NEW YORK — What other dirt might Michael Cohen have on Donald Trump?
Cohen’s lawyer says the president’s former “fixer” has information “on certain subjects that should be of interest” to the special prosecutor beyond his allegations made while pleading guilty Tuesday that Trump directed him to make hush-money payments to fend off damage to his White House bid.
Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, on Wednesday suggested that Cohen could tell special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump knew about and encouraged Russian hacking during the 2016 campaign before it became publicly known.
“What I’m suggesting is that Mr. Cohen was an observer and was a witness to Mr. Trump’s awareness of those emails before they were dropped, and it would pertain to the hacking of the email accounts,” Davis told CNN after having hedged that point in earlier television interviews.
Cohen also has been said to be willing to tell Mueller that Trump knew in advance of a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which the Republican candidate’s eldest son sought damaging information from a Russian lawyer about Hillary Clinton.
Cohen, who showed fierce loyalty as Trump’s personal lawyer, said in court that Trump directed him to arrange payments of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels and $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to buy their silence about alleged affairs before the election. Trump denies the affairs.
Trump tweeted on Wednesday that the campaign finance violations Cohen pleaded guilty to “are not a crime.” He told “Fox & Friends” that, because the payments came from him and not the campaign, it’s “not even a campaign violation.” Both claims are wrong.
Nothing made public so far from Cohen’s criminal case indicates he has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, but Davis said that was simply a “distinction without a difference.” Cohen is intent on telling the truth to whoever asks him and is “more than happy” to tell Mueller all that he knows, Davis said, calling that pledge, “the functional equivalent of cooperation.”
Cohen forged his new path amid months of scrutiny from federal investigations and a public falling-out with the president, for whom Cohen once said he would “take a bullet.” But what compelled him to take a plea deal and potentially flip on Trump?
Cohen told confidants he was disappointed and angry that Trump and his team — namely his lawyer Rudy Giuliani — had repeatedly bashed his reputation and character.
Cohen suggested that the attacks helped pave the way for his guilty plea and possible cooperation, according to a person who has spoken to the lawyer in the last 24 hours but was not authorized to discuss private conversations and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Davis made the claim during his media tour Wednesday that Trump’s deference to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16 was a “significant turning point” and that it galvanized Cohen’s thinking that Trump was unsuitable to hold office.
But, that summit was about two weeks after Cohen made clear to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an off-camera interview that he was putting his “family and country first” and wouldn’t be a “punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy.”
Working out of a Trump Tower office next to his boss, Cohen likely has vast knowledge of the inner workings of Trump’s empire, his business dealings and his campaign. Federal agents in April seized more than 4 million items from Cohen’s home, hotel room and office, including recordings of Trump and others.
Investigators from New York state’s tax department entered the mix on Wednesday, subpoenaing Cohen to share what he knows about the Trump Foundation, the president’s embattled charitable foundation.
Cohen, who turns 52 on Saturday, wiped away tears as he gazed out a courthouse window after pleading guilty on Tuesday. He is free now and allowed some limited travel. He could get about four to five years in prison at sentencing Dec. 12.
Believing that his arrest was imminent, Cohen turned himself in to the FBI because he wanted to spare his children the image of him being perp-walked in handcuffs, according to the person who spoke with Cohen.
Even as his legal fate approached, Cohen tried to project normalcy in recent days: he went on a family trip to Florida, and he oversaw moving back into his upper East Side apartment after spending months in a nearby hotel after a water main break.
When the judge asked him if he had taken any drugs or alcohol in the past 24 hours, Cohen confessed: “Last night at dinner, I had a glass of Glenlivet 12 on the rocks.”
It was the only moment of levity at an otherwise glum proceeding.
“Is it your custom to do that, sir?” the judge responded.
“No, your honor,” Cohen said.
Tuesday night, hours after entering his guilty pleas, Cohen took his wife out to dinner.
Associated Press reporter David Klepper contributed from Albany, New York.