Michael Cohen, a 10-year Trump personal or corporate lawyer or employee, has been convicted by his plea of guilty to several federal crimes. The only admitted crimes related to Trump pertain to payments to two women with whom Trump allegedly had sexual relations that Trump wished to keep secret as he wound up his 2016 campaign and lying to Congress about the actual date when negotiations with the Russians to promote a Trump Tower in Moscow ended.

The most serious admitted crimes are Cohen’s tax evasion and securing loans from banks by lying to them. They have nothing to do with Trump. Cohen has been sentenced to three years in jail.

This saga started when the FBI obtained a search warrant authorizing a search of Cohen’s office, apartment and hotel room, all in New York. The warrant was obtained from a federal court in the Southern District of New York on the application of the United States Attorney there.

Such a warrant is extremely unusual.

Department of Justice regulations explicitly forbid such a search of a lawyer. They direct that federal prosecutors seeking lawyers’ documents contact the lawyer and ask for them.

The search warrant obtained against Cohen was granted upon a factual showing that presumably demonstrated that the prescribed procedure would be ineffective to assure the integrity of the materials that the government was seeking.

To my knowledge, the government allegations of exigent circumstances requiring a warrant have not been disclosed. I suggest that the facts that yielded the warrant had to be extraordinary to overcome DOJ’s ban on court-ordered searches of lawyers.

Going back to what is ancient history in this tortured tale, Trump condemned the search of his lawyer’s premises.

After a court-ordered procedure, the government and Cohen were permitted to review the seized materials.

Citing misplaced “loyalty,” Cohen now claims that Trump instructed him to lie to Congress about Trump Tower Moscow dates and to pay a Liberty University functionary to distort the results of public opinion polling to show higher support for his nomination as the Republican candidate in 2016 than he actually had.

To date, neither Trump nor the members of his family have been charged with crimes by either Special Counsel Robert Mueller or the New York United States Attorney. Mueller has not issued a “report.”

Because Cohen may be a witness against Trump, members of his family and others, the question is whether he will effective in those roles.

Let’s examine the pitfalls of Cohen’s cooperation.

First, an accomplice who informs is, by definition, a criminal. In this case, Cohen has also admitted that he is a liar. A prosecutor who presents such a witness is taking substantial risks. Not the least of them is the fact that Trump et al know much more about Cohen than the prosecutors do.

Second, the mystery of how the government got a search warrant is a crucial piece of the Cohen puzzle. The allegations of exigency required to get a search warrant are likely to materially reduce Cohen’s credibility.

Third, claims of misplaced “loyalty” to Trump mentioned in his statement to the court on pleading guilty and again when claiming that Trump instructed him to lie to Congress don’t really hold water. What “loyal” lawyer  would make surreptitious recordings of conversations with his client? Cohen may not have trusted his client but the solution to that quandary is to resign, not to record.

Fourth, the public opinion polling paid manipulation tale during the campaign has some allegations, if true, that damage Cohen’s credibility. The alleged manipulator quoted a fee of $ 50,000 but only got $ 13,000 in cash in a WalMart bag according to him. But, if the allegations are believed, Cohen put in a chit for $ 50,000 and was paid.  What happened to the difference?


It is a fact that almost all white-collar prosecutions employ co-conspirators who testify against defendants to reduce the penalties that they would receive absent cooperation. And almost all result in convictions.

But because of the wide range of Cohen’s admitted crimes, he is not a good bet to give successful testimony in criminal trials against others.

And his testimony before Congress on February 7 (if it happens) will not address his own crimes or the crimes of others because the Department of Justice has asked Congress to do nothing to prejudice any cases it might bring.

Where does this investigation of Trump and family go? The traditional route is a prosecutorial threat to indict members of Trump’s family unless a suitable settlement can be reached with President Trump.

But such a threat, based on immutable facts, would be in spite of Cohen, not because of him.