Why It Matters That Trump and Michael Cohen Had a Falling Out

Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Fixer. The title wasn’t a formal one, but Michael D. Cohen wholeheartedly embraced the role as a lawyer at the Trump Organization. It amounted to serving as chief problem solver for Donald J. Trump, offering Mr. Cohen an unusually up-close view of his boss’s personal and professional lives.

Although Mr. Cohen was not a central part of the Trump family business, he was often at Mr. Trump’s side in the decade before he became president, including helping him sort out difficulties leading up to the 2016 election. Most famously, he helped arrange hush money payments to two women — including the pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels — who claimed to have had affairs with Mr. Trump.

His unflinching loyalty to his boss often went unreciprocated. And it was this imbalance that left the two men on perilous ground last April, after the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. The searches were part of an inquiry, in the office of the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, that grew out of Robert S. Mueller III’s examination of Russian election meddling.

Mr. Cohen would ultimately plead guilty to multiple crimes, and is scheduled to begin serving a three-year prison term on May 6. After months of indecision, he turned on Mr. Trump last summer and has since spoken to the Southern District prosecutors about the Trump family business and more, as well as providing information to the office of the special counsel, Mr. Mueller.

A review by The New York Times of confidential emails, text messages and other communications suggest the men’s falling out may have been avoidable. Either way, its consequences have cast a shadow on the Trump presidency.

Here are five reasons the undoing of their relationship matters.

Mr. Cohen implicated the president in a crime

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan effectively characterized Mr. Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in the hush money payments, which violated campaign finance laws because they were made to influence the outcome of the election.

At his plea hearing, Mr. Cohen said he had made the payments at Mr. Trump’s direction, which was consistent with other evidence prosecutors had gathered.

Under current Justice Department policy, a president cannot be charged with a crime. But when a president is no longer in office, prosecutors are free to bring charges — a possibility cited in the Mueller report released on Thursday.

He assisted criminal investigations into…

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