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If Michael Cohen Is Ready to Flip, What Does That Mean for Donald Trump?

The next act in the tangled Cohen drama.

Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer and confidante of President Donald Trump, exits the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on May 30, 2018, in New York City.

President Donald Trump assured us on Wednesday that his personal chemistry with Kim Jong Un is so powerful that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. And we learned that the Department of Homeland Security is tightening up security at the Canadian border, so we are prepared to repel any invasion from our new enemies to the north. Over the past week, everyone has been so focused on the trivia of President Trump blowing up the G7 and fawning over Kim like a schoolboy with his first crush that we almost missed the news that the White House is in nuclear meltdown over Michael Cohen.

Gabriel Sherman reported this in Vanity Fair a couple of days ago:

According to a source close to Cohen, Cohen has told friends that he expects to be arrested any day now. (Reached for comment, Cohen wrote in a text message, “Your alleged source is wrong!”) The specter of Cohen flipping has Trump advisers on edge. “Trump should be super worried about Michael Cohen,” a former White House official said. “If anyone can blow up Trump, it’s him.”

With Trump feeling his power from the international incidents of the past week, those around him are all very worried about how he’s going to react. Sherman writes that Trump seems to be “relishing the freedom to act on his impulses, flying by feel and instinct,” which one source describes as “exactly like the Trump Organization.” That’s not good.

On Wednesday morning, MSNBC’s Katy Tur reported that her sources confirmed the report that Cohen expects to be arrested imminently. She said that a source close to Cohen said “his lawyers got a call from lawyers at the Southern District of New York saying they were preparing paperwork.”

Salon’s Shira Tarlo ran down all the various stories that cascaded through the day, reporting that Cohen and his lawyers were parting company. This reminded everyone of the recent events surrounding Paul Manafort’s lieutenant Rick Gates, who also changed lawyers just before agreeing to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation. There are many rumors flying that Cohen is indeed ready to cooperate, and the only possible deal he could make would undoubtedly require him to tell what he knows about Donald Trump:

Vanity Fair’s Emily Jane Fox, who seems well connected to Cohen and his circle, filled in the blanks, reporting that Cohen feels isolated and pushed away by the Trump inner circle and the Trump family. Cohen believes he has been dealt an injustice telling Fox, “I feel like Don Quixote. It’s ruining my children’s lives. It’s ruining my wife’s life. It’s worse than a pit in your stomach.”

According to The New York Times, all this has Trump tied up in knots too:

Mr. Trump himself has told people he is angry at Mr. Cohen over the messiness of the situation — especially those aspects involving Ms. Clifford [aka Stormy Daniels]. But the president has also indicated to allies that he is worried that if he pushes Mr. Cohen away too hard, it could increase the likelihood that Mr. Cohen will offer information to the government.

One would guess that last little tidbit certainly whetted the appetites of the prosecutors in both the New York case and the Russia probe.

Whether or when Cohen will change lawyers is where the story gets murky. Sources close to Cohen have told reporters that now that document production is almost complete, he will need a criminal defense attorney in New York; his current lawyer, Stephen Ryan, works out of Washington. There are also reports that some members of Ryan’s firm, McDermott Will & Emery, are uncomfortable representing Cohen in his New York case, which suggests that there may be something really unpleasant about it.

But the real issue here could be money. Ryan was originally hired to represent Cohen in the Russia probe, and $228,000 worth of fees were paid by the Trump campaign for services rendered in 2017. His representation in the New York case so far, especially the court-ordered document review to make sure that attorney-client privilege isn’t unduly breached, is costing a fortune. The firm has had lawyers and analysts working around the clock to make this Friday’s deadline, and that doesn’t come cheap.

As it turns out, the Trump family is footing much of the bill for that, and according to The New York Times, they aren’t happy about how much it’s costing, which has widened the rift between Cohen and Trump. You would think the president would be happy to pick up Cohen’s legal bills, since the whole point of the document review is to protect material related to Cohen’s work on Trump’s behalf that isn’t related to this case. Indeed, it appears that all the lawyers involved in this process have been sharing information, giving Trump a window into the case he would not otherwise have. Instead, he’s being a cheapskate, as when he refused to pay vendors at his Atlantic City casinos, demanding that they drop the agreed-upon price or take him to court. The man can’t even leave a penny on the sidewalk.

On the other hand, the reporting to this point does not specify exactly what the payment dispute is about, so it’s possible that it concerns an apparent conflict of interest for Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan. He’s been paid a lot of money by the Trump campaign and now by Donald Trump personally — if Michael Cohen is about to turn state’s evidence against his former boss, Ryan probably cannot continue to represent him.

Whatever the case, something big is about to happen in the Cohen case, and it’s clear that the president is very concerned about it. On MSNBC on Wednesday, Vanity Fair’s Fox said that many people in Trump World are telling journalists that this is why Trump is acting even more erratically than usual. At least he’ll always have Singapore.

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