So, Trump’s erstwhile “lawyer” and intermittent right arm is giving interviews that signal what for his old boss ought to be a frightening change of attitude. It’s hard to be sure whether he’s trying to send a message to Donald, to Mueller, or just to the general public as part of a PR rehab effort, but all of a sudden it’s family and country first, the FBI is great, he doesn’t think “witch hunt” is an apt description of the special counsel’s investigation, and no more talk about taking a bullet for anybody. He might just as well have run a spot on Fox and Friends that ended like one of those campaign ads: “I’m Michael Cohen, and I’m about to turn state’s evidence”.
They say he’s grown weary of begging for help on his legal bills, and isn’t happy with his portrayal as designated moron in the Trump crime family. Sure, but what’d he expect? He was the designated moron. He did the clean-ups in aisle six, you know? He did all the nasty scut work, he was the fixer, and when you fix things for Donald J. Trump you get your hands all covered in blood and pig shit. Nuance isn’t useful, and half measures are pointless. You’re a hired prick. You do awful things, and make ugly threats, and over the years you take a lot of stupid risks trying to keep the lids on all of Donald’s many boiling pots. When your life’s work is to run around after a pyromaniac with a water pistol, getting your eyebrows singed off while you squirt away at the latest five alarm fire, you end up looking like a tool. A chump. Because you are.
It’s almost a parable, isn’t it?. All those years being the guy who got the midnight call, the guy who put on the brass knuckles and carried the cudgel, all that unflagging loyalty, through year after year of one sordid mess after another, and now this. See, kids? This is what happens.
All along, Trump treated him like shit. Made fun of him. Kept him marginalized. He was hoping for a job on the campaign, but none was offered, even while greaseballs like Paul Manafort and bullet heads like Corey Lewandowski got the nod. Later, as Cohen did his bit to shut up Stormy Daniels – he must have done the same thing hundreds of times over the years – he hoped the Boss would spread some around if he actually made it to the White House. He was thinking he might get some sort of job in the administration. Nothing high-profile, probably. Mikey wouldn’t have seen himself as the next Secretary of the Interior or anything. Maybe Postmaster General, something like that. A respectable sinecure within which he could earn his ducats less strenuously, and more or less on the level for a change. He probably figured he was due for some reciprocal loyalty, some respect, that’s all – but no dice. No sinecure. He ended up running a side hustle, pretending to be the guy who could arrange back door access to the Oval Office, and like everything else he ever did it was a bit of a botch job. He didn’t really have any influence to peddle, and Donald probably put the squeeze on him anyway, looking for a cut. Before long, his corporate clients caught on and the business dried up. Poor Mikey. Always the cold shoulder.
So here he is, left out in the rain and shat upon in the press. Nobody’s helping. Nobody’s taking his calls. Trump, being Trump, is too stupid to understand how important it can be to cultivate the affection and ongoing allegiance of a guy who knows where all the bodies are buried. That’s just not his style. Today it’s best buddies, tomorrow you’re dead to him. Now, as the heat’s been going up, and indictments loom, Trump is obviously fixing to do what he always does and chuck Cohen under the next scheduled Greyhound. He only did a little work for me, says Trump. A tiny percentage. I hardly know the guy.
So long, pal.
Anyone with the sense God gave geese, which maybe Cohen does, would rethink this business of taking a bullet for the Boss, and start to worry about his family, and the dread prospect of spending the rest of his life in the slam. He might have hoped for a Presidential pardon for a while there, and maybe one was dangled, but a pardon can’t save him against all the state charges he’s likely to face, as Trump has probably been advised. No, Cohen’s in a world of hurt that Trump can’t fix, and Donald has turned his back to him. It’s right out of Goodfellas. Cohen may not be the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but he’s got a survival instinct, and the only remaining way out of this toilet bowl is glaringly obvious. Sing to Mueller. Sing him a fucking opera.
OK. That’s in the same ball park as smart. Here’s what’s not so smart: giving interviews to high profile journalists that telegraph that you’re going to flip. It might be the obvious play, but until recently Cohen looked like he might actually be enough of a witless stalwart to protect the Boss at all costs. He should have kept going with that, kept pledging fealty even as Trump stopped helping him out on legal fees, and put him down in the press. He should have kept on telling anybody who’d listen that he was still ready as ever to be crucified to save his beloved Donald. It might not be credible coming from anybody else, but for Mikey it was the role he was born to play: The Guy Dumb Enough to Take the Fall. He could have sold it.
But no, he shoots off his mouth to George Stephanopolis. Now he’s on thin ice, and I don’t mean legally. You think that’s melodramatic? You think this isn’t the movies, and nobody’s getting whacked? Yeah? I wouldn’t be so sure. This is a mob story, and it’s not too late to shut Cohen up. The prosecutors may already have a lot of what they need from the reams of stuff they seized when they raided his office (even tapes! Jesus, Mikey, you kept tapes??), but they still haven’t had a sit-down with Michael, and there must be dozens of mangy cats still left to be let out of their bags. In that case, would you want a guy like Trump to know you’re in the mood to squeal?
Let’s assume that if Seal Team Six got an order to go rub Cohen out, they’d refuse the illegal command. I’m not so sure, but let’s assume. That’s no dead end. Donald has other connections, and lots of favours to hand out. He’s on good terms with a lot of mobsters, foreign and domestic. He knows a lot of guys who know a guy.
On top of that, a very great deal of what Cohen knows must involve not just Trump, and not just the New York mafia, but the rogue’s gallery of Russian gangsters for whom all that filthy dirty money was laundered. Remember that shell company that Cohen used to “funnel money” to Stormy, as Giuliani put it? Following that particular money trail is like catching a glimpse of a mouse scurrying away through a hole in the baseboard. No way that’s the only mouse. That thing with Stormy, that’s an M.O. There’s probably hundreds of bogus corporate entities all over the place, funneling all sorts of money to and from all sorts of shady players, a lot of them with names like Sergei, Vladimir, and Oleg. Would you want a bunch of Russian mobsters to hear on CNN that maybe you’re going to flip like a goddam pancake? You know, that you haven’t yet, but you’re thinking about it real hard?
Somebody’s got to tell Mikey to shut the hell up, right now, and stop strolling around the streets of Manhattan with his ass flapping in the breeze like he’s the King of frigging Kensington.* He should run, not walk, to whichever state or federal law office is closest and cut whatever deal he can. I’d be hollering for somebody from WITSEC. I’d be looking to disappear to Utah or some such place, with a new name, like Fred Snead or Walter Stump. If he’s lucky he can take Mrs Stump and the Stump kids along.
Call me crazy, tell me I’ve watched The Godfather too many times, but Cohen is setting himself up as an existential threat to a large cabal of ruthless, very powerful people, and guys like him have been known to show up face down in the East River. If you’re going to flip, do it in secret. Let them read about it in the papers after you’ve spilled your guts and vanished down the witness protection rabbit hole. That’s basic. That’s Mob 101. God bless his meaty head, but a fixer like Mikey ought to know that a guy in his shoes always looks good to be the next thing to get fixed.
*If you’re American, think Andy of Mayberry.