How Michael Cohen went from saying he would ‘take a bullet’ for Trump to incriminating him in a federal crime

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, exits federal court, August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations.

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Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, exits federal court, August 21, 2018 in New York City. Cohen reached an agreement with prosecutors, pleading guilty to charges involving bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations.
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

  • Michael Cohen, formerly one of President Donald Trump’s closest allies, shocked the world when he implicated Trump in two federal crimes during his guilty plea to eight felonies on Tuesday.
  • One lawyer told Business Insider that, given the severity of the charges Cohen is facing, he likely had no choice but to take a plea deal or potentially risk spending the rest of his life in prison.
  • Lanny Davis, one of Cohen’s attorneys, gave Business Insider some insight into what motivated Cohen to turn on Trump.

Michael Cohen, the longtime personal lawyer and fixer to President Donald Trump, shocked the world on Tuesday when he pleaded guilty to eight federal crimes in the Southern District of New York, and directly implicated President Donald Trump in two of them.

Cohen pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, one count linked to an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count stemming from an illegal campaign contribution. During his hearing, Cohen said he committed the latter two offenses “at the direction” of then-candidate Trump with the intent of influencing the 2016 election.

Both the illegal corporate and campaign contributions refer to Cohen’s efforts to quash negative stories about Trump’s alleged affairs with porn star Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal, just weeks before the election.

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York initially began investigating Cohen for potential campaign finance law violations in part because of a $130,000 hush-money payout to Stormy Daniels, but the inquiry expanded to Cohen’s potential tax and bank fraud relating to his taxi medallion business.

But Cohen’s transformation is perhaps most notable because of the dramatic manner in which he turn away from Trump; having gone from saying he would “take a bullet” for Trump, to incriminating him in two serious federal crimes, possibly throwing the US into uncharted constitutional territory.

Why Cohen took the plea deal

Jeffrey Cohen, a practicing attorney in New York City (no relation to Michael Cohen), told Business Insider in a Wednesday phone call that, given the severity of the federal charges involved, taking a plea deal was, in his view, the best way for Cohen to hedge his bets in this matter.

“His lawyers almost definitely knew he was going to lose,” he said. “If you take a plea before trial, you do better than if you try to approach a deal after the government has invested the time and money in trying the case, In this case, my feeling is that he just didn’t have a choice.”

Deputy US Attorney Robert Khuzami said Cohen’s conduct reflected a “pattern of lies and dishonesty” in a press conference after Cohen’s hearing and said they were “particularly significant when done by a lawyer.”

“They were going to crucify him,” Jeffrey Cohen speculated. “If he went to trial and he lost, he would have gone to jail for the rest of his life.”

Cohen could have faced up to 65 years of prison, if convicted. Under the plea agreement, Cohen will likely serve three to five years.

An official sentence will be handed down on December 12.

‘The straw that broke the camel’s back’

President Donald Trump tosses a soccer ball Russian President Vladimir Putin gave him at their meeting in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018.

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President Donald Trump tosses a soccer ball Russian President Vladimir Putin gave him at their meeting in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018.
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Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Cohen’s claim that he violated federal laws specifically at the behest of Trump was believed to have caught some by surprise. Prosecutors did not explicitly lay out that connection in Cohen’s court documents and Cohen did not have to reveal that information.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti explained the significance in an article for Politico Magazine.

“It’s not clear whether federal prosecutors knew in advance that Cohen would implicate Trump, but if they had any reason not to believe him, they were obligated not to permit Cohen to lie to the judge,” he wrote. “Because they didn’t, we know that his statements were consistent with the other evidence in their possession.”

In an interview with Business Insider on Wednesday, Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen said his client “started to unload on me about Trump’s suitability to be president, his temperament, the Twitter, the venom, the anger,” long before Tuesday’s announcement.

Davis described Trump’s controversial summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin as the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for his client.

He said Trump’s public doubting of his intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in favor of Putin’s denial made his client “very emotional.”

Davis described Cohen as feeling “liberated” after entering his guilty pleas and having the freedom to now speak his mind.