This is a title that really should be self-evident, but given the deluge of coverage around Trump’s scandals, the impression has taken root that Michael Cohen knows everything there is to know about Trump, and that after Cohen’s guilty plea last week, special counsel Robert Mueller now has a key ally to help take Trump down. However, this does not seem to be the case.
I write “seem” because the only people who truly know the direction of Robert Mueller’s probe are those working on it, and they do not leak. Last month’s indictments of Russian military intelligence officials that seemingly fell out of the sky are a reminder that the narrative of this entire saga can turn in an instant. What we know about this wide-ranging investigation comes from indictments and leaks from defense lawyers—and it is the latter which precipitated the need for me to write this column. Here is Benjamin Hart in New York Magazine summarizing the stunning and brazenly irresponsible lie that became hard news before losing all credibility this week:
In late July, CNN ran a story, co-authored by Watergate icon Carl Bernstein, that included an explosive claim about President Trump. According to anonymous sources quoted in the article, Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer and a newly minted member of the Resistance, had heard his then-boss speak in advance about the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and several shady Russians. The Trump administration’s account of this meeting, in which the Russians offered dirt on Hillary Clinton, has shifted many times. But the president continues to maintain that he knew nothing about it beforehand. If that assertion were to be proven false, it would be enormously damaging for Trump, and a boon for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. CNN also reported that Cohen was willing to testify to Mueller about what he’d heard.
But last week, Axios reported that Cohen testified to Congress last year that he had no idea whether Trump knew about the meeting in advance.
And now, BuzzFeed reports that Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, has admitted he was one of the anonymous sources for the CNN story, and that he cannot corroborate his account of Cohen’s story.
In a sane world, Lanny Davis admitting that he lied about something he had no knowledge of should obliterate any shred of credibility he had left, but I’d bet any amount of money that we’ll see him back on TV at some point, because our era of access journalism relies more on access than journalism to tell us what’s going on in our nation’s capital. Frankly, it’s difficult to watch all the Michael Cohen coverage and not see wishful thinking as a prime motivator behind some of the mistakes. I am not immune to this problem, and I’ve fallen prey to it in the past, but through my failures, I’ve built up what I believe to be a healthy level of skepticism that isn’t shared by some of my far more famous media cohorts. For example, I wrote this last week in my theory as to where the various Trump investigations are headed—a day before news broke that the CFO of the Trump Organization received immunity to testify in Michael Cohen’s case:
Cohen isn’t the big player in Trumplandia that he seems to be portrayed as in much of the media. Yes, he helped keep all of Trump’s embarrassing dalliances out of the spotlight and consulted on a litany of shady deals, but he doesn’t know anywhere near as much as say, Allen Weisselberg, the Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organization. If Weisselberg gets subpoenaed, that’s a red siren (wait, Weisselberg was already called to testify to a grand jury in the Michael Cohen probe? Well then).
The point that I was getting at is that while Paul Manafort’s legal troubles are very clearly connected to the Russia investigation, it’s far less clear that Cohen is involved in that mess. Even mainstream outlets like the AP, New York Times and Washington Post can’t bring themselves to just call Cohen Trump’s “lawyer.” They typically include “and fixer” in that description. A “fixer” is someone who makes unpleasant things go away for powerful people—unpleasant things like paying a porn star hush money to keep quiet about a past affair a week before an election.
Michael Cohen clearly sat at the base of Trump’s river of grift and corruption, but it’s not clear that he knew where all of it was coming from. The bank account that he paid Stormy Daniels from also contained payments from AT&T, pharmaceutical giant Novartis and a company owned by a Russian oligarch. The only commonality among that quartet is corruption, and if you could boil Michael Cohen’s job description into a single word, corruption is it.
However, corruption comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes, and much of the media coverage has not done a sufficient job establishing a firewall between Michael Cohen’s case that Robert Mueller farmed out to the Southern District of New York and what Mueller is keeping in-house. Sure, it’s a possibility that Mueller sent Cohen’s case to SDNY in order to keep his verdicts away from Trump’s pardon power (presidents cannot pardon state crimes, only federal crimes), but it’s also just as possible (and I would argue more so than the former example) that Cohen is not central to the Russia investigation—despite being so obviously corrupt—and Mueller farmed out that investigation to a different legal team working on a case(s) that is less-central to his main objective.
That said, the difficulty of coming to any certainty on this case was demonstrated yet again as I sat down to write this. One paragraph in, this new Cohen news broke. Per CNBC:
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team continued to ask witnesses questions about Michael Cohen’s involvement in the Trump campaign weeks after federal investigators raided the office and hotel room of President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
The special counsel’s investigators also asked these witnesses about whether Cohen conducted personal business while working as an employee of the Trump Organization and for insight on why he didn’t get a job in the Trump White House.
The report doesn’t say whether Mueller is asking questions pertaining to the Russia investigation, but CNBC did note that “Legal experts say Mueller’s continued interest in Cohen suggests that he could still be a pivotal source of information for the larger probe into whether Russian operatives colluded with Trump campaign officials to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”
Michael Cohen has proven that he should have no credibility until our legal system says he does. Last year, he reportedly bragged that he’d take a bullet for Trump, now he’s saying that he wouldn’t even accept a pardon from a “dangerous and corrupt” president. The only thing out of his mouth that should be trusted is what he utters under oath, but even that should be taken with a grain of salt given that Cohen, not Trump, brought up the topic of pardons.
Lanny Davis’ credibility is much easier to torpedo. You don’t really need a whole lot more than the opening paragraphs at the top of this story from NYMag, but here’s a little more background to prove that Davis has always lacked credibility, and, well, morals. Per Paul Blest in Splinter:
To start, any mention of Davis should immediately come with a reminder of his role in legitimizing the Honduran coup of 2009 that toppled leftist president Manuel Zelaya. (The U.S. government helped to validate the coup via then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s push for new elections.)
Davis lobbied on behalf of the Honduran chapter of CEAL, the Business Council of Latin America, which backed the coup. CEAL’s vice president said in 2009 that Davis was “trying, with his contacts in Washington, to help a peaceful resolution…Lanny Davis’s group is working toward assisting with their knowledge of Washington.” Emails released in 2015 showed that Hillary Clinton suggested the idea of using Davis as a middleman between her and Roberto Micheletti, who assumed the presidency following the coup.
And that’s just the start. In his lobbying career, Davis has represented for-profit colleges, dictators, union-busters, a company that insisted on putting additives in formula for infants, and—perhaps worst of all—Dan Fucking Snyder. As one lobbyist on the other side of the baby formula fight once said of Davis’ client list: “It is an illustration of what most of the American people think of as wrong with Washington.”
One of the central problems with the #resistance era of liberal politics is that many have adopted the same exact mindset as the “own the libs” Republicans. Just because someone opposes Trump doesn’t mean they’re on our side, folks. Lanny Davis is a D.C. careerist huckster who made millions of dollars in blood money operating in the same exact swamp that gave rise to cretins like Paul Manafort. Michael Cohen spent over a decade willingly serving as Trump’s lap dog, and now all of a sudden, they’re both very publicly standing up to perhaps the most unpopular president in history (*looks directly at camera*).
Michael Cohen may have more information about Trump’s activities outside of burying his various affairs and embarrassments, but until someone with actual credibility confirms that to be the case, you should remain skeptical of anything coming out of these frauds’ mouths. And for the love of all that is holy, please stop giving to Cohen’s GoFundMe. I can’t think of a better encapsulation of the failure of modern Democratic politics than turning Michael Freaking Cohen and Lanny Freaking Davis into #resistance heroes while giving those multi-millionaires more money out of some weird combination of pity and Trump-induced defiance. We can, and should expect better of the only (semi) sane political party left in America. Right?
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.