Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the effort of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen to convince the federal court to show leniency in his sentencing. While Cohen should get credit for cooperation, it must be balanced against two high countervailing considerations. First, Cohen spent much of the last two years threatening people and obstructing efforts to disclose wrongdoing. Second, he is an officer of the court. Judges generally do not look kindly upon lawyers violating their oaths and becoming vehicles for crimes and wrongdoing.
Here is the column:
Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen is in federal court today, trying to cut one last deal by convincing a judge that he does not deserve a day in jail for knowingly lying to Congress. The reason? Cohen insists that he has shown the “personal resolve, notwithstanding past errors, to repoint his internal compass true north toward a productive, ethical and thoroughly law abiding life.” The assumption is that special counsel Robert Mueller was standing just north of Cohen when he wrote that statement.
Cohen has never shown loyalty to anything or anyone but himself, according to the record compiled in the special counsel investigation. He betrayed the bar, his friends, and his clients whenever it suited his interests. He often planned ahead with moves like secretly taping his clients as a type of evidence nest egg for hard times. This is why I once described Cohen as meeting the classic Sam Houston definition of someone as having “all the characteristics of a dog except loyalty.”
For his own part, President Trump quickly tossed aside any sensible notion of decorum or detachment in demanding that his former friend and lawyer be sent to jail to rot: “You mean he can do all of the TERRIBLE, unrelated to Trump, things having to do with fraud, big loans, taxis, etc., and not serve a long prison term? He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself.” Trump then added: “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”
Trump seemed oblivious to the fact that the same logic would demand that his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, be sent away for life. Manafort makes Cohen look like a mere piker when it comes to fraud. Where Cohen was an opportunistic thief operating around New York, Manafort was running a one man global criminal enterprise. Yet, Trump has dangled a pardon in front of Manafort, who reportedly defied Mueller and his team in the investigation, as well as complimented Manafort on how he refused “make up stories in order to get a deal” as did Cohen.
However, this is another example of how Trump may be right for the wrong reason. I have been a longtime critic of Cohen and early in the administration recommended that Trump sever ties with him before he metastasized as an existential threat. The president ignored such advice and pulled Cohen even closer, even as his lack of legal skills and ethics snowballed in scandal. The only concern of Cohen is Cohen himself. When Trump promised access to wealth and power, he was his loyal hatchet man, promising to take a bullet for him. When the special counsel discovered his myriad criminal acts, Cohen became a Mueller man.
His “past errors” include victimizing more vulnerable people. He distinguished himself as a thug who threatened journalists, university students, and anyone else deemed a threat to Trump. When he appears for his sentencing, I recommend that the judge read some of his prior statements when his “internal compass” was pointed, as it always was, to his own interests. In 2015, when Harvard Lampoon staffers played a prank on Trump by having him sit in the stolen “president’s chair” from the Harvard Crimson for a photo and an endorsement, Cohen threatened the students with ruin. 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.”
Then there was his threat against former Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak, who simply wrote about a biography by former Newsweek reporter Harry Hurt. The biography, titled “Lost Tycoon,” includes allegations in a sworn deposition from Trump’s first wife, Ivana, that Trump raped her. In a phone call recorded by Mak, Cohen told the reporter: “You’re talking about Donald Trump, you’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, a presidential candidate, as well as private individual, who never raped anybody and, of course, understand that by the very definition you can’t rape your spouse,” the latter, of course, being legally incorrect. Cohen declared: “Mark my words for it, 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.”
Likewise, that “internal compass” did not seem to twitch as he persuaded AT&T and other companies to give him millions of dollars for access to Trump before his inauguration. Then Cohen decided to offer up Trump to Mueller, he made hundreds of thousands of dollars on GoFundMe as an effective witness for hire for donors who want Trump out of office. This is why the filing for no jail time is a request for leniency that borders on lunacy. The judge in the District of Columbia court should, instead, point Cohen “true north” all the way to the federal lockup in Pennsylvania.