The Great American Witness Auction: How Michael Cohen And Others Are Making Millions In A Testimony Market

Microcosm_of_London_Plate_006_-_Auction_Room,_Christie's_(colour)Below is my column in The Hill on the curious role that Gofundme is playing in the ongoing controversies surrounding the Trump Administration.  There is an emerging type of market for witnesses on both sides where they compete for donors based on their potential value attacking or defending President Donald Trump.

Here is the column:

Lawyer Lanny Davis this week became a virtual infomercial for a GoFundMe site. In continuous appearances on every network, Davis shilled for donors for his client, former Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen.

Such fundraising has become a regular feature of Washington scandals. Almost $2 million has been raised by anti-Trump figures such as former FBI acting director Andrew McCabe, fired FBI agent Peter Strzok and adult film star Stormy Daniels. Trump protégés like Roger Stone similarly are raising money from the other side.

Cohen’s pitch, however, highlights a troubling aspect of these campaigns. They amount to a raw form of buying witnesses. For many, GoFundMe has become a bazaar where one can put money down on the testimony most likely to hurt or help Trump. People poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the accounts of McCabe and Strzok within the first 48 hours.

It is a curious extension of the entertainment industry where, instead of selecting the next star on “America’s Got Talent,” you can support the next star witness. Of course, one can be prosecuted for giving someone money in exchange for testimony. Likewise, it is unethical to solicit clients in most states but you can solicit funds to pay for a case. Other rules limit the compensation that could be viewed as “contingent upon the witness’s testimony.” Still other rules caution lawyers about accepting money for fees from third parties trying to influence or interfere with a client. Yet, individuals essentially can put their testimony on the block for sale, even competing with other witnesses in moving to the most hostile anti-Trump posture.

The problem is that any effort to limit such sites could curtail public interest in funding litigation. Moreover, the law bars have spent two decades reducing regulation of legal advertising and are not eager to go back to that free speech morass. In the absence of regulation, it is all about positioning oneself in the market.

In Cohen’s case, this week saw his 180-degree turn from sycophant to saboteur by implicating President Trump directly in his “allocution” as a newly confessed felon. Davis made clear his client offered consumers the biggest bang for the anti-Trump buck. He said Cohen might be able to give special counsel Robert Mueller evidence of collusion and obstruction while denouncing Trump as a “corrupt” president. He even said Cohen would not accept a pardon from Trump.

Cohen is clearly positioning himself in the increasingly crowded witness market. Davis, notably, rolled out the GoFundMe effort by mistakenly directing people to a site that directs readers to the Trump campaign page. This is not to belittle what is no easy task for Davis or Cohen to raise sympathy and support for an unsympathetic figure. After all, Cohen showed no empathy or decency toward critics of Trump.

He reportedly once threatened Harvard students with expulsion for lampooning Trump. He is quoted as saying, “I’m gonna come up to Harvard. You’re all gonna get expelled. If this photo gets out, you’ll be outta that school faster than you know it. I can be up there tomorrow.” Now, he has Davis asking for donations to help end his and his family’s “suffering.”

Cohen showed equal relish in threatening journalists. In 2015, then-Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak received a call from Cohen about a story he was writing on Ivana Trump’s claim (later recanted) that Trump raped her. In a recording made by Mak, Cohen started in his signature style: showing utter lack of knowledge of the law. He declared “that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse” — which is incorrect … in all 50 states.

He continued, “I will make sure that you and I meet one day over in the courthouse and I will take you for every penny you still don’t have, and I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know.” He then went full mob heavy, warning Mak to “tread very f—–g lightly because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f——g disgusting. … Do you understand me?”

Cohen defrauded the public of millions in unpaid business taxes, spent lavishly on multimillion-dollar condos in Trump Tower and other expenses. The fraud claims against him detail how he received envelopes of cash from his associate, Evgeny “Gene” Freidman, the “Taxi King” of New York who recently pleaded guilty to charges.

Those cash envelopes are an ironic twist, since Davis earlier attacked Trump for suggesting cash payments to former Playboy bunny Karen McDougal. Davis said “only drug dealers and mobsters talk about cash.” Well, drug dealers, mobsters — and, apparently, Michael Cohen.

This may be why Cohen went out of his way in court to implicate Trump in campaign-finance violations. It did not make a lot of sense at the time, since the indictment did not refer directly or indirectly to Trump. However, it makes a great deal of sense if Cohen was not appealing to the court or the special counsel but to the marketplace for witnesses.

Of course, selling — sorry, “funding” — a witness can put a lawyer in a rather curious representational posture. Davis painted Trump as a criminal by emphasizing the criminality of his lawyer, who happens to be Davis’ client. This “only a dirtbag would hire my dirtbag of a client” argument is perplexing. It is rare to see a lawyer bludgeoning a politician with the body of his own client while denouncing any effort to spare his client from prison by way of a pardon.

That novel defense may reflect the hard-sell to get people who hated Cohen for months to now donate for his defense. Nevertheless, his pitch has resonated with people who only care that he is now a threat to Trump. He raised almost $150,000 on the site in one day.

The danger of this “market” is obvious: Faced with massive legal fees and costs, a person may be inclined to shape their accounts to better fit a popular niche. Cohen’s transition came after months of receiving little support in his former profile. When he became the “UnTrump,” he sold like hotcakes.

“Prosperity gospel” televangelist Joel Osteen once said his own success was made by “marketing hope.” The same is now true with witnesses, by leveraging not just hope but hate. For those tired of stewing at home with anger about Trump, the pitch for donations can be irresistible. You can pay a few bucks late at night to adopt an abandoned dog — or pay a few more to weaponize a witness.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

58 thoughts on “The Great American Witness Auction: How Michael Cohen And Others Are Making Millions In A Testimony Market”

  1. Just a few minutes ago on the Tucker Carlson program the debate came up with this question apparently a topic on some other program. If you can’t impeach and that implies directly try and convict a President to remove one from office can you annul the President?

    Two minutes or less. Flipped on my copy of Declaration, Constitution and Amendments.

    The word is neither included no implied. The system for removal is as it is. impeachi meaning imply some grounds are present and then go toi a trial phase. which onlyh removes the VP takes over and finds a new VP. That’s it.

    Sounded like a move to annul an entire election.

    In any case no annullments

    Closest is the same as getting a marriage annulled but that is not within the purview of hte courts either. only the Senate can imply or impeach suggesting grounds are present and only the Representatives can act as a jury and remove.

    But I welcome anhy other opinions or comments or cites or resources.

    1. Haha. tucker carlson. As if. I bet you get a free roll of tinfoil and a hat-folding book for being a loyal listener.

      This is to “hannity put a protective order on me, so now I’m all about tucker” mikey

      1. Marky Mark Mark – Tucker Carlson would rip you a new one. I would pay to watch it. 🙂 We could do pay-for-view. You up for it?

        1. Paul there is not one fact offered in Mucky Mucks comment. Just stamp it and his programmer REJECTED.

  2. Professor Turley, since they let me out of the asylum for a brief moment, I have one question for you: Who was paying Cohen’s legal fees before he “flipped”? Might that have been Mr. Trump or one of his pals or companies? Did you have a problem with Mr. Trump “weaponizing” Mr. Cohen’s testimony by paying his legal fees? Do you have a problem with Trump “weaponizing” the testimony of other “witnesses” by paying their fees?

    Why are you complaining about the “go fund me” efforts of Cohen but not complaining about Trump paying legal fees of Cohen and others? Is Trump’s money any more virtuous than Go Fund Me money?

    Do you think that publicly requesting help for fees via Go Fund Me is less ethical than asking Donald Trump to pay your fees?

    Inquiring minds want to know!!

    1. I just realized that I asked more than one question. No wonder I flunked differential equations so many years ago. (Don’t ask me how many years ago, as my math skills are obviously not up to the task.) George, old boy, how come you did not call me out on this before I caught it myself?

      1. Oliver Clozoff – only two people complain about Gish Galloping and neither of them understands it. 😉

          1. Oliver Clozoff – the few times I have been accused of Gish Galloping, I was not. 🙂 Nice alliteration btw.

  3. The United States proclaims to be the Land Of The Free … Free Speech, Free Market, in a word, Freedom …

    But, if one were to exercise any of these so-called “freedoms” a chorus bleats, moans, groans, cries and whines, their self-righteous, sanctimonious disapproval and superiority.

    This, of course, is not only permitted, but also to be expected in a “free society.”

    America’s business is business and nothing means business more than selling.

    Perhaps, the issue is not selling a witness or witnesses, but “tainting” the potential jury pool.

    Has not Mr. Cohen’s attorney already, at least once, recanted a statement(s) [ potential testimony ] his client has uttered since his legal representation had been undertaken?

    Even if it were Mr. Cohen’s attorney “suggesting” or “intimating” on the “Tv” what “testimony” his client may offer or be able to offer, this is the modern equivalent of “Bread and Circuses.”

    The only difference, if any, is that the selling occurs on the “One Eyed GOD, the one and only True GOD,” the Medium … the video screen.

    Anything to distract, er!, entertain, the masses from the country’s issues … National Debt, Deficit, deteriorated and dilapidated infrastructure and, last but not least, the Wars of Aggression the United States prosecutes on the non-exceptional countries to bring them Freedom.

    dennis hanna

    1. Isn’t that what rudy has been doing for the past 3-4 months? Please explain the difference between Mr. Cohen’s attorney and what the rudy dude has been espousing

  4. “If you can say something bad about Donald Trump and you will go down to two years or three years, which is the deal he made, in all fairness to him, most people are going to do that. … And I have seen it many times. I have had many friends involved in this stuff. It’s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal.”

    – President Trump

    It’s uncanny how President Donald J. Trump is always right. He said illegal aliens are dangerous then Kate Steinle was killed. Obergruppenfuhrer Mueller can’t accomplish his charge of discovering “Russian collusion” so, with “unfettered power,” he forces targets to “flip,” “sing” and even “compose.”

    The Founders intended investigation of crimes, not individuals and enemies, and honest and objective balancing of the scales of justice rather than creative, tyrannical Gestapo operations and full body cavity search – anal exams as political acts.

    “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”

    – Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s Director of Secret Police

  5. I think individuals forced to use GoFundMe fundraising instruments says more about the exorbitant costs of legal representation in our court system. And, then we have the injustice applied to individuals who are incarcerated because they cannot afford bail. Madness.

  6. Golfer Tiger Woods & Trump have something in common…Golfing buddies & love for money.

    Trump cheated on his wife 2 or 3 times, maybe more. Tiger cheated on his wife about 115 times. Tiger tells it like it is.

      1. Tiger Woods net worth is back to about $1 billion dollars. Want learn how to play golf?

  7. Turdley says: “Yet, individuals essentially can put their testimony on the block for sale, even competing with other witnesses in moving to the most hostile anti-Trump posture.” and: “The danger of this “market” is obvious: Faced with massive legal fees and costs, a person may be inclined to shape their accounts to better fit a popular niche. Cohen’s transition came after months of receiving little support in his former profile.”

    First, Cohen will be compelled to testify, under the penalty of contempt, if he is subpoenaed, regardless of whether he has help paying his legal bills. And, yes, we understand why Turdley is attacking Cohen: he knows where the bodies are buried. Secondly, where do you get off implying that by asking for help with mounting legal bills, Cohen is selling is testimony? Are the uber-wealthy the only ones who should have high-priced attorneys? Do you think the “may be inclined” language saves this post from the slanderous implication that Cohen is only testifying because he is being paid by anti-Trump people (which includes most Americans)? Where indeed is there any proof of any “competition” for witnesses to fabricate testimony to “better fit a popular niche”? This is more Faux News narrative. When Turdley sells his credentials to Faux News to support their Trump Derangement Syndrome theme that the American justice system is not worthy of trust, he betrays his integrity as a teacher of law and as an attorney. I know you know better, Jon. How are you going to spin this narrative when the tapes are finally played on national television? We know you’ve already helped Faux News plant seeds of doubt in TDS victims’ minds, so when Faux News denounces the tapes as fake, the TDS victims will believe it.

    Oh, and as to Ivana Trump and the rape allegation: she testified, under oath, in a deposition, about Trump’s cruelty to her, including raping her. She only “recanted” after he paid her off handsomely. Talk about purchased facts. I believe Ivana’s story before she got paid.

    1. Natacha reminds you every day that the Democratic Party is a collecting pool of the emotionally disturbed.

  8. Justin Bieber has all these older guys beat

    That’s right Justin Bieber is worth $300 million at age 24. All the 13, 14, 15 year old teeny bopper girls threw some cash at this guy & it all added up.

    Watch Justin do eye tricks in the court room

  9. I thought GoFundMe accounts were for victims of a tragedy? Since when does a corrupt individual like Strzok get the public to donate to him? Crime does pay? I blame it on the people who have no moral compass that would send money to creeps like these. These creeps got what they deserved–finally. They took the risks when deciding to join a conspiracy against Trump. Stop contributing to their bad behavior.

    The Democrats can’t seem to decide who they support. They were AGAINST Cohen before they were FOR him. Same with Comey. They love anyone who comes out against Trump. And it seems to be profitable if one does. Maybe we should pass some laws against online panhandling. There should be strict qualifying conditions to be eligible for one of these accounts. If you’ve lied to congress, you’re disqualified. If you haven’t paid your taxes, disqualified. If you rigged and investigation of a candidate for president, disqualified. Something like like.

    And what’s with Cohen hiring the biggest sycophant of Hillary–Lanny Davis? You have to know where he was going with that choice–against Trump.

    Keep draining that swamp Trump before it swallows you up.

  10. Would I give money to these people? Certainly not. However, “selling witnesses” is a bit much.

  11. I’m sure their are people on this site that will give money to Roger Stone too. Anybody that would buy a MAGA hat and T-shirt made in China are prime suckers.

  12. There was a bum on the street the other day begging for money. That is what he did for a living He could work. But he begged. Go Fund Me is the same sort of garbage on the streets of America.

    1. “He could work.” Did you interview him? Did you asses his mental and physical condition and his life history? Did you offer to hire him? Chances are you know nothing about his life and his challenges.

      1. I agree, Sam. Many beggars have serious mental health problems. Many are veterans who can’t adjust to life after military service. Just because someone physically looks healthy doesn’t mean they could regularly work at a job. Some people have serious problems taking direction and working with other people, and sometimes it’s not their fault. Some have ADD and dyslexia, so they couldn’t even take orders, operate a computer or file papers. They may also have substance abuse problems, too. As Sam said, you don’t know what someone else’s challenges have been

    2. Sheesh, that is a callous remark. Try getting the body of your deceased loved one flown back home from overseas or try to pay for serious medical conditions like ALS. Insurance doesn’t always cover 100%. People can get help from friends, family, and churches, but it isn’t always enough, even for working people. The number one cause for bankruptcy is due to medical expenses.

        1. If they ha had spent as much time on content as title they might have had something. Otherwise it’s just a way flush money that isn’t ours down the toilet

  13. These people are of no value to humanity, despite their millions. Yet certainly there are more than a few individuals also as willing to support these miscreants for the illusion they represent.

    You have to wonder who is more contemptible: These men or the sycophants who blindly support and enable them.

    1. Mueller’s Circus and Eric Holder’s lies enabling Jamie Dimond to get away with banking felonies that would have cost him life in prison, are the all time biggest feces sandwiches ever served by the USA’s so-called Justice Department.

      If Sessions does not quit soon, Trump certainly must fire him, and should have the day after Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.

    1. Somehow you are still able to meet your internet bill yet very gullible. Looks like you are wrong again Mensa boy.

      1. Tony – I am trying to keep my wife working until she is 80. That way my internet and insurance is covered. 😉 By that time I will probably be dead.

  14. I disagree. The cost of decent legal representation in this country is ruinous. Nobody should have to sell his house and cash out his pension to pay legal fees – either as a plaintiff or as a defendant. Crowd funding is really the only reasonable method for an individual to finance legal fees. I have no use for Michael Cohen and wouldn’t give a counterfeit penny to his GoFundMe appeal, but I can certainly understand why he’s gone that route. It’s a shame General Flynn didn’t do that instead of having to sell his family’s home to pay his lawyers.

    1. I agree that no one should be placed in a position where they have to sell their personal assets just to cover their legal expenses as either a plaintiff or defendant. But if he didn’t pay his taxes on this previously-undisclosed income, then where did the money go? I guess it went to buy a few houses… or taxi medallions. Is he soliciting funds to help pay the taxes he negligently decided he didn’t need to pay when they were properly incurred and owed, or is he looking to be paid to be a witness? That’s the question posed by the article.

      From my experience, the only time witnesses are compensated is if they’re expert witnesses, and those fees are court-imposed, not open to solicitation by lawyers. Cohen is certainly not an expert witness in any testimony against the President; he’s just someone who was caught in an unrelated charge by a wayward special counsel.

    2. “The cost of decent legal representation in this country is ruinous. Nobody should have to sell his house and cash out his pension to pay legal fees”

      Agree 100% but…only the famous get crowd funded. I shelled out several thousand $ to help my daughter and her son get out of a relationship with a giant turd of a person. What are the odds of getting the “crowd” to help fund that? Near zero. The “crowd” funding is rigged for those that are already connected. I have met many people entangled in the legal system that could use a few $ of help from lots of people. They don’t get the help they need. They aren’t scum back enough to make national news so are forgotten.

  15. Cohen stepped in it again. In letting Davis and Meuller talk him into pleading guilty to a non-crime he did in fact commit yet another crime. That of providing a false testimony while under oath. In allowing that to happen Meullers bunch committed misprision of office. Same crime that applies to the Generals strong arming situation. and Lanny Davis knew it all the time and so did this current Judge.

    Hurts when you step on it ouch ouch ouch. They are too used to being dirty.

    1. Haha. Please post more of this type of material. The zanier you people get, shows the more worried all you gullible rubes, dupes, klan-wannabees, pocket traitors, and grifters on the make are about the denouement of the day glo bozo vaudeville act.

      This is to “hannity can’t keep up so I just make sh*t up on the fly, now” mikey

        1. Unmistakably so, Anonymous.

          P. S. What’s up with Turley’s “conflation” of “defendants” as “witnesses”??? Can I buy someone’s guilty plea?

          1. PCS, “Marky Mark Mark…you are…”

            “Marky Mark NPD”

            Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

            A narcissistic personality disorder causes problems in many areas of life, such as relationships, work, school or financial affairs. People with narcissistic personality disorder may be generally unhappy and disappointed when they’re not given the special favors or admiration they believe they deserve. They may find their relationships unfulfilling, and others may not enjoy being around them.

            Treatment for narcissistic personality disorder centers around talk therapy (psychotherapy).


            Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and the severity of symptoms vary. People with the disorder can:

            Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
            Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
            Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
            Exaggerate achievements and talents
            Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
            Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
            Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
            Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
            Take advantage of others to get what they want
            Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
            Be envious of others and believe others envy them
            Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
            Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office
            At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:
            Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
            Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
            React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
            Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
            Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
            Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
            Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation

            ***When to see a doctor***

            People with narcissistic personality disorder may not want to think that anything could be wrong, so they may be unlikely to seek treatment. If they do seek treatment, it’s more likely to be for symptoms of depression, drug or alcohol use, or another mental health problem. But perceived insults to self-esteem may make it difficult to accept and follow through with treatment.

            If you recognize aspects of your personality that are common to narcissistic personality disorder or you’re feeling overwhelmed by sadness, consider reaching out to a trusted doctor or mental health provider. Getting the right treatment can help make your life more rewarding and enjoyable.

            *** Emphasis

            1. Awesome. The dude who isn’t allowed shoestrings at the facility is reaching into his cut-and-paste bag for some psych disorder materials. It definitely raises the question faced by all mental health professionals: how do you treat a patient’s disorders when he doesn’t recognize that he’s crazy as a loon?

              this is to “I gotta get up early to take the senior field trip in the morning; we’re going to Walmart, so I heard” georgie

              1. Marky Mark Mark – I realize you save money on advertising because you are getting those sloppy seconds from the FPD, but many of us think you have a personality disorder of some type. The question is just which one. I am going for OCD since you repeat yourself all the time. What does your doctor say?

                1. Plug in “mouse in your pocket?” nugget of gold here.

                  this is to “I’m using the ‘royal’ we” paulie

                  1. Complete nutjob and valiant warrior of the Internet

                    in all his splendor and anonymity.

                  2. Marky Mark Mark – there is not a drop of royal blood in you. 😉 Still waiting on that doctor’s verdict.

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