Michael Cohen dumps lawyers, sends ‘smoke signal’ to Trump

Lots of people are suddenly familiar with Michael Cohen's thinking.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 11: Michael Cohen, former personal attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Loews Regency Hotel, May 11, 2018 in New York City. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said this week that it was a mistake to hire Cohen as a consultant it was revealed they paid him $600,000 last year. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 11: Michael Cohen, former personal attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, exits the Loews Regency Hotel, May 11, 2018 in New York City. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said this week that it was a mistake to hire Cohen as a consultant it was revealed they paid him $600,000 last year. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, ABC News broke the story that longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen, whose home and office were raided in April by the FBI, had dropped his seasoned legal team and currently has no legal representation. ABC News reports that Cohen “is likely to cooperate with federal prosecutors in New York.”

Other outlets quickly confirmed Cohen’s split from his lawyers, but added some nuance. The Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen “hasn’t yet decided whether he will cooperate with prosecutors in the case.” CNN reports that Cohen “had not yet met with prosecutors to speak about a potential deal, and it’s unclear whether either side is seeking one.” The New York Times, however, says “with Mr. Cohen’s legal team in turmoil, the chances increase that Mr. Cohen could cooperate with prosecutors.”

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The news comes as Cohen is reportedly telling friends that “he expects to be arrested any day now.” (Cohen denied that report to Vanity Fair.)

So what is going on?

If Cohen were to begin cooperating with federal prosecutors, it could be disastrous for Trump. Cohen has worked for Trump for many years and was involved in managing his most sensitive tasks, including hush money agreements for women who allegedly had affairs with Trump. He proudly described himself as Trump’s “fixer.” If Cohen cooperates, most everything he knows would have to be shared with prosecutors.

Cohen was nominally Trump’s lawyer, but according to prosecutors, performed little legal work for him. Of the more than 3 million files seized from Cohen’s home and office in April’s raid, a special master appointed by the court found just a few hundred were protected by attorney-client privilege. (There are exceptions to attorney-client privilege if the materials in question involve discussions in furtherance of a crime.)

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The story released Wednesday is that Cohen has dropped his attorneys and may soon cooperate with prosecutors — but has not cooperated yet. A source told Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman suggested this narrative was planted in the media by Cohen himself, calling it a “smoke signal” to Trump.

Help from Trump, at this point, would likely take the form of the pardon. Trump has made a point of exercising his pardon power conspicuously in recent weeks, in what some observers interpret as a signal to people like Cohen who are currently considering cooperating with prosecutors.

Cohen, if he is responsible for the publication of this news, is now signaling to Trump that the case has reached an inflection point. He may also be out of money.

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If Trump were to issue a pardon to Cohen, it carries substantial risks for them both. A preemptive pardon of Cohen by Trump, under normal circumstances, would likely prompt impeachment proceedings since it would represent an effort to cover up Trump’s own potential wrongdoing. Cohen, in turn, could still be vulnerable to prosecution by state authorities. State crimes cannot be pardoned by the president.

Previously, Trump had expressed confidence that Cohen would not flip.

This story could very well be Cohen replying: things change.