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Robinson: Cohen needs to ask himself: Does Trump have my back?
WASHINGTON – Michael Cohen reportedly said he'd rather jump out of a building than turn on President Trump. I wonder what he's thinking as the floors whiz by.
Cohen has been Trump's lawyer, finder of deals and devoted "Ray Donovan"-style fixer of problems for a decade. At least that's what Cohen thought he was. In a phone interview Thursday with his favorite cable show, "Fox & Friends," Trump sounded as if he hardly knew the guy.
Cohen does no more than "a tiny, tiny little fraction" of his legal work, Trump claimed. "I have so many attorneys, you wouldn't believe."
Indeed there is much I wouldn't believe, coming from Trump, but the message about Cohen couldn't have been clearer. "I hope he's in great shape" in terms of his business dealings, the president said. In other words: Best of luck, whoever you are.
On April 9, FBI agents raided Cohen's office, home and hotel room, all in Manhattan, as part of a criminal investigation being conducted by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. The feds seized files, computers and cellphones whose contents, Cohen claims, should be protected by attorney-client privilege.
Ordered by a judge to name his clients, however, Cohen could only come up with three: Elliott Broidy, a big-time Republican donor for whom Cohen negotiated a $1.6 million settlement with a Playboy model whom Broidy had impregnated; Fox News host Sean Hannity, who maintains that Cohen never really represented him and mostly just shot the breeze about real estate; and Trump.
So I guess Cohen must have had a lot of free time on his hands. If Trump is telling the truth about their relationship, that is. Which I'm quite sure he isn't.
In the chat with his buddies at Fox News, Trump confirmed for the first time that Cohen represented him in "this crazy Stormy Daniels deal." We knew that already, but the president hadn't admitted it: Cohen created an agreement in which Daniels, a porn actress and director, was paid $130,000 just before the 2016 election to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she said she had had with Trump years earlier.
Earlier this month, the president denied any knowledge of the payment. But come on, surely Cohen would have at least mentioned to his client that he had spent $130,000 in hush money – especially since Cohen claims to have obtained the funds from his personal home-equity line of credit.
Cohen has denied being reimbursed by the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign, but that doesn't mean he didn't expect to be reimbursed. Think of it this way: If you're rich enough to write a $130,000 check out of the kindness of your heart to save a friend from embarrassment, you probably don't need to dip into your home equity to do it.
Because that relief from embarrassment came days before the election, the payment could reasonably be seen as a campaign donation – an illegal one, far exceeding the amount Cohen was allowed to give. That appears to be one potential crime federal prosecutors are investigating – which is likely why Cohen announced Wednesday that in a civil suit brought by Daniels, who is seeking to void the hush-money agreement, he intends to answer questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Did he mention that to his boss? "The mob takes the Fifth," Trump thundered at one of his campaign rallies. "If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"
But Trump himself took the Fifth some 97 times in a 1990 divorce deposition, so maybe Cohen is simply following his hero's example.
The federal investigation seems to involve other matters as well, and Trump tried Thursday to establish some distance. Make that a lot of distance. "This doesn't have to do with me," he said. "Michael is a businessman. He's got a business. He also practices law. I would say, probably, the big thing is his business. I have nothing to do with his business."
One simple question for Cohen: Does that sound like a man who has your back?
Trump is loyal to his friends and acolytes only in the sense that he never seems to definitively cut anyone out of his life. I'm sure he would always return Cohen's phone calls, even if they were made from federal prison. Beyond that, Cohen appears to be on his own.
If I were Cohen, I'd make a deal with the feds and sing. The problem with jumping out of windows isn't the falling. It's the landing.