Tuesday 16 October 2018

Questions remain after a wild week when Cohen flipped on old boss Trump

Michael Cohen is claiming his former boss Donald Trump knew about collusion with Russian representatives. Photo: Seth Wenig/AP
Michael Cohen is claiming his former boss Donald Trump knew about collusion with Russian representatives. Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

Aron Blake

Michael Cohen has basically flipped on US President Donald Trump. No, he hasn't done so legally speaking, but he has from a public relations standpoint. While some witnesses would share derogatory information with investigators, Cohen is sharing and leaking it publicly, of his own volition.

So after a wild week in which Trump's former personal attorney Cohen released a taped conversation with Trump and then reportedly told others Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting, where does that leave us?

Here are five questions to help you get caught up - and look ahead.

1. Did Trump know about the Trump Tower meeting?

For a while, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani seemed to be paving the way for us to learn Trump actually did know about the Russia meeting. He denied Trump had physically attended either that meeting or another alleged meeting a couple of days before. And he sought to emphasise that even if there was collusion, it wouldn't have been illegal.

Then Giuliani took to Fox News to clear up a few things. He again flatly denied both that Trump knew about the meeting beforehand and Trump and the campaign colluded. "It's a very, very familiar lawyer's argument [to say], 'My client didn't do it and even if he did it, it's not a crime,'" Giuliani explained.

Whether Trump has lied about perhaps the central event in the collusion probe - and one of a few central events in the obstruction of justice probe - is probably the biggest question right now, given the doubt Cohen has injected into it and the importance it would carry in both investigations.

2. What is Cohen alleging?

One of the unfortunate parts of this debate is that we still don't know exactly what Cohen is alleging - first hand, at least. That's because, unlike the tape that his lawyer, Lanny Davis, handed to CNN and then discussed on-air last week, Cohen's team isn't on the record. We're basically relying on second-hand reports about what Cohen says he has on Trump.

That's not ideal. There's less accountability when it comes to parsing exactly what Cohen is alleging. For example, Giuliani claimed Cohen's team had leaked to reporters about a meeting a couple of days before the Trump Tower meeting at which Trump's knowledge of the meeting was allegedly discussed. Giuliani says that earlier meeting didn't happen, but he's shooting down a report that we didn't even know was in the air.

3. What did he tell Congress about the same topic?

One of the thickest sub-plots for Cohen is whether he's been consistent. He has already spoken with the Senate Intelligence Committee, but that was in late 2017 when he wasn't so antagonistic toward his former boss. And it's virtually guaranteed he was asked about the Trump Tower meeting, given how central it is.

When Cohen does speak publicly, it's likely he'll have to eventually square what he said back then with what he's saying today - if not go back to the committee to clear up some things.

4. What is Cohen's end game?

This is the question that seems to loom over all of this. The prevailing theory is that Cohen is angling for a plea deal or a pardon, but his actions would actually seem counterproductive on both fronts. Virtually no lawyer will advise you to publicly release evidence if you want to cut a deal - prosecutors generally keep such evidence under wraps as long as they can - and a pardon from Trump at this point would look clearly politically motivated.

A third, even-more-conspiratorial option is Cohen is trying to blow himself up as a witness - knowing he'll be at the centre of all of this and he's basically dead-to-rights when it comes to his own legal problems.

Going rogue, the theory goes, he makes himself into an unreliable and untrustworthy source. But that doesn't make sense from a self-preservation standpoint.

5. What does Weisselberg know?

This got overshadowed last week because more Cohen news broke shortly afterwards, but the 'Wall Street Journal' reported that long-time Trump Organisation CFO Allen Weisselberg had been subpoenaed. The news came shortly after "Allen" was mentioned twice on that Trump-Cohen tape. Cohen said on the tape "Allen" had offered advice how to set up a company to buy the rights to Karen McDougal's story of an alleged affair with Trump.

Weisselberg probably knows significantly more about the ins and outs of Trumpworld - and especially its finances - than Cohen ever has.

He has been around for decades longer than Cohen and has even been reported to handle Trump's personal finances and tax returns. (© Washington Post)

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