Alan Zendell, April 20, 2018
These days we make predictions at our peril, particularly when they have anything to do with Donald Trump. Still, as rumors begin to fly that his personal attorney, fixer, and consigliere, Michael Cohen might flip on him when he talks to Robert Mueller, the temptation is impossible to resist. Cohen has famously said he would take a bullet for his friend Donald. Even if that’s true, would he be willing to spend the rest of his life in federal prison for him? Some things are worse than a quick death.
Would Michael Cohen flip on the president? Do birds fly? Michael Cohen suffers from the same disease of arrogance and narcissism that his boss does. It might be the undoing of both of them, but it’s far more likely to unravel Cohen’s existence.
Trump’s allegedly brilliant attorney has been derisively compared to the fictional Ray Donovan, who entertained Showtime viewers as a Hollywood fixer from South Boston who would do whatever was necessary to clean up after his clients. In the fantasy world of Hollywood, he could bribe, intimidate, brutalize, even kill people with impunity, because the television version of reality was so corrupt, there was always someone to pay off or blackmail.
But it turned out that even Ray Donovan could be brought down, and he ended his time on television as a broken shell of a man who had nothing to show for his efforts. Could that be the fate of Michael Cohen?
Cohen may or may not have once been a brilliant attorney, but decades of doing Trump’s dirty work demonstrate an uncompromising lack of scruples more than legal skills. He doesn’t even seem to have been able to craft airtight nondisclosure agreements, and as legal documents go, they’re pretty simple. This is just another example of how running the government is different from running either a business empire or a television show.
Whether or not you’re a fan of James Comey, his characterization of Trump’s management style as one modeled after the mob bosses he rubbed elbows with for years is right on. Mentored by Cohen’s almost namesake, mob lawyer Roy Cohn, Trump spent his entire business life bullying his way through obstacles using his money, his marketing skills, lies, misrepresentations, and a variety of intimidation techniques, and Cohen was at the forefront of most of those dealings. They didn’t always win, but their occasional losses could be chalked up as the cost of doing business.
Traveling in the wake of the turmoil stirred up by his boss, Cohen can be forgiven for forgetting that he wasn’t invulnerable. Decades of coming out on top in every important way and believing that unswerving loyalty to Trump would always be reciprocated if it all hit the fan made him dangerously complacent. And despite all the warnings that running the government is not a reality TV show and government isn’t a business, Mr. Cohen now likely finds himself in violation of federal statutes that will end in a series of indictments. Maybe he should have been honing his legal skills during the past two years instead of unquestioningly doing Trump’s bidding.
Now he’s finding out that losing a lawsuit or reaching a financial settlement with a plaintiff is not the same thing as facing a federal prosecutor. If you’re still stuck on television tropes, think Eliot Ness and Al Capone. Guys like Robert Mueller are the real Untouchables. Even worse, Cohen has seen Trump throw former allies under busses without batting an eye. From Jeff Sessions to Steve Bannon to Paul Manafort, the evidence is clear that when Trump has to choose between his own welfare and anything except Ivanka, Trump always puts himself first.
There are more indictments coming, and there’s no reason to believe that Trump would or even could use the power of his office to protect those who broke laws on his behalf. Michael Cohen may appear to function like a real-life Ray Donovan, living high and never letting anything get in his way, but I doubt that he’s ever seriously considered getting caught and being left out in the cold. And it’s only very lately that he’s had to confront the real possibility of life in a federal penitentiary.
Early on, Trump’s partners and surrogates believed they would be saved by presidential pardons in the end. No doubt, Trump’s sudden pardoning of Scooter Libby last week was intended to reinforce that belief in the minds of Cohen and others who likely face prosecution. But Trump is famous for making threats and promises he never intends to keep, and no one knows that better than Michael Cohen.
So the next time someone asks you if you think Michael Cohen will flip on the president, just smile.