Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen — disbarred, convicted, and now out of prison — turns out to have had a credible sense of his longtime client’s modus operandi.
Cohen testified before Congress in 2019: “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”
Now Trump grapples with a law-enforcement raid on Mar-a-Lago of the kind Cohen saw on his more modest home and office. It led Cohen, born in Lawrence, to speculate that Trump held on to a top-secret trove of documents when he left office because “he was going to use it as a bargaining chip.”
Whether or not this proves correct, Cohen’s latest assertion sounds more plausible than the statement reportedly signed by newer Trump attorney Christina Bobb weeks before the raid, certifying that all classified materials had been removed from Mar-a-Lago.
By all official accounts, they had not. Feds seized boxes marked as “top secret/sensitive compartmented information.” Bobb, a longtime Trump volunteer and media booster, is a Georgetown Law graduate who once was a judge advocate in the U.S. Marines. Any potential legal exposure for her in this matter is still unknown.
But it is well-known that lawyering for Trump has a way of pulling these attorneys through the looking glass.
Rudy Giuliani is the leading example. The ex-mayor's New York law license remains suspended over trying to peddle fraudulent election claims. This week he was compelled to testify before a grand jury in Georgia probing Trump’s efforts to pressure state officials into “finding” votes that could reverse his defeat there.
It was not revealed whether Giuliani, said to be a probe target, freely answered questions. Last week in New York, Trump declined to do so; he cited the Fifth Amendment 440 times when Attorney General Tish James’ office asked him about efforts to secure loans and other benefits by allegedly inflating the value of his assets.
John Eastman, another Trump lawyer, also saw fit to use his right not to incriminate himself when questioned in the congressional inquiry into the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection. Eastman publicly refused to discuss anything related to the Trump team's wild scheme to install fake members of the Electoral College.
Insiders have been quoted as saying Trump now faces trouble hiring seasoned legal help. Denying it, the ex-president's spokesman Taylor Budowich told The Washington Post his boss "is represented by some of the strongest attorneys in the country, and any suggestion otherwise is only driven by envy.”
Any look back could pose red flags for the professionals who are sought. When Donald McGahn was Trump's White House counsel, he later testified, the president asked him to get the associate attorney general to fire special counsel Robert Mueller under a flimsy conflict-of-interest claim. McGahn refused.
Facing scandal in the White House, Trump reportedly asked aides, "Where's my Roy Cohn?", the late mob attorney and Sen. Joe McCarthy counsel who advised Trump's family.
But veterans of New York court circles know that Cohn, too, had charges filed against him, unrelated to his Trump ties. Shortly before his death in 1986, Cohn was disbarred by the New York Appellate Division for unethical conduct. Years earlier, he'd been acquitted in multiple criminal cases on witness-tampering and perjury charges.
Lawyering on the Trump scene is apparently no walk in the park — more like a slog through a Florida swamp.
Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.