Cohen’s lawyer’s cryptic claim that his client knows of a Trump-linked Russia conspiracy could be a ‘game-changer’ for Mueller

Michael Cohen exits federal court in New York on Tuesday.

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Michael Cohen exits federal court in New York on Tuesday.
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

  • Michael Cohen’s lawyer suggested that Cohen has information about President Donald Trump’s knowledge of Russia’s election interference and failure to report that to the FBI.
  • One legal scholar said that if Cohen does have such information and it can be corroborated, “I think that’s HUGE.”
  • Cohen’s plea deal does not include a cooperation agreement, and his lawyer most likely dangled information about his client’s willingness to work with the special counsel Robert Mueller in order to secure one.

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Lanny Davis, the defense attorney representing Michael Cohen, on Wednesday dropped another bombshell about his client’s potential knowledge of President Donald Trump’s actions.

He suggested that Cohen has information about Trump’s knowledge of Russia’s election interference and failure to report that to the FBI.

Cohen, Trump’s former longtime personal lawyer, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to eight counts related to tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, and campaign-finance violations. He said he broke campaign-finance law at Trump’s direction.

Davis told MSNBC on Wednesday that Cohen “knows information that would be of interest to the special counsel, in my opinion, regarding both knowledge about a conspiracy to corrupt American democracy by the Russians and the failure to report that knowledge to the FBI.”

Davis previously teased that Cohen had “knowledge on certain subjects that should be of interest to the special counsel” leading the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller. But he came right out and suggested a smoking gun on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

‘That’s HUGE’

Cohen and Donald Trump.

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Cohen and Donald Trump.
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Sean Gallup/Getty Images; Jenny Cheng/Business Insider

Responding to Davis’ comments, Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School, said, “I think that’s HUGE.”

“If Cohen will testify that Trump was aware of – and approved of – contacts between his campaign and Russia, then that’s a real game-changer for the Mueller investigation,” he told Business Insider.

Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor in Chicago, echoed that view.

Davis’ claim that Cohen has evidence of a Trump-Russia conspiracy is “extremely important if true and can be corroborated,” Cramer said. But he added that it was unclear why Davis would announce it on national television.

“If he does have verifiable information, then give a call to the prosecutors,” he said. “I’m sure they’d listen.”

Cohen’s guilty plea did not come as part of the Russia investigation, but a Manhattan US attorney’s office investigation into whether he committed bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign-finance violations while working for Trump.

His plea deal does not include a cooperation agreement, and legal scholars suggested that could be because prosecutors did not feel he has enough information to warrant a further reduction in his sentence, which is likely to be three to five years.

But if Mueller feels Cohen has information of value related to the Russia investigation, he could argue for a more lenient sentence for Trump’s former lawyer.

Cohen says Trump knew about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting

Mueller is tasked with investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow, and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice during the course of the investigation.

While the president is the central subject of Mueller’s obstruction inquiry, his role in the collusion thread remains murkier.

In recent months, Trump attracted increased scrutiny after several of his associates suggested he knew more than he was letting on about a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his campaign officials and two Russian lobbyists offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.

Trump Jr. Russia meeting

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Skye Gould/Business Insider

Last month, it emerged that Cohen had said Trump knew in advance about the meeting. CNN reported that Cohen claimed he was one of several people who were present when Donald Trump Jr. informed Trump of the offer. Cohen reportedly said Trump greenlit the meeting after hearing about it from his son.

The president maintains he did not know about the meeting until after news outlets reported it. He also recently acknowledged on Twitter that Trump Jr. took the meeting to get dirt on Clinton and not, as he said in previous statements, to discuss Russian adoption policy.

Davis may have been ‘dangling information’ to get Cohen a better deal

Robert Mueller.

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Robert Mueller.
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

Cohen is a subject of interest in several threads of the Russia investigation, including:

  • The Trump Organization’s push to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
  • The creation of a Russia-friendly “peace plan” during the early days of Trump’s presidency.
  • Any involvement in an unconfirmed trip to Prague during the summer of 2016 to meet with Kremlin-linked officials.

“Given Cohen’s level of intimacy with Trump and his circle, it is at least highly likely that Cohen has information touching on those people in regards to Russian interference,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who has worked with members of Mueller’s team in the past.

He added that while it’s unusual for a defendant to plead guilty before securing a cooperation agreement, it’s not unheard of for the parties to want to enter the plea first and work out the details of cooperation later.

Cotter said he expected that was the case here. If the parties were to work out a deal later, Cohen could get a lighter sentence if he’s a cooperating witness for Mueller’s investigation.

Speculation mounted in June that Cohen was moving toward a plea deal when he hired Guy Petrillo as his new defense lawyer. Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, told Business Insider at the time that Petrillo was “the kind of lawyer you would hire if you wanted to keep open the option of cooperation.”

That speculation doubled in July when Cohen brought Davis, a Washington powerhouse famously associated with the Clinton family, onto his team.

“As soon as he hired Davis, it was clear Cohen wanted to cooperate,” Cramer said. “He’s not the guy you hire if you want to go to trial.”

Davis told Business Insider’s Allan Smith on Wednesday that Cohen “feels liberated that he can finally speak his mind about his concerns about Donald Trump.”

By dropping hints about Cohen’s potential knowledge pertaining to the Russia investigation, Davis may have been “dangling information” to secure a cooperation deal for his client, Ohlin said.

“Or maybe he’s just giving everyone a preview of what Cohen might say,” he added.