Crucifixion or Freedom? Cohen Forces Cummings Into A Most Unwelcomed Choice

Below is my column in The Hill on alleged perjury committed by Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee after being warned that any repeat of his earlier perjury would trigger an immediate referral for prosecution. This week, a leading Democrat said that she thought a referral was likely given the conflicts in Cohen’s testimony. For Cohen, it could be the greatest miscalculation seen on Capitol Hill since William J. Jefferson thought his freezer was a good repository for bribes. Cohen did what he has always done. He found a way to be useful to people who could do him some good. That is what he did for Trump as a legal thug. He then did it for Mueller as a cooperating witness and now he is trying to do it again as a turncoat for Congress. The problem is that Cohen remains unencumbered by truth or ethics. Cohen viewed his interest in being indispensable in giving Democrats what they wanted the most: Trump. The problem is that he has now put the Democrats, and particularly Chairman Elijah Cummings, in a glaringly hypocritical position if they do not refer the matter for prosecution.

Here is the column:

Crucifixion or freedom? That was the hilarious question asked of prisoners in the movie, “The Life of Brian.” One wise guy replies, “Freedom.” But as soon as he is being released, he laughs and says, “Just pulling your leg. It is crucifixion, really.” It was the quintessential Monty Python joke.

After all, who would choose crucifixion, right? For one, Michael Cohen, but that will depend whether the House Oversight Committee chairman, Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, was just pulling our legs in giving him the choice in the first place. Before Cohen testified, Cummings asked if he remembered the choice he was given to testify truthfully or be nailed to the cross. “Didn’t I tell you that?” Cummings asked. “Yes, you did, more than once,” Cohen replied. He proceeded to choose crucifixion by giving testimony that many in the media have described as perjurious.

Cohen claimed he had cared nothing about jobs or pardons from Donald Trump. He did not have to make such a noble claim, given his strikingly ignoble record. His greatest value was that of turncoat who once worked as a legal thug for Trump, threatening journalists, college students, and others who stood in their path. He succeeded in implicating Trump in possible criminal conduct, particularly in relation to campaign finance violations and transactional crimes. Cohen, however, was shooting for a bigger score. He was not just trying to hurt Trump. He was, as always, trying to help himself by claiming to embrace a “life of loyalty, friendship, generosity, and compassion.” He also is seeking millions of dollars behind the scenes, as well as a reduction to his already short prison sentence.

To start with, there was his claim that he was never interested in a job in the administration. A number of news organizations have reported that Cohen was upset lobbying for White House counsel, chief of staff, or other job in the administration. Despite at least a multiple such sources, Cohen has insisted, “I was extremely proud to be the personal attorney for the president of the United States of America. I did not want to go to the White House. I was offered jobs.” There is little ambiguity here. Either multiple witnesses lied or Cohen once again lied to Congress.

Then Cohen stated, “I have never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from President Trump.” That also directly contradicts multiple sources who say his lawyer pressed the White House for a pardon, and that Cohen unsuccessfully sought a presidential pardon after FBI raids on his office and residences last year. (Roughly a month later, he decided to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller.) Trump himself has also now stated publicly that Cohen previously asked him for a pardon and was rebuffed.

Cohen says that is a lie, and few people trust the veracity of either man. But it all makes sense if you are remotely familiar with Cohen, who has been consistent in only one thing in his career. That is his willingness to do anything to benefit himself. Moreover, Cohen was looking at criminal charges over his alleged business and financial activities that could be easily wiped out with a pardon and he might be able to keep the money.

The accounts of Cohen seeking a pardon also contradict his implausible claim repeated in his testimony that he flipped solely because he had a change of heart after Trump met with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. According to Cohen, he spent years doing unethical or illegal acts for Trump, but the one thing he could not abide was watching Trump kowtow to Putin. He later added the Charlottesville controversy as part of his moral epiphany. It had nothing to do with investigators uncovering his illegal business practices or being refused a White House job or a pardon. No, it was all about his feelings on Russian diplomacy and American race relations.

Any challenge to his testimony could undermine the case against Trump. So some House members have since rushed forth to encourage patience and avoid the need for Cummings to fulfill his promise to crucify Cohen for lying again. Lawyer Lanny Davis offered an almost comical spin by admitting his client Cohen “directed” him to bring up the possibility of a presidential pardon but essentially argued that the testimony of “never” seeking a pardon did not mean “never” but rather not relatively recently.

The hearing has also highlighted how Cohen is still gaming the system. It turns out that he remains quite wealthy, and is trying to get wealthier off his own scandal. Cohen and Davis endlessly pitched for donations to the GoFundMe site for Cohen, reportedly raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, this considerable wealth includes his possible retention of his infamous New York taxi medallions and valuable real estate investments. Cohen is suing his former taxi business partners for $6 million in loans.

Cohen is also seeking money from the Trump Organization under a prior alleged indemnity agreement for $1.9 million in legal fees and costs, and $1.9 million that he was ordered to forfeit “as part of his criminal sentence arising” from his from conduct “in furtherance of and at the behest of the Trump Organization and its principals, directors, and officers.” Thus, after duping donors on GoFundMe and retaining much of his wealth, Cohen is seeking payment of his legal fees and even his forfeited assets. Moreover, he is arguing that the Trump Organization was obligated to pay his fees and penalties, even as he worked against it by implicating it in crimes.

In the unlikely event that Cohen prevails in all this, he could emerge with more money than he started with at the time of his plea agreement. On top of that, he is seeking a reduction of the ridiculously short sentence he was given by a federal judge in December. He hopes to make it into the “freedom” line by providing damaging testimony against Trump, his family, and his company. The life of Cohen is far more complex than the “Life of Brian,” but one thing remains the same. The joke is still on us.

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

81 thoughts on “Crucifixion or Freedom? Cohen Forces Cummings Into A Most Unwelcomed Choice”

  1. Lisa Page Transcripts Released by Republicans

    “Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page defended herself and the bureau last year against accusations that bias against Donald Trump affected federal investigations of the Trump campaign’s suspected Russia ties and of Hillary Clinton’s emails, according to a transcript released Tuesday by the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.

    Page, who came to prominence over anti-Trump texts she exchanged with former FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok while both were assigned to the Clinton and Trump investigations, stressed that senior bureau officials were also expressing anti-Clinton animus — but that neither affected how agents working those cases carried out their jobs.

    “Many of us in law enforcement dislike the subject of our investigations. We are not keen on pedophiles and fraudsters and spies and human traffickers,” Page said. “That is fine. What would be impermissible is to take that harsh language and to act in some way that was illegal or against the rules. And we don’t do it.”…

    ,,,Last year, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz criticized individual FBI officials for exhibiting signs of bias about their investigations, even as he concluded that bias did not affect the outcome of the Clinton email probe. …”

    1. ” What would be impermissible is to take that harsh language and to act in some way that was illegal or against the rules.”

      Some people believe statements of self interest are more reliable than proven transcripts that logically indicate otherwise.

      1. As noted by the IG, no inappropriate behavior was discovered by FBI personnel beyond the use of agency phones for personal and political communications.

        As anyone with a brain who is not also interested in promoting propaganda should know – no, not you Allan – it is highly unlikely that strong political opinions of all kinds exist among the professionals within agencies like the FBI – the NY office was known to be particularly anti-Clinton, and one of the 2 reasons Comey publicized the October Hillary investigation was his fear that that office would leak it – and it is their professionalism which should concern us, not those beliefs.

        1. “As noted by the IG, no inappropriate behavior was discovered by FBI”

          Anon, it appears the best you can do is regurgitate talking points or read summaries of abstracts. There is no hope that you can put ideas together that aren’t on the same page.

          Instead of explaining the IG report to make a fool out of those that are unable to read, “– no, not you” Anon I will bring up material some of which was leaked in January. You can start exercising your brain by linking things together

          Lisa Page *protecting herself*:
          Talking about Clinton: “We, in fact — and, in fact, the Director — because, on its face, it did seem like, well, maybe there’s a potential here for this to be the charge. And we had multiple conversations, multiple conversations with the Justice Department about charging gross negligence,”

          “We had multiple conversations with the Justice Department about bringing a gross negligence charge. And that’s, as I said, the advice that we got from the Department was that they did not think — that it was constitutionally vague and not sustainable,”

          Over and over again it has been said that Strzok changed the language of Comey’s statement from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless”.

          The DOJ and FBI have distinct duties. If one is failing to do theirs that is not an excuse for the other not to do what they are supposed to do.

          1. As noted by the IG, other than the use of agency phones for personal and political communications, no inappropriate behavior was discovered by the FBI.

            1. Anon, rather than use your interpretation of what was said, I’ll use some quotes:

              “The damage caused by their actions … goes to the heart of the FBI’s reputation for neutral factfinding and political independence.”

              — DOJ IG report

              “We found that the conduct of these five FBI employees brought discredit to themselves, sowed doubt about the FBI’s handling of the Midyear investigation, and impacted the reputation of the FBI,”

              “Comey’s unilateral announcement was inconsistent with Department policy, usurped the authority of Attorney General, and did not accurately describe the legal position of the Department prosecutors,”

              Let’s include a teaspoonful of Obama into this mix.

              “FBI analysts and Prosecutor 2 told us that former President Barack Obama was one of the 13 individuals with whom Clinton had direct contact using her account.” Obama, however, says he learned about the email account at the same time everyone else did through the news media.

              I’ll leave you with an article that likely will go over your head and you won’t read anyhow. However, the title is short and clear enough for even your mind to absorb “The IG’s Report May Be Half-Baked. Andrew C. McCarthyJune 15, 2018 2:08 PM

              The above article has some pretty interesting stuff for anyone who has half a brain.

              1. I couldn’t resist. I’ll provide a bit of the article as a teaser for those that have the intellect Anon lacks. WE have to evaluate decisions in the real world.

                The IG’s Report May Be Half-Baked
                Andrew C. McCarthyJune 15, 2018 2:08 PM

                The 568-page report by U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz entitled “A Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election” is seen shortly after its release in Washington, June 14, 2018. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)
                But who knows?
                You’ve got to hand it to Michael Horowitz: The Justice Department inspector general’s much-anticipated report on the Clinton-emails investigation may be half-baked, but if it is, it is the most comprehensive, meticulously detailed, carefully documented, thoughtfully reasoned epic in the history of half-bakery.

                Why say do I say the report “may be half-baked”? Why don’t I just come out and declare, “The report is half-baked”? Well, I figure if I write this column in the IG’s elusive style, we’ll have the Rosetta Stone we need to decipher the report.

                See, you probably sense that I believe the report is half-baked. But if I say it “may be” half-baked . . . well, technically that means it may not be, too. I mean, who really knows, right?

                If that annoys you, try wading through 568 pages of this stuff, particularly on the central issue of the investigators’ anti-Trump bias. The report acknowledges that contempt for Trump was pervasive among several of the top FBI and DOJ officials making decisions about the investigation. So this deep-seated bias must have affected the decision-making, right? Well, the report concludes, who really knows?

                Not in so many words, of course. The trick here is the premise the IG establishes from the start: It’s not my job to draw firm conclusions about why things happened the way they did. In fact, it’s not even my job to determine whether investigative decisions were right or wrong. The cop-out is that we are dealing here with “discretionary” calls; therefore, the IG rationalizes, the investigators must be given very broad latitude. Consequently, the IG says his job is not to determine whether any particular decision was correct; just whether, on some otherworldly scale of reasonableness, the decision was defensible. And he makes that determination by looking at every decision in isolation.

                But is that the way we evaluate decisions in the real world?


                  1. As I figured Anon, you couldn’t understand what McCarthy explained nor does it seem that you were able to understand the quotes I provided in testimony by Lisa Page.

                    As McCarthy would say, ‘Anon, you don’t know how to evaluate decisions in the real world. But he says more in the portion of the article above that is indeed above your ability to comprehend.

                    1. Typical Alan..!

                      Somehow Anon lacks the comprehension skills to present this Lisa Page development. According to Alan, that’s the problem with every liberal on this blog: ‘We all lack the skills to factually report the stories we wish to post’.

                      But thankfully (for conservatives) Alan possesses the deep wisdom necessary to determine what these developments really mean.

                      You see it takes an old codger like Alan to truly recognize the persistent deceptions of mainstream media. No one under 80 really gets this stuff.

                    2. ” No one under 80 really gets this stuff.”

                      Peter, your sarcastic remark demonstrates your innate stupidity. Alan Dershowitz is 80 years old. The difference between him and you aside from his age is that he is intellectually superior. However, if he relied on predigested material to spew out like you and Anon do he would sound like an intellectual moron. The problem doesn’t have to do with age or schooling rather it has to do with minds that are shut so tight the brain should die of anoxia.

                      If you think you have the intellectual skills Anon lacks enter the debate on this subject but first read the quotes from Lisa Page and take a look at McCarthy’s op-ed. I am waiting for honest debate skipping all the deflection to many are accustomed to.

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