Michael Cohen’s Last Hustle: How Trump’s Former Fixer Blew His Final Play

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Below is my column at Foxnews.com on the inevitable collapse of Michael Cohen’s strategy to avoid jail for his extensive criminal conduct as a businessman and a lawyer.  I recently discussed how the filing detailed the windfall payments of over $4 million that Cohen received from companies like AT&T to buy access and influence with Trump.  It was one of Cohen’s last scams.  He ended up keeping the money despite being embroiled in the scandals that led to his demise.  He then scammed thousands of anti-Trump donors on a GoFundMe site for hundreds of thousands of dollars on the promise of turning against Trump.  He never mentioned the millions that he shook down companies for in his cash for access scheme.  In other words, Cohen continue to hustle but, on this occasion, he came up one hustle too short.

President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen – who prides himself on being a street-wise fixer and hustler – ran into a problem he couldn’t fix Friday when he was denied the “get out of jail free” card he desperately sought in return for admitting his crimes.

Cohen is scheduled to be sentenced next week for his guilty pleas to multiple counts of business and tax fraud. He also pleaded guilty to making an excessive contribution to the Trump campaign and to making false statements to Congress regarding Trump’s business dealings in Russia.

Federal prosecutors in New York City and Special Counsel Robert Mueller – who is investigating whether President Trump and/or members of his presidential election campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election – filed sentencing memos Friday recommending prison time for the former Trump lawyer.

According to a sentencing memo from the New York prosecutors, Cohen built his entire professional life through a “pattern of deception” and unrivaled greed.

Cohen’s belated effort to cooperate with prosecutors without a formal agreement was an effort to play Mueller the way he played Trump – making himself useful in the hope of becoming indispensable.

But it looks like this time Cohen will come up one hustle short.

In the 1961 movie classic “The Hustler,” a young pool shark named Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) sought to topple legendary veteran Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) in a high-stakes pool game. A smug Fast Eddie bragged to Minnesota Fats that he “didn’t leave much” on the table, but the seasoned Minnesota Fats dryly responded “you left enough.”

By declaring himself a redemptive sinner, Cohen clearly thought that he had left little on the table to deny him a zero jail time sentence. Earlier, he decided to give up on a chance for a pardon from President Trump and made the play for Mueller.

Cohen publicly implicated Trump in campaign finance violations in the payment of hush money to women Trump allegedly had affairs with (affairs Trump denies).

Cohen apparently thought that delivering on Trump would wipe away a lifetime of deception and fraud. Instead, prosecutors grudgingly accepted a modest reduction in sentencing, but still demanded a “substantial term of imprisonment.”

Cohen is now looking at the loss of this law license, business and freedom. He could spend as much as five years in prison for what the government described as “Cohen’s extensive, deliberate, and serious criminal conduct.”

Cohen ultimately lacked two essential things to make this hustle work.

First and foremost, he lacked credibility. In an earlier column, I called Cohen’s play for no jail time a plea of leniency bordering on lunacy.

Cohen is now looking at the loss of this law license, business and freedom. He could spend as much as five years in prison for what the government described as “Cohen’s extensive, deliberate, and serious criminal conduct.”

As predicted in the column, the prosecutors played back Cohen’s own words when he threatened journalists, students, and others who were deemed as threats to Trump. For example, in 2015 Cohen threatened Daily Beast reporter Tim Mack for running a story critical of Trump.

On a recorded call, Cohen tells Mack: “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 that you possibly know. Do not even think about going where I know you’re planning on going. And that’s my warning for the day.”

Cohen then goes full mob heavy and warns the reporter to “tread very f—— lightly because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f—— disgusting. … Do you understand me? Don’t think you can hide behind your pen because it’s not going to happen. … I’m more than happy to discuss it with your attorney and with your legal counsel because motherf—– you’re going to need it.”

Prosecutors clearly did not buy the months of public spin by Cohen and his lawyer, Lanny Davis, including raking in almost $180,000 in donations on a GoFundMe page.

The page says: “On July 2, 2018 Michael Cohen declared his independence from Donald Trump and his commitment to tell the truth. .… Michael decided to put his family and his country first. Now Michael needs your financial help.”

On both Fox News and MSNBC, Davis said that Cohen’s moral epiphany came after watching the Helsinki news conference last July in which President Trump appeared to side with Russian President Vladimir Putin in believing Russia’s denial of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election that Trump won.

“That shook up Mr. Cohen,” Davis said.

OK, so we are supposed to believe that when President Trump repeated his prior position on Russian interference in 2016 presidential election Cohen suddenly decided that it was time for him to tell the truth about his dealings with a porn star and a Playboy model.

This makes as much sense as mob boss Joe Valachi saying that he decided to flip on the Lucchese crime family after watching “The Sound of Music.”

The prosecutors stated that Cohen’s “description of his actions as arising solely from some ‘personal resolve’ – as opposed to arising from the pendency of criminal charges and the desire for leniency – ignores that Cohen first reached out to meet with (the special counsel) at a time when he knew he was under imminent threat of indictment in this District. As such, any suggestion by Cohen that his meetings with law enforcement reflect a selfless unprompted about-face are overstated.”

Additionally, Cohen needed a Section 5K1.1 letter. That is what a fully cooperating witness receives when he has a deal with prosecutors. However, prosecutors state that Cohen made the “affirmative decision not to become” a true cooperating witness.

Without that letter, Cohen’s modest reduction in his sentence for cooperation has to be partially or wholly erased by two “enhancements” tied to his status as a lawyer and the sophistication of his fraudulent conduct.

The enhancements could still leave Cohen serving most of the five-year sentence. In other words, even with his cooperation, he still left enough for a “substantial” sentence of prison time.

In what Fast Eddie described as his “Church of the Good Hustler,” the only thing that matters in the end is putting balls in the right pockets. However, hubris is often the ruin of many a good player.

Fast Eddie told Minnesota Fats: “You know, I got a hunch, fat man. I got a hunch it’s me from here on in.”

Like Fast Eddy, Cohen was wrong. It never was his game. It was (and remains) Mueller’s game.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro professor of public Iiterest law at George Washington University and a practicing criminal defense attorney.

155 thoughts on “Michael Cohen’s Last Hustle: How Trump’s Former Fixer Blew His Final Play”

  1. Somewhat off topic, but I thought the normal objective in filing a lawsuit was to get money for the client, not for the defendant’s lawyers.

  2. What a mess. Trump was the victim of the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s efforts to use Russian spies to put out false information on her political opponent and influence the outcome of an American election. She lost the election, but her political cronies have managed to investigate her victim for what she actually did. Amazing. That investigation has yielded several criminal charges on totally unrelated matters, such as tax evasion. Mueller appears to be trying to charge anyone with anything, rather than investigate the Russians. If he was serious about investigating Russian interference, then he would have investigated Hillary Clinton, the DNC, and Fusion GPS. There seems to be no consequences to this misuse of power.

    That said, Trump has a pattern of surrounding himself with questionable characters like Cohen and Amarosa, who turn around and bite him. I do not believe that his payments to former mistresses for their discretion break campaign finance law, as long as the payments didn’t come from contributions. The man has a long history of paying lovers to keep their mouths shut, but it has not stopped his other pattern – that of divorce. Although his affairs do not break the law, they certainly do reflect poorly upon him. I quite like Melania Trump, and believe she deserves her husband’s loyalty, or else an upfront divorce prior to adultery. However, I am not privy to their private affairs, and have no idea what their marriage is like. The press, Hollywood, and pundits piling upon Melania is the worst sort of bullying of a woman already under pressure. Hopefully, she comes out of it a diamond rather than cracked.

    1. The CIA and various other intelligence agencies from around the world have already concluded Russia was trying to help Trump win, not Clinton.

      What law enforcement reports have you read that conclude Russian spies were trying to help Clinton win?

      https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-russia-helped-hackers-us-election-2016-a7466926.html

      It would have been against Russia’s interests to help Clinton because she wanted to set up no-fly zones in Syria to stop attacks Syrian dissidents, and it would have contained Russian planes from being able to assist Assad attacking Syrian rebels.

      It makes no sense for Russia to have helped Clinton.

      The Steele dossier has not been disproven and in fact it is considered reliable enough that 4 judges cited it to justify 4 FISA warrants.

      Please stay up to date on the law. You are embarrassing yourself by posting incorrect legal developments.

      1. The Steele dossier has not been disproven and in fact it is considered reliable enough that 4 judges cited it to justify 4 FISA warrants.

        It was one judge, who knew some of the FBI cabal socially.

    1. DB Benson,..
      -Sacha Baron Cohen is the one in the video; Michael Cohen is the one who said he would take a bullet ( but not additional jail time) for Trump.

  3. JT seems to doubt Cohen’s “moral epiphany” and whether Cohen is, in fact, “a redemptive sinner”.
    But long before Cohen’s legal problems, he can be seen consulting with various clergy, etc., struggling for answers about God, religion, etc.

  4. OT:

    Excerpt of article:

    Epstein sex abuse victims press judge for decision on tossing lenient plea deal

    BY JULIE K. BROWN AND CAITLIN OSTROFF

    December 10, 2018 06:38 PM

    Updated 52 minutes ago

    Victims of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who have waged a decade-long fight for justice, on Monday pressed a federal judge to finally take action on their motion to throw out a controversial plea agreement that gave the politically connected multimillionaire immunity from federal prosecution.

    Lawyers for Epstein’s victims filed the request in the Southern District of Florida, asking judge Kenneth Marra to either make a decision or set a date for a hearing on the motion to vacate the deal. That request, which many legal experts consider a long shot, has been awaiting his ruling for more than a year.

    Epstein, 65, was given what victims’ advocates consider one of the most lenient plea deals for a serial sex offender in history. The New York hedge fund manager faced a possible life sentence for molesting dozens — and perhaps hundreds — of underage girls at his Palm Beach mansion from 2001 to 2006, according to federal court documents.

    But in 2008, then-Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta signed a non-prosecution agreement that allowed Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. In exchange, the FBI dropped its probe into whether Epstein was operating an international sex trafficking network, and also granted federal immunity to his co-conspirators — four of whom were identified, and others who have never been named.

    https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/article222912360.html

    1. Immunity????!! That sexual predator Epstein got immunity??? They need to investigate this judge to see if there was improper influence.

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