A week after the FBI raided the home and office of Michael Cohen, one of Donald Trump’s attorneys, Washington is gripped with a stunning question: Will he flip?
For a president whose personal life has been ruled for decades by loyalty, the notion of Cohen striking a deal with prosecutors seems remote: He’s a self-described legal fixer who helped make bad stories go away and was a vice president in Trump’s real estate empire.
Cohen tweeted on April 8 that he ‘will always protect our @POTUS,’ quoting novelist Joyce Maynard’s semi-famous pledge that ‘[a] person who deserves my loyalty receives it.’
But his life was turned upside down 24 hours later, and Cohen hasn’t promised since then that his fierce fidelity to his former boss at the Trump Organization will hold even in the face of potential criminal charges.
Those would come from the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which took over the matter from the Justice Department. That means even if Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe were to end, prosecutors could keep Cohen’s nightmare going.
Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s legal predicament following last week’s FBI raid on his home and office is beginning to put pressure on the president’s inner circle as they fear he’ll turn on his longtime boss
As a storm of controversy swirls around him, Trump is said to be brooding on how even his most loyal lieutenant is now the subject of speculation about ‘flipping’
The president and his allies have hit a new level of anxiety as they fear deeper exposure for Trump, his inner circle and his adult children – and more than concerned that they don’t know exactly what is in the records and electronic devices the FBI seized last week.
Michael Avenatti, the flashy attorney who has turned the Stormy Daniels case into an international phenomenon, told MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe’ program on Tuesday that he believes Cohen will soon face a legal reckoning.
‘From what I’ve heard, from what I’ve seen, there’s no question that Michael Cohen is going to be charged,’ Avenatti said. ‘It’s only a question of when. And I think it’s going to happen within the next 90 days.’
And the media-savvy Trump antagonist said ‘the likelihood of him not rolling over is very, very slim.’
‘I can’t imagine he’s going to go to trial or potentially face 10, 15, 20, 25 years in a federal penitentiary for anybody – let alone a guy, Donald Trump, who left him behind when he went to Washington, D.C.,’ he said.
Attorney Mark Geragos, too, sees a potentially history-altering decision on the horizon for Cohen.
Famed attorney Mark Geragos says Trump should be nervous at the prospect of Cohen turning on him
One news outlet is suggesting that Cohen knows things about the president that even Ivanka Trump doesn’t know – because she doesn’t want to
‘I have seen the most loyal lieutenants to clients flip when they get into this situation,’ he said Tuesday on CNN’s ‘New Day’ program. ‘I mean, this is fraught with danger.’
‘When you’re faced with the prospect of somebody who’s just executed search warrants at your home and office, and you’re not so sure that a president could pardon your way out of this, somebody’s going to make some calculation: “Do I do what’s best for me or do I do what’s best for him?”‘ he suggested. ‘And I think, in this case, the president should be nervous.’
As Trump’s moods behind the scenes darken, underlings and hangers-on alike are coming to terms with what might lie ahead.
‘The guys that know Trump best are the most worried,’ a former Trump campaign official told the Axios news website. ‘People are very, very worried. Because it’s Michael [effing] Cohen. Who knows what he’s done?’
‘People at the Trump Organization don’t even really know everything he does. It’s all side deals and off-the-books stuff. Trump doesn’t even fully know; he knows some but not everything.’
Cohen himself is better-briefed on some parts of the president’s life than anyone else including his plugged-in daughter Ivanka, Axios reports, ‘because some stuff, Ivanka doesn’t want to know.’
Adult film actress Stormy Daniels, left, and her lawyer Michael Avenatti (right) have driven much of the public angst over Cohen, since he brokered her hush-money agreement over a claimed sexual affair with the president
In this photo President Trump is seen making his way to board Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Monday
Cohen tweeted this reassuring message to the president on April 8, but the FBI knocked on his door just one day later
Joseph Cammarata, the lawyer who represented Paula Jones in her sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton, told the Associated Press that the Cohen case is ‘a huge minefield for Donald Trump and the Trump Organization. I think this is on its own track and this train is coming down the track with brute force.’
The wild legal show continued to play out Monday, at a court hearing in New York before a federal judge who is considering what to do with the material that the FBI seized from Cohen.
The scene was punctuated by dramatic entrances and revelations. Daniels – the porn actress who alleged she had a sexual affair with the president – made an appearance, stumbling on her high heels as she was swarmed by press. Cohen was forced to reveal that another one of his clients is Fox News host Sean Hannity, a high-profile confidant of the president.
Trump left the White House for Florida, for a two-day summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Advisers are hoping the meeting will draw attention from the legal tempest in Washington and New York.
On the trip south, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders sought to put distance between Trump and Cohen, saying: ‘I believe they’ve still got some ongoing things, but the president has a large number of attorneys, as you know.’
The federal raid, carried out a week ago in New York City, sought bank records, information on Cohen’s dealing in the taxi industry, Cohen’s communications with the Trump campaign and information on payments he made in 2016 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and to Daniels, both of whom allege relationships with Trump. The court proceedings Monday dealt with who gets to look at Cohen’s seized documents and devices before they are turned over to prosecutors.
Though Cohen once said he ‘would take a bullet’ for Trump, he is aware of the possible outcome – including potential prison time – and has expressed worry about his family, said a person who has spoken to the lawyer in recent days but is not authorized to discuss private conversations.
Cohen has not been charged with anything.
Trump’s moods have grown more dour in recent days, as he lashes out at the ‘overreach’ of the raid. Further angering the president is that the raid was triggered in part by a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The raid was authorized by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
On Twitter Sunday, Trump said that all lawyers are now ‘deflated and concerned’ by the FBI raid on Cohen, adding that ‘Attorney Client privilege is now a thing of the past.’ Trump has also taken to downplaying Cohen’s role.
The president also inveighed further against former FBI Director James Comey, who said Monday morning that Trump was morally unfit to be president. That was a few hours after Comey said the same and worse in a highly promoted ABC interview.
Many in the White House view the aftershocks of the Cohen raid as potentially more threatening than Mueller’s Russia probe, fearful of what skeletons may be in the lawyer’s closets, according to five officials and outside allies who all spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
‘I agree with the consensus forming that it’s very dangerous for the president, probably the most serious thing yet,’ said Sol Wisenberg, a defense attorney who was a deputy independent counsel during the Starr special counsel investigation into Clinton. ‘Even if you shut Mueller down some way, how do you shut down the Southern District [federal court]?’
Trump’s anger at the probe has intensified, with him musing publicly about firing Mueller and the man who authorized the probe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Those around Trump have hoped that this week’s visit to Mar-a-Lago, where he is generally happier, along with the tightly scheduled summit with Abe, would somewhat distract him from Cohen and from Comey’s ongoing publicity tour.
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, center, leaves federal court following a hearing on Monday
But White House aides have also expressed worry that they can control Trump less at his palatial Florida estate, where he is known to seek out counsel from club members and get revved up by their at-times provocative advice. One recent presidential dinner guest was Hannity, a longtime Trump ally whose connection to Cohen shed more light on the attorney who was more than just a lawyer for Trump.
Cohen has long been a key power center in the Trump Organization and a fixture along the edges of Trump’s nascent political life. In Cohen’s own estimation, he is Trump’s Ray Donovan, the bruising television character who takes whatever steps are needed to fix problems for the tycoon he serves.
He has regularly threatened lawsuits against those who pose a challenge to Trump. He has berated reporters for writing unflattering words about his boss. He has worked with tabloids, including the National Enquirer, to kill unfavorable stories about Trump. He has said he used a home-equity loan to finance a $130,000 payment to Daniels in the final days of the 2016 campaign and did so without Trump’s knowledge.
The president has consistently denied a relationship with Daniels, who claims the two had sex not long after first lady Melania Trump gave birth to the couple’s son Barron. He has also pushed back against other claims from women.
A recent Trump fundraising email praised Mrs. Trump, with the president calling her ‘my rock and foundation.’