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. Roger Stone and his current lawyer, Bruce Rogow, are making big mistakes again. Stone has a second edition of his previous book coming out that reportedly ups the ante on attacking Mueller and the special counsel’s investigation in a new introduction written by Stone’s previous lawyer, Grant Smith.

    The trouble is that Judge Amy Berman Jackson had issued a gag order on Roger Stone on February 21st, 2019, that included a requirement to notify the court of all future plans to publish Roger Stone’s written works on the Mueller investigation and related topics. Stone currently claims that the book at issue was published on February 18th, 2019 (three days before the gag order). However, there are email exchanges showing that Stone had only just received his own proofing copy of the book on February 18th, 2019, even while other emails show his lawyers discussing a publication date of either March 1st, or March 5th, 2019.

    Meanwhile, a hearing on the question is scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday March 14th, 2019. And Stone’s current lawyer, Bruce Rogow, has already sent Judge Amy Berman Jackson a note from his doctor explaining why Rogow will not be able to travel to attend tomorrow’s hearing. Well, I might get sick, too, if I were Rogow’s shoes. Wouldn’t you?

  2. I am shocked. Confirmed rat and liar invited back to congress after being convicted of lying to congress – then lies to congress again. Another indication that Dumbocrats have completely lost their mental Shiite when it comes to Trump by acting so desperate/hopeful in inviting and rallying behind one of the worst witnesses in the history of congress.

  3. Jon: your bias is showing again. Your entire story hinges on several references to “multiple sources” or “many in the media” you fail to identify. If these “sources” or “media” are within the White House or Faux News, which they likely are, they have no credibility.

    Secondly, the big lies you claim Cohen uttered, and for which we should therefore all discount his testimony despite being backed up by documentary evidence, pale in comparison to Trump’s consistent pattern of lies, but more importantly, the serious implications for all of America. Like, for instance a few recent examples: Trump’s lies about ongoing efforts to work a deal for the Trump Moscow Hotel, even after Trump received the nomination. Like the lie that he was “joking” when he asked Russia to get into HRC’s e-mails, followed up the next day by the first document dump. Katie Tur asked him immediately after this statement about this, and he never said he was joking. Instead, he said he hoped Russians would obtain and release the e-mails. The “I was only joking” line is probably from the same bleached blondie fevered brain that came up with the “locker room talk” explanation for bragging about genital grabbing, and for the “alternative facts” argument.

    You complain that Cohen lied about being interested in a job in the Administration. The only source to claim this is untrue this is within the White House, so I automatically don’t believe it. Secondly, the matter of whether he asked for a pardon. Again, who else besides Trump or his flunkies would refute this? I personally don’t see how or why Trump would fail to offer a pardon or how or why Cohen’s lawyer wouldn’t entertain such a discussion, given that Cohen is going to prison for Trump and has documents and audio tapes to back up his clailms. Third, you complain that it is a lie that Cohen flipped because of a change of heart. Oh, come on now. Who cares?

    Simply put, there is no equivalence here. The claim that Cohen is lying is coming from a consistent, habitual liar, his representatives or his personal media outlet that spins the facts.

    As to the matter of indemnity, if there is such an agreement why shouldn’t it be honored?

    1. If you remember what Rep. Cummings said when he opened the hearings? He told Cohen not to lie to him or else. Something that JT left out.

    2. Haha, you are funny, who cares? You surely don’t care about the truth, well, maybe the truth as you see it, Truly Orwellian.

      1. Cohen was a member of Trump’s Joint Defense Agreement omerta at the time that Cohen’s lawyer discussed a pardon with Trump’s lawyers. In order for the Justice Department to investigate Cohen’s alleged perjury, the Justice Department will have to investigate Trump’s JDA omerta. That means no attorney-client privilege for Trump, Flynn, Manafort and any number of others from amongst the estimated 34 people or more who were members of Trump’s JDA omerta. And that’s not counting the lawyers, who will thereby need lawyers of their own who were not representing clients who were part of Trump’s JDA omerta. “This thing is [expletive deleted] molten.” And Trump has stepped in it.

  4. JT pointing out that someone that was and is connected to Trump is lying is just shocking, shocking I say….As the list of people that has lied to Congress grows by the day, Trump supporters that yell from the rooftops that Cohen is a lier and that anything he says is a lie, well its just funny. Not for one second do they doubt the word of Trump. A man who introduces another by the wrong name { Tim Apple} doubles down and says he didn’t say it and it is fake news, and he said the right name to begin with given the fact he did say the wrong name on video by countless news services. So be happy that Cohen might have been caught in a lie, and believe everything Trump said, if it makes you happy. Just remember, when Don Jr, Erik Prince and the rest gets called, that Donald Trump is the only one who can always tell the truth.

    1. Manafort has a sentencing hearing in D. C. tomorrow. We might get some court filings with fewer redactions. But most of the redactions will probably remain. And that means that Mueller is not finished. And, because Mueller is not finished, he won’t submit his report anytime soon. Unless his report takes the form of a superceding indictment sometime after Corporation A loses its SCOTUS appeal and Andrew Miller’s lawyer, Paul Kamenar, figures out his next move.

      Have you noticed that nobody has recently announced the imminent submission of Mueller’s report? I think they may be catching on. But they’ll never admit it.

  5. Surprising. I thought they would give him a gold medal. A kindred spirit that they aspire to mimic.

    1. And the appropriate response under the U.S. Constitution to “…a lot of that going around…” is not a power grab of illicit legislation infringing on a free press but litigation in the constitutional court system.

      Understanding that L. Lin Wood has sued WaPo and Bezos for $250 Million,

      “L. Lin Wood, representing Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann, plans to sue CNN for at least $250 million.”

      – The Hill

      You go, boy!

  6. Prof Turley – I still anxiously await your condemnation of the Democrats smear campaign and the clear targeting of Republicans that has occurred starting with Obama and the FISA courts and continuing to this day by an absurd group of Democrats and the Mueller investigation. This is not a time for intellectual forays into “… and ifs”, “What ifs” and “possibly” but a time to state clearly that the Trump opposition is purely politcal and based on fantastical lies and entrapments created by the Obama administration and the Mueller investigation. Otherwise you are implicit in the abuse of power created by the Obama administration and the Mueller team who have systematically entrapped and impoverished people based on political animus!

    1. SBG: let me help you out. Opposition to Trump is purely NOT political. Rather, it is based on opposition to him because he is unfit to serve as POTUS. First of all, he was not elected by the majority of Americans. Secondly, he is passionately disliked because of his malignant narcissism, misogyny, racism, lack of leadership ability, lack of any coherent agenda other than seeking personal adulation and attention, and abuse of power. Why did he force the intelligence community to give Jared Kushner unfettered access to top secret information that he could leverage when they were concerned about his ties to foreigners he wants to borrow money from? Why don’t you Trumpsters demand that he fulfill, or at least explain what happened to the promise that Mexico will pay for the wall? Why should all federal agencies suffer a 5% budget cut so that a fat, lying narcissist can try to claim “victory”? Why is it OK that he cages children whose parents are seeking U.S. asylum, and then Kirsten Nielssen lies about this? Why do world leaders literally laugh out loud at him, to his face? Why does he kow tow to Putin and Kim Jong Un? More importantly, how can people like you become so indoctrinated by Faux News, Rush Limbaugh, et al so that you can’t see the truth staring you in the face?

  7. 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.

    Again, partisan Democrats have no principles, merely improvisations advanced to provide a sophistic excuse for them getting what they want. Nat Hentoff had principles. George McGovern had principles. Andrew Jacobs Jr had principles. Alan Dershowitz has principles. Jerilyn Merritt has principles. The first 3 are dead, the fourth is 80 years old, the last 70 years old.

      1. Yes, interesting. Admittedly I don’t know the former two and I am not sure if it makes sense to talk about a lawyer’s principle outside legal rules. But, I guess I should take a look what Jerilyn is doing lately.;)

    1. We heard no similar expression of outrage over the recent appearance of Trump Administration official Eliot Abrams before a congressional committee. He was convicted of lying before Congress in 1991.

    1. Easy answer for the Socialists aka Democrats. They will give it a Minnesota Miss. and let it slide slide slide. Sure fire proven successful method works with racists, wife beaters in Minnesovieta so why not expand to where needed? No matter what a righteous citizen would do, even one in office, Just ignore it. Liberal Reasoning fine tuned and easily replaced by offering free stuff.

    2. Rep. Cummings opened the hearing with a statement to Cohen. Do not BS me or this committee. So, if he did lie in the hearing, Cummings will have him cold.

      1. FishWings, Cohen is a compulsive liar. He lied in front of Congress despite what Cummings said. That is what compulsive liars do. But Cummings wasn’t interested in the truth for if he was he wouldn’t have called in Cohen. They also wouldn’t be calling in working people where some of those people might have to bankrupt themselves in order to pay for a lawyer and the travel expenses. That is not the way government’s work in a truly free society.

  8. Notice how Turley and all the other repug enablers have their panties in wad because Cohan lied about asking for book deal, a job, a pardon, all lies about himself. They never take on the substance of his testimony about our Liar in Chief D J Trump.

    Trump hired Cohanto be his lying lawyer for 10 years and praised him and paid him untl he flipped!

    Tell me who is the bigger LIAR?

  9. Hey America, we won’t give you money to build a wall and enforce our immigration law but we’ll piss away your dollars having hearings trying to find a crime.

  10. Turley writes …Cohan is seeking a reduction in his “ridiculously low sentence” (3years) compared to what Jonathan, were you thinking of maybe Manafort (4 years) or all the other rich white males in service to the repug party.

    1. Trump’s Joint Defense Agreement Omerta is on ongoing criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice. If Trump gets to violate that JDA omerta for the sake of provoking a criminal referral to investigate Cohen’s alleged perjury, then The Justice Department ought to use that same criminal referral on Cohen to investigate the entire JDA omerta under the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege. And I do me both lawyers and their clients. All of them. Let’s pop the lid off of that can of worms and how many of them wriggle out of it.

      1. wrong, not for Trump nor any other American accused of crimes

        Why do you consistently seek to remove the normal presumptions of innocence and due process for the POTUS?

        Think about this

        Usually people in legal circles say:
        “if they can do it to the least of us then they can do it to all of us

        how much more true then is:

        “if they can do it to the foremost among us— then they damn sure can do it to all of us!”

        1. Trump’s JDA omerta is a parade of overt acts in the furtherance of two ongoing conspiracies; one a conspiracy to obstruct justice; the other, the original conspiracy to defraud the United States. If Trump can exploit that JDA omerta to investigate Cohen’s alleged perjury, then The Justice Department has no choice but to investigate Trump’s JDA omerta–including Trump’s dangling of pardons to Flynn and Manafort and who knows who all else to suborn perjury and false statements from Flynn and Manafort and who knows who all else. Trump really stepped in it this time.

        2. A Joint Defense Agreement is an exception to the rule on waiving attorney-client privilege. If the JDA is, itself, violated, then the attorney-client is effectively waived. That’s what Trump has done. Trump has waived attorney-client privilege by violating his JDA with Cohen. That’s a big mistake. Of course, the same argument applies to Cohen, who also violated the same JDA and who, thereby, waived attorney-client privilege over any communications that took place while the JDA was in force.

          Oct 22, 2018 … What Attorneys Should Know About Joint Defense Agreements … such an agreement does not always need to be in writing to be enforceable.

  11. Turley writes “… The greatest miscalculation seen on capital hill since….” Have you forgotten Jonathan the invasion of Iraq based on trumped up weapons of mass destruction by the former repug administration,

    Turley uses the revised repug swamp scale, my bad.

    1. That turtle soup he had for lunch the other day might have energized that “revised repug swamp scale” of his.

        1. What if Trump suborned Cohen’s most recent alleged lie to Congress the same way that Trump suborned Cohen’s previous lie to Congress? By means of Trump’s JDA omerta. The crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege ought to apply in that case. The Justice Department could then investigate the entire JDA omerta in the process of investigating Cohen’s most recent alleged lie to Congress. And Cohen won’t be the only lawyer under oath. Just the only one who has already been disbarred.

          1. You say you have legal training, then you should not ask a question with a false premise in your question. Above, you presume trump commits a crime and build that into your question.. a la “have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

            Or in your case we might ask a false premise question such as, “have you taken your anti-psychotic medicines today?” That would be offensive. You don’t mind stating false premise questions, and maybe that’s why other people have made such remarks to you in turn. Not me but I observe some people have said such things.

            Just repeating what others have said, kind of like the fake news media, see?

            1. The Maker of False Statements said, “You say you have legal training . . .”

              Never. Not once. In fact, I have repeatedly stated that I am not a lawyer. Guess what? Neither are you, you Maker of False Statements, you.

    2. Apparently you forgot the ten or eleven reasons given for that move all approved by in an open vote by both parties and the part you spoke about which means Chemical, biological and Nuclear weapons was 2/3rds correct while the other nine or ten items were also correct. What happened to genocide are you now in favor of that? Of course you are given Obamas record. Violation of the UN sponsored inspections? etc etc etc.

      Just how phony are you?

      And lest we forget your war monger part has never invoked and honored the War Powers Act while the GOP once each under both Bush’s did so and got an approval. Time to scrub your own dirty laundry. Since 1909 you have NOTHINg to talk about except your blood drenched record

  12. How droll of you Jonathan to mention rep Jefferson and the 90,000 found in his freezer.

    The same man sentenced for that by T S Ellis for 13 years of which he served 5, and was released after the late great Govenor of Virginia McConnell was let off the hook by our great USSC!

    Why not write a column about that, need I even mention Rep Jefferson was black.

    1. While on the subject of blc blacks sentenced by T S Ellis let us not forget the woman who was sentenced during a break in the Manafirt trial for scamming people out of 350,000 she was sentenced by him to 6 years.

      1. Thanks for reminding me. As long as the DoJ is going to investigate Cohen’s participation in Trump’s Joint Defense Agreement Omerta, they might as well investigate Manafort’s participation in Trump JDA Omerta, too. Come to think of it, every last single lawyer and client up in Trump’s JDA Omerta ought to be investigated by DoJ just so soon as Chairman Cummings makes that criminal referral to DoJ to investigate Cohen’s participation in Trump’s JDA Omerta. If only I were a lawyer, I might have been able to think of something that wickedly awesome. Thanks for reminding me.

      2. Another made up story? Insufficient information to find any factual basis which means it’s just another waste of four sentences.

    2. No need to mention anything. It’s never backed up and therefore useless and there is no reason to read it to begin with.

  13. The joke will be on us especially, if Cummings looks away . Concise article. Cohen tries for sympathy but he seems much too smarmy.

    1. Chairman Cummings should make the criminal referral on Cohen to the Justice Department. The Justice Department should then investigate Trump, Trump’s lawyers, Trump’s White House Counsels and whoever else has something material to say about the job offer or the pardon dangle including Cohen and Cohen’s lawyers.

      Trump ought not to be allowed to assert executive privilege to shield himself from any DoJ investigation of Cohen’s alleged perjury to Congress. Trump ought not to be allowed to assert client-attorney privilege to shield himself from any DoJ investigation of Cohen’s alleged perjury to Congress. Trump’s interview with DoJ investigators ought be sworn testimony.

      If Trump makes false statements to DoJ investigators, then those false statements should be referred right back to Chairman Cummings, Special Counsel Mueller and Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Robert Khuzami.

      Let’s get it on.

      1. Make that attorney-client privilege, instead. And make the criminal referral apply to all of the members of Trump’s Joint Defense Agreement including their lawyers. Since there’s no attorney-client privilege for Cohen’s participation in Trump’s JDA omerta, there ought not to be any attorney-client privilege for Trump nor Manafort nor any other client or lawyer who participated, or still participates, in Trump’s JDA omerta.

        Let’s find out all about the dangling of pardons in exchange for perjured testimony and false statements. Why not? It looks the “fraud exception” to attorney-client privilege to me. Let’s do it. Let’s get it done.

        1. Popping the lid off of the can of worms to expose the systematic abuse of the pardon power through lawyers in a Joint Defense Agreement to obstruct justice by suborning perjury and false statements. That’s what I mean when I say “Let’s get it on.”

      2. Shame you have never read the basic law of our country which leads me to believe not only no legal training but not a citizen of this country.

        1. “No need to mention anything. It’s never backed up and therefore useless and there is no reason to read it to begin with”.

          Sound familiar? Where’s the back-up for this “the basic law of our country”? What basic law? Where’s the back-up for this “not a citizen of this country”?

          “It’s never backed up and therefore useless . . .”

        1. Nevertheless, if the Justice Department investigate Cohen’s alleged perjury, then both Cohen and Trump have already waived attorney-client privilege over any conversation or communications they had while their Joint Defense Agreement was in force. Furthermore, if, as a result of investigating Cohen’s alleged perjury, the Justice Department uncovers evidence of a quid pro quo conspiracy involving pardons dangled in exchange for false testimony to Congress, then the entire Joint Defense Agreement between Trump and an estimated 34 people or more can be investigated as an ongoing criminal conspiracy without any member of the JDA, including the lawyers, retaining the attorney-client privilege behind which they’ve all been concealing their ongoing criminal conspiracies to obstruct justice and to defraud the United States.


  14. I am no fan of Cohan but was a fan of yours, have you Turley put in even half as much effort in trying to indict trump?

    1. spul

      spul Noun
      spul, het ~ (goedjemateriaal)
      stuff, the ~ Noun

      No such word as spull but spul or spullen from the Dutch means stuff. Spuller is a name in some Spanish speaking areas.

      The request is unintelligible

    1. Technically that’s true –“one swallow does not a summer make.” One episode doesn’t not make a trait, bu Cohen has so many episodes, its disingenuous, if not damning, to say this. You are what you habitually do, not what you rarely do. For example, due to some unforeseen circumstances, my law partner had to personally deliver his second child at home. He’s not ipso facto now a gynecologist. BTW You should have seen me trying to explain that one to the appellate court the next day to avoid any problems at the preset argument.

    2. “Michael Cohen testimony: ‘I have lied but I am not a liar'” –…i-have-lied-but-i-am-not-a-liar/vp-BBUbhuE

      Begs the question was truthful in that quote.

      I am not a liar, but sometimes when I say something people think I …

      Aug 11, 2015 – I am not a liar, but sometimes when I say something people think I am lying. … I have gone through this, but of late I don’t promise anything to anyone.

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