Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors on Tuesday, admitting guilt to eight federal felony charges on everything from tax evasion and bank fraud to campaign finance violations. Those charges included arranging illegal payoffs to silence accusations infidelity on Trump’s behalf from adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal. But it initially remained unclear whether Cohen planned on cooperating on other cases, such as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections to help Trump.
That didn’t last long. Cohen’s team is now masquerading him as the key to the 2016 intrusion into Democratic email systems, in which allegedly Russian hackers used phishing attacks and malware to break into email systems with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Those emails then ended up on Wikileaks. Suspicion has been rampant that members of Trump’s team or even the then-candidate himself knew about this, though Trump has preferred a rambling, nonsensical explanation in which the Democrats hacked themselves or something.
Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, took to The Rachel Maddow Show on Tuesday night and made very sure to let on that his client not only has “knowledge about the computer crime of hacking” (duh) but whether or not the president was aware of the alleged Russian break-in into Democratic email systems in 2016. Here’s the full quote, per Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur:
Mr. Cohen has knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest to the special counsel and is more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows—not just about the obvious possibility of a conspiracy to collude and corrupt the American democracy system in the 2016 election, which the Trump Tower meeting was all about, but also knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on.
There’s two ways to read this statement. The first, which is probably too charitable, is that Cohen is the one man who knows everything. The second is that Davis is bluffing—either in a misguided attempt to let the public know how fully Cohen is jumping ship or an even more misguided attempt to try and butter up federal investigators. As the New York Times noted:
The plea agreement does not call for Mr. Cohen to cooperate with federal prosecutors in Manhattan. Still, it does not preclude him from providing information to them later or to the special counsel, who is examining the Trump campaign’s possible involvement in Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. If Mr. Cohen were to substantially assist the special counsel’s investigation, Mr. Mueller could recommend a reduction in his sentence.
Pretty much everyone who has found their status in Trump’s orbit destroyed has bluffed, though, from panicking former political adviser and self-professed email ignoramus Sam Nunberg to evidence exaggerator Omarosa Manigault Newman. So odds are good this is just another weary spin on our malfunctioning national carnival ride that refuses to shut down.
The Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian military officers on suspicion of orchestrating the hacks, though the president has seemed remarkably reticent on the topic of their possible extradition and has continued to question U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment of the situation. The Russians probably aren’t going to volunteer themselves for questioning anytime soon. Cohen’s schedule, on the other hand, looks pretty clear right now.