon requests that any challenge to Special Master decision be sealed. 

June 7, 2018: SDNY demands that any legal discussions of challenges be public. 

June 8, 2018: Judge Wood agrees with SDNY, leading Trump to withdraw certain privilege claims. 

June XX 2018: Cohen begins telling friends and family that he was willing to cooperate with the Special Counsel and federal prosecutors in connection with the SDNY Investigation.

June 2018: Trump Organization ceases to pay McDermott’s invoices, without notice or justification.

June 13, 2018: Daniels files a new lawsuit in CA against former attorney, Keith Davidson, and Cohen, alleging that they “colluded” and “acted in concert” to “manipulate” Daniels and benefit Trump.

June 14, 2018: NYAG subpoenas Cohen in Charitable Foundation suit.

June 15, 2018; Trump says, “I haven’t spoken to Michael in a long time. . . . [H]e’s not my lawyer anymore.”

June 22, 2018: Judge Wood finds that Cohen didn’t do much privileged lawyering.

July 2, 2018: Jones begins releasing files to SDNY.

July 2, 2018: Cohen tells Stephanopoulos, “To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty … I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy. I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.”

July 23, 2018: Cohen withdraws privilege claims from 12 recordings. 

July 26, 2018: On CNN Rudy claims of Cohen, “He has lied all his life” and that he is a “pathological liar.”

August 7, 2018: Cohen begins meeting with Mueller. At his first proffer, he lies.

August 21, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty in SDNY.

September 12, 2018: First truthful Cohen proffer with Mueller.

November 29, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty with Mueller.

December 12, 2018: Cohen sentenced.

December 16, 2018: Trump tweets, “Remember, Michael Cohen only became a ‘Rat’ after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable & unheard of until the Witch Hunt was illegally started. They BROKE INTO AN ATTORNEY’S OFFICE!”

January 25, 2019: Cohen asks for reimbursement for $1.9 million in legal fees and $1.9 in restitution.

Update, March 14: Included Robert Costello email.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

47 replies
  1. viget says:

    Trump will counter sue, then likely settle. He won’t let the discovery get out into the open. I guess this is good for Cohen, he gets his money.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      That would be typical of how Trump handles these things. So, too, would EW’s surmise that what pushed Cohen into cooperating was his realization the Trump had decided to stop funding his defense, because Cohen did not have enough dirt on Trump to really hurt him.

      Being Trump, he might be quite wrong about that. He would certainly have hated Cohen at that point and would have been looking for any reason to stop paying his legal fees. (A feeling reinforced by his lifelong commitment to being a cheap shit.) Look at how hopping mad Trump became when he realized that Comey, despite being so openly and humiliatingly fired, still rode home on the Bureau’s plane. Rationality is not the Don’s strong suit.

      • Drew says:

        One thing about deciding to cut Cohen loose. It needn’t be that there would be nothing in the evidence that could damage Trump seriously OR corroborate evidence that would take Trump down. If the damage in the evidence couldn’t be made worse by Cohen or if Cohen’s support would be of no help, Trump would cut him loose, particularly if he realized that Cohen had been protecting himself at Trump’s expense by making the recordings, etc.

        It’s even possible that impugning Cohen’s credibility seemed a better attack on the evidence, than any positive spin Cohen could help with.

  2. Cathy says:

    LOL. I missed it the first time around…

    April 5, 2018: Trump says, of payment to Daniels, “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.”

    [and so *they* did:]
    April 9, 2018: Cohen raided.
    [end quote]

    • dwfreeman says:

      And then sometime in April 2018, Cohen, buys a WTF Trump-related property, in a Tribeca, Manhattan skyscraper for $6.7 million. It’s a luxury condo, a four bedroom, 2,600 square foot luxury unit on the upper floor of this newly-developed project with all the unheard of bells and whistles you’d expect some major celebrity would seek. And all the headlines that month are about the government raid on his house, apartment and office for records that might condemn him as Trump’s fixer and personal lawyer.

      I mean the purchase involves a real estate project that connects his boss with the holding company parent owner that puts Trump front and center with all the leading headlines about his Moscow Tower project near the Kremlin.

      Looking at this deal, you’d think it was as provocative as offering Putin a $50 million condo in that project. It’s on the same scale and opportunity need to make it a serious offer in terms of a political offer.

      And then today we learn that Cohen is suing Trump for unpaid legal services. Curious isn’t it? These things aren’t surprising. Only the timing and our eventual understanding is.

      • Eureka says:

        That oddly-timed property purchase (wasn’t there press talk at the time about it not making sense re Cohen’s then-financial status?), plus the RNC job still stick out to me as but a couple of ‘hmmm’ details.

        Maybe it’s just a coincidence that he and Broidy were helming RNC’s finances, like a version of patronage for the AMI-affiliated wing. I’m just not sure of the precise nature of the bargains.

  3. Rugger9 says:

    When there is an active case pending, one has to petition to be relieved as counsel. However, I do not know if Cohen was formally cited as Kaiser Quisling’s attorney for the Stormy Daniels suit (I don’t have the relevant filings at hand) but if he was then he is owed his pay for his work under contract. There is also his other work done prior to the Palace cutting him loose as noted by the MSNBC panel today. Taken together it would seem to me that somewhere there must be a formal closeout of representing Kaiser Quisling and his minions which makes the “June 2018” precision a bit suspect.

    That KQ is trying to stiff Cohen is no surprise, not even to Cohen. Three suitcases of documents in the hands of the HPSCI might get the palace to reconsider being jerks here, but we are talking about KQ and Rudy Ghouliani so it’s 50-50 at best.

    Discovery may be indeed be silenced, but if the palace thinks it can spike discovery by catch-and-kill methods (settling quietly) it needs to remember Schiff already has lots of stuff now to dig into. Some of it will leak, and I think most likely by GOP sources trying to undermine the palace without getting their own fingerprints on it, and then loudly complaining about all of the leaks to the RW Noise Machine.

    • BobCon says:

      If I read him right it sounded like he was saying there was potentially a narrow technical reading that may let Trump off the hook of any broader admission.

      He seemed not sure if his sense was valid under state law, though. He may have also updated since I last read his tweets.

  4. Badger Robert says:

    The JDA was probably invalid after July 2, 2018. Cohen had separate counsel not long after that. What is the time period for which he is seeking indemnification? Only the bribes were work done for the Trump organization. But all the fees were related to those actions.
    Thanks for doing this.

  5. Valley girl says:

    This is a fantastic post, Marcy. If you have been reading comments on previous posts, you will have seen that some/ many of the commentators would like you to be nominated for a Pulitzer. I’ve read the guidelines, and the category of explanatory reporting seems appropriate.

    ~For a distinguished example of explanatory reporting that illuminates a significant and complex subject, demonstrating mastery of the subject, lucid writing and clear presentation, using any available journalistic tool.~

    In this post you say
    ~The italicized entries are ones I’ve added to Cohen’s own timeline — many of those dates come from this post on the timeline of the Special Master review of materials seized in the raid of Cohen’s home. The underlined ones are ones in Cohen’s complaint that I’ve editorialized on, to note where someone is known to have told a lie that coordinated with Cohen’s own lies.~

    Would it be possible for you to add “here” links to underlined that goes to where you’ve editorialized on what is underlined? Only 10 samples can be submitted for explanatory reporting.

    If that’s too much of a PITA, nonetheless consider this comment as a Brava! and thanks for all you do.

    • andy says:

      What a great idea. What is involved in nominating someone? If it takes a large organization voting/backing, I’d point out that the Crooked Media crew loves Marcy and could probably shepherd a large audience and/or campaign.

      • BobCon says:

        While it would be great, I think the odds are only slightly better than the odds of me winning the Heisman trophy.

        Everything I know about the Pulitzers for journalism is that the process is stacked in favor of the big papers, who dominate the judges — filled with horse trading to rival the allocation of Olympic medals for figure skating.

        To give you a sense, Bret Stephens was exposed in the past week warning a critic to watch himself, because Stephens often sat on Pulitzer boards and it would be a shame if he was ever in a position to judge, if you got his drift….

        I don’t think things have changed significantly since his was written 40 years ago:


        Which is to say, brace yourself for Haberman and Schmidt winning.

      • Valley girl says:

        I have no idea what it would take. I went to the Pulitzer site (found via google, and poked around. If you could do the same, you could learn more than I can here. I seem to remember a site (CJR) = I think Columbia Journalism Review. I’ll try to find it. irrc, that referenced FDL and Marcy’s coverage of the Fitz Libby trial. Around 2003, I think. But I may be wrong. If the same person still is writing this (which was then a blog) he might be a person to contact.

        • oldoilfieldhand says:

          Stop thinking small ball! Marcy Wheeler deserves to be nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her work is massive, essentially important, historically accurate, and contains brilliant analysis unavailable from any other source. Without intending to throw shade on Bob Dylan, Marcy’s body of work is far more compelling and deserving of recognition. Time for the Nobel Prize Committee to take stock of the changes in reading habits and the effect brilliant writers like Marcy Wheeler have had upon contemporary society. The Nobel Prize should reflect modern literature.

  6. I Felt Mark says:

    >August 7, 2018: Cohen begins meeting with Mueller.

    One of the big things that came out in the ABC News story yesterday is that the Trump/Giuliani-connected lawyers told Cohen to keep a backdoor open if he exited the joint-defense agreement.

    “The sources familiar with the contacts said the two lawyers first reached out to Cohen late in April of last year and that the discussions continued for about two months. The attorneys, who have no known formal ties to the White House, urged Cohen not to leave the joint defense agreement, the sources told ABC News, and also offered a Plan B. In the event Cohen opted to exit the agreement, they could join his legal team and act as a conduit between Cohen and the president’s lawyers.”

    It seems likely that particular information would’ve been relayed by Cohen to the Special Counsel during those initial August interviews. Given that, I have to believe Mueller and co. would’ve been *very* cautious with anything involving Manafort. Knowing that even if he agrees to cooperate there could be some shenanigans behind-the-scenes with a backdoor to Trump.

  7. NorskieFlamethrower says:

    Can bmaz or anyone tell me who the lead attorney is for Cohen? I saw ‘im interviewed yesterday and he looked like a retired consiglieri just yanked away from his canoli at an Italian social club.

  8. vicks says:

    Can someone refresh me on the role of the special master? I know she was supposed pull out and present anything that would be considered privileged to the “save the trump” team.
    What would she do with an item where privilege would not apply? Perhaps a recording of Trump giving orders to Cohen with other people present in his office or at a dinner? What about other people discussing Trump or something Trump had told them to do? What about things Cohen was working on with say with the RNC or the campaign?

    • gedouttahear says:

      Privilege had been asserted in regards to some items seized in the raid.
      If the items were found to be not privileged they would be turned over to the prosecutors.

      • vicks says:

        I guess what I am trying to understand is if there is/was/where incriminating evidence deemed “not privileged” would the Trump group have been made aware of them as part of the special master process?

        • Maestro says:

          Both Cohen and Trump’s teams were given copies of everything seized so they could review them and assert privilege claims where they deemed fit. So they saw everything and know exactly what the government seized.

        • Pete says:

          If I recall correctly – and that’s a BIG IF – there were some items that the Special Master deemed not privileged that Trumps team wanted to assert privilege on but that would have required a degree of public transparency (maybe must make your reasons public) that ultimately they decided not to “risk”.

        • vicks says:

          Sorry trying to get my mind around this.
          What right would the Trump team have to see evidence unrelated to the Don?
          Would that have anything to do with the threats made to Cohen regarding his father in law? Or that twit Gaetz claiming Cohen was cheating on his wife?

  9. Jenny says:

    Thanks Marcy.
    Swindler in Chief has swindled many for years. No surprise he didn’t reimburse Cohen for legal fees. New can of worms to be opened.
    Lordy, let’s hope there are tapes.

  10. Tech Support says:

    Three unrelated observations from this piece:

    1. It’s amazing how quickly all of this happened. I mean it FEELS like this has been going on forever, but there’s been a lot going on at the time. Seeing how “on the heels” certain known events came after other events is something of a revelation in hindsight.

    2. Isn’t Kevin Downing, the Stormy Daniels attorney who ultimately was not acting in her interests but was actually operating in Trump/Cohen’s interests… isn’t that the guy who is defending Paul Manafort right now? The same guy who is suspecting of having fed details back to Trump’s attorneys AFTER the cooperation agreement? This guy is a shitbag, right?

    3. This timeline makes me wonder what exactly Mueller is waiting on before filing the Don Jr. indictment. Seems like the open-and-shut “lying to congress” charges are just laying there waiting.

    • I Felt Mark says:

      2. No, Stormy’s attorney was Keith Davidson. Manafort’s attorney is Kevin Downing.

    • Elena says:

      Re #2: Close! The KD who acted on Daniels’ behalf in the hush money deal was Keith Davidson.
      /sorry for duplicating another reply /newbie

      • Eureka says:

        No worries, that happens a lot– where you post your comment, the page refreshes, and voila another (prior) reply shows up.

  11. Jbellows106 says:

    First time poster, longtime lurker, etc. Posts and comments here are immeasurably informative, so thank you. I finally got the nerve to complain about the format of the comments section. On my phones, Android or Apple, the replies to comments and replies to replies get progressively smooshed into smaller and smaller columns. Eventually these become one character columns and thus unreadable. This is not a problem on PC/Laptop. Heading over to now to make a donation to the site now, lest you view me as totally ungrateful.

    • bmaz says:

      You are doing fine, and thank you. The shrinking problem is but one of many with threaded comments. That said, many like them. If push comes to shove though, you have to be ready to use the old linear format and cite the commenter and time of comment you are responding to in a new comment. Believe it or not, it still works fine.

    • SomeGuyInMaine says:

      Turn your iPhone sideways. That fixes most of those scrunch issues for me. Cheers.

  12. gedouttahear says:

    “More of Manafort’s comments to the judge, via the Washington Post:
    The last two years have been the most difficult years for my family and I. (sic.) ”
    Add a year for his bad grammar.

    • Diviz says:

      I thought the same! At least he avoided the even more irritating “my family and myself” construction.

    • Frank Probst says:

      It sounds like he’s expressing no remorse or contrition, and this AFTER the judge has said he’ll get no credit for accepting responsibility or cooperation with the government. The talking heads on TV are saying he’s doing all of this to make himself look strong to Trump, because he’s banking on a pardon (or a commutation of his sentence). I’m not sure I buy that. I think that it’s at least as likely that he’s a sociopathic asshole. If you’re banking on a pardon, you don’t need to violate your gag order or tamper with witnesses or breach your cooperation agreement.

  13. First Time Caller says:

    Cohen received attention from several fronts, especially after his medallion partner flipped. Is it plausible that his multiple entanglements made it easier for the Company to say he was in the hook for his crimes?

    ETA I think FTC is my nym here, if it’s not, apologies for causing confusion.

  14. klynn says:

    “…otherwise blameless life…”

    Seriously? Manafort has not led a blameless life. “Blameless life” are the last two words I would ever use to explain Manafort.

  15. Badger Robert says:

    OT: thanks to Ms. Wheeler for demonstrating the difference between the facts, and reporting by the legitimate opposition. The legitimate opposition presents the excuses of the powerful and some of the facts, and maintains the illusion of objectivity.

  16. K-spin says:

    On the question of attorney-client privilege more generally, I thought that this is what Junior claimed when he refused to disclose details of his phone conversation with Daddy about the TT June 6th meeting, while the latter was on AF1. How is this possible given neither is a lawyer?

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