How Michael Cohen Turned Against President Trump

T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

Michael D. Cohen was at a breaking point. He told friends he was suicidal. He insisted to lawyers he would never go to jail. Most of all, he feared that President Trump, his longtime boss, had forsaken him.

“Basically he needs a little loving and respect booster,” one of Mr. Cohen’s legal advisers at the time, Robert J. Costello, wrote in a text message to Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lead lawyer. “He is not thinking clearly because he feels abandoned.”

That was last June. The “booster” from Mr. Trump never arrived. And by August, Mr. Cohen’s relationship with him had gone from fraught to hostile, casting a shadow on the Trump presidency and helping drive multiple criminal investigations into the president’s inner circle, including some that continued after the special counsel’s work ended.

In the biggest blow to the president personally, federal prosecutors in Manhattan effectively characterized Mr. Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case against Mr. Cohen involving hush money payments to a pornographic film actress. Mr. Cohen, and evidence gathered by prosecutors, implicated the president.

Now, as Mr. Cohen prepares to head to prison in two weeks, dozens of previously unreported emails, text messages and other confidential documents reviewed by The New York Times suggest that his falling out with Mr. Trump may have been avoidable.

Missed cues, clashing egos, veiled threats and unaddressed money worries all contributed to Mr. Cohen’s halting decision to turn on a man he had long idolized and even once vowed to take a bullet for, according to the documents and interviews with people close to the events. Some of the documents have been turned over to the prosecutors in Manhattan, and a small number were mentioned in the special counsel’s report released on Thursday, which dealt extensively with Mr. Cohen and referred to him more than 800 times.

Mr. Cohen held out hope for a different outcome until the very end, when he pleaded guilty and confessed to paying the illegal hush money to avert a potential sex scandal during the presidential campaign. Just hours earlier, wracked with indecision, he was still seeking guidance, looking, as one informal adviser put it, “for another way out.”

Mr. Cohen’s anxiety, on display in the documents, played a role in the undoing of his relationship with Mr. Trump, as did Mr. Costello’s lack of success in serving as a bridge to the White House. But also looming large were Mr. Giuliani’s and Mr. Trump’s failures to understand the threat that Mr. Cohen posed, and their inability — or unwillingness — to put his financial and emotional insecurities to rest.

After the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room last April, two of Mr. Cohen’s advisers explored whether the president might be open to a pardon, but Mr. Giuliani offered no assurances.

In June, Mr. Costello proposed that he and Mr. Giuliani, who have been friends for decades, meet urgently with Mr. Cohen to address his grievances and ease his anxieties. “Are we going to meet Thursday or Friday?” Mr. Costello texted Mr. Giuliani on a Monday. “I would like to get back to Michael with a response.”

But Mr. Giuliani did not respond. And when Mr. Costello followed up, “Can I get a response on the possible meeting?” Mr. Giuliani hesitated, replying, “Not yet because haven’t talked to President,” who was out of the country.

The next day, Mr. Cohen’s private admission to friends that he was open to cooperating with prosecutors suddenly appeared in the news. And Mr. Cohen relayed his growing displeasure with the Trump camp to Mr. Costello, sending the lawyer an article that suggested the president and his allies intended “to discredit Michael Cohen” and commenting in the email that “they are again on a bad path.” He also complained to Mr. Costello that the president had stopped covering his legal expenses.

Mr. Costello, who spoke with The Times after Mr. Cohen waived attorney-client privilege in February, said that without Mr. Cohen’s team and the president’s lawyers in sync, it was impossible to navigate the tumultuous relationship.

“What we had here was a failure to communicate,” said Mr. Costello, who was never formally retained by Mr. Cohen. “My mission was to get everyone tuned in to the same channel. My thought was a face-to-face meeting among all the lawyers together with Cohen would put everyone on the same channel. The meeting never happened, and the rest is history.”

In an interview, Mr. Giuliani acknowledged that the Trump team had pulled back from Mr. Cohen, saying it did so because prosecutors might have viewed friendly overtures as witness tampering, and because Mr. Cohen’s legal problems extended beyond his relationship with the president.

“It seemed like an unfortunate but sensible decision,” he said of the Trump team’s reticence toward Mr. Cohen. “The more I look back at it, the more I wonder if it was inevitable that Michael was going to crack.”

Mr. Cohen declined to comment, but his spokesman, Lanny Davis, suggested that the Trump team had initially tried to keep Mr. Cohen in “the liar’s club” of people covering for the president.

After pleading guilty in August, and hoping to reduce his three-year prison sentence, Mr. Cohen told federal prosecutors about Mr. Trump’s role in the hush-money scheme, as well as other aspects of the president’s company, where he had worked for a decade. He also suggested Mr. Trump’s team had dangled a pardon to keep him loyal, according to Mr. Davis, who described the effort as more an attempt “to keep Cohen in the tent of those lying and protecting Trump than anything else.”

Mr. Giuliani denied that a pardon had been offered. Mr. Costello told prosecutors in a recent meeting that the pardon discussion had been initiated by Mr. Cohen and rejected by Mr. Giuliani.

Unencumbered by the restraints on the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, the prosecutors are now scrutinizing a wider swath of the president’s associates. About a dozen investigations are underway, including an inquiry into the Trump inaugural committee, which Mr. Cohen had assisted. Mr. Cohen also delivered congressional testimony that accused Mr. Trump of being a racist and a “con man.”

‘Blowing This Whole Thing’

The relationship between Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump was looking up, at least for a brief period, last April.

Just days after F.B.I. agents searched his hotel room on Park Avenue, Mr. Cohen received a phone call from the president. “Stay strong,” Mr. Trump told him, according to the Mueller report and a person with knowledge of the call.

Mr. Cohen thanked Mr. Trump repeatedly, and later told people the message was clear: The president, who had a history of treating Mr. Cohen poorly, wanted to keep him on his team.

As federal prosecutors in Manhattan built a criminal case against Mr. Cohen, he set out to find a lawyer who had experience with the Manhattan United States attorney’s office, known as the Southern District of New York. That’s when an acquaintance at a local law firm emailed him to pitch the services of his colleague Mr. Costello. The firm was eager to become associated with such a high-profile case, and quickly embraced Mr. Cohen.

“I am really sorry to read about your troubles,” the acquaintance, Jeffrey Citron, wrote. “My partner Bob Costello was formerly the deputy chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District.” He said that if Mr. Cohen wanted to connect with Mr. Costello and obtain “his insight into your situation, it would be my pleasure to arrange.”

Mr. Cohen jumped at the offer: “I do. Can you connect me to him?”

Mr. Cohen met that day with Mr. Citron and Mr. Costello in a conference room at the Loews Regency Hotel, where he had been staying while his home underwent renovations. After drawing the curtains, Mr. Cohen revealed the depths of his despair.

“I was up on the roof. I was thinking of jumping,” Mr. Cohen told the two men, according to Mr. Costello.

Over the course of the two-hour meeting, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Costello discussed options for digging out of the mess, including possibly seeking immunity from prosecution in exchange for cooperation. They also talked about whether state prosecutors…

Trump Lawyer Urges Treasury Not to Release His Tax Returns

Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s personal lawyer on Monday urged the Treasury Department not to hand over Mr. Trump’s tax returns to House Democrats, warning that releasing the documents to lawmakers he accused of having a “radical view of unchecked congressional power” would turn the Internal Revenue Service into a political weapon.

It was the second such letter written on behalf of Mr. Trump since Representative Richard E. Neal, the Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, formally requested six years of the president’s personal and business tax returns earlier this month. Mr. Neal on Saturday gave the Internal Revenue Service until April 23 to provide him with the tax returns after Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said last week that he could not meet an earlier deadline because he needed to study the lawfulness of the request.

The fight over Mr. Trump’s tax returns is expected to turn into a protracted legal battle that will likely make its way to the Supreme Court. Mr. Trump, who declined to provide his tax returns while running for president, continues to cite an ongoing audit as the reason he cannot release the documents, despite no rule or law that prevents him from doing so.

Mr. Neal used an obscure provision of the tax code to request the returns, which he said his committee needs in order to evaluate the policy of automatic audits of presidential tax returns. Mr. Trump and his defenders…

Lawyer Michael Avenatti charged

Michael Avenatti to be released on $300,000 bond

Attorney Michael Avenatti will be released this evening on a $300,000 bond.

Avenatti, who was represented by two federal defenders, was not asked to enter a plea and did not do so.

When the judge asked Avenatti if he understood the charges against him, he replied, “I do, your honor.”

He was also ordered to give up his passport and cease contact with an unnamed witness. Avenatti will only be allowed to travel to New York and California.

Attorney Mark Geragos is the unnamed co-conspirator in the Avenatti criminal complaint

Attorney Mark Geragos is the unnamed co-conspirator referred to in the Southern District of New York’s criminal complaint against Michael Avenatti, a source familiar confirms to CNN.

The complaint described the co-conspirator as “an attorney licensed in California who’s known for his representation of celebrity and public figure clients.”

Geragos has not been charged with a crime.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that Geragos was the unnamed co-conspirator.

Geragos did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Geragos, who has represented a number of high profile clients including Chris Brown and Jussie Smollett, was a CNN contributor.

Avenatti was arrested this morning outside of the offices of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP in Manhattan, according to a source.

A Nike lawyer, who cooperated with the investigation and is referred to as “Attorney-1” in in the charges, is Boies Schiller Flexner LLP partner Scott Wilson, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Nike says it “will not be extorted”

Nike released a statement today after prosecutors in New York announced charges against attorney Michael Avenatti for attempting to extort more than $20 million from the company.

Read the statement:

“Nike will not be extorted or hide information that is relevant to a government investigation. Nike has been cooperating with the government’s investigation into NCAA basketball for over a year. When Nike became aware of this matter, Nike immediately reported it to federal prosecutors. When Mr. Avenatti attempted to extort Nike over this matter, Nike with the assistance of outside counsel at Boies Schiller Flexner,…

China Politics and YOUR Business

China Spain international lawyers

With all that is going on with China’s economy and with its trade discussions with the United States and with US tariffs and with the EU’s mounting frustration with China, our China lawyers are finding themselves more often engaged in “big picture” discussions with our clients than ever before. We are constantly getting hit with questions like the following:

1. What are you seeing in China?
2. Where do you see things going in China?
3. What’s going to happen with the tariffs?
4. Will China ever open up?
5. Are China’s new foreign investment and IP laws going to change things?

We are well-trained and well-positioned to answer some of these, such as the one regarding China’s new laws and we write about those. See China’s New Foreign Investment Law and Forced Technology Transfer: Same As it Ever Was and China Approves New Foreign Investment Law to Level Playing Field for Foreign Companies. MEH.

But when it comes to something like how the winds are blowing with the Chinese government and how those winds will impact foreign companies that do business in China or with China, we love reading the experts who truly focus on these big picture political-economic issues. I mention all this because I was today sent a report from one of our largest Spain clients, entitled China’s 2019 Two Sessions: What It Means for Your Business. Our client had read the report, found it exceedingly helpful, and thought we too would benefit from it. And we have.

Now before I talk about that article and explain why you should go read it yourself, I am going to indulge in a relatively quick diversion. Yesterday, my law firm had its bi-weekly “international team” meeting. We have one meeting a month at 9:00 a.m. PST so as to make life easier for our lawyers in Spain (at 5 p.m. there) and the other meeting at 5 p.m. PST so as to make life easier for our lawyers in China (at 8:00 a.m. there). One of the things I love discussing…

DOJ reached agreement with Clinton lawyers to block FBI access to Clinton Foundation emails, Strzok says

Nunes: Lisa Page Revelations Show 'Orchestrated Effort' at DOJ, FBI Not to Prosecute Clinton

The Justice Department “negotiated” an agreement with Hillary Clinton’s legal team that ensured the FBI did not have access to emails on her private servers relating to the Clinton Foundation, former FBI special agent Peter Strzok testified during a closed-door appearance before the House Judiciary Committee last summer, according to a newly released transcript.

Republicans late last year renewed their efforts to probe the Clinton Foundation, after tax documents showed a plunge in its incoming donations after Clinton’s 2016 presidential election. The numbers fueled longstanding allegations of possible “pay-to-play” transactions at the organization, amid a Justice Department probe covering foundation issues.

Under questioning from Judiciary Committee General Counsel Zachary Somers, Strzok acknowledged that Clinton’s private personal email servers contained a mixture of emails related to the Clinton Foundation, her work as secretary of state and other matters.

“Were you given access to [Clinton Foundation-related] emails as part of the investigation?” Somers asked

CLINTON FOUNDATION WHISTLEBLOWERS HAVE COME FORWARD. WHAT ARE THEY SAYING?

“We were not. We did not have access,” Strzok responded. “My recollection is that the access to those emails were based on consent that was negotiated between the Department of Justice attorneys and counsel for Clinton.”

Peter Strzok arrives at a closed-door interview before the House Judiciary Committee in June. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Peter Strzok arrives at a closed-door interview before the House Judiciary Committee in June. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Although the FBI eventually took possession of the servers, Strzok continued, the possession was “based upon the negotiation of Department of Justice attorneys for consent.”

“A significant filter team” was employed at the FBI, Strzok said, to “work through the various terms of the various consent agreements.” Limitations imposed on agents’ searches included date ranges, and names of domains and people, Strzok said, among other categories.

The agreement was reached, Strzok said, because “according to the attorneys, we lacked probable cause to get a search warrant for those servers and projected that either it would take a very long time and/or it would be impossible to get to the point where we could obtain probable cause to get a warrant.”

STRZOK’S PHONE FROM DAYS ON MUELLER PROBE TOTALLY WIPED; FBI SAYS SYSTEM-WIDE SOFTWARE FAILURE RESULTED IN OTHER MISSING TEXTS

Strzok did not elaborate on whether prosecutors made any effort to secure a search warrant, which could have delineated precisely what agents could and could not search.

But Strzok later said that agents had access to the “entire universe” of information on the servers when using search terms to probe their contents. He also told Somers that “we had it voluntarily,” although it was unclear…

Former top FBI lawyer: 2 Trump cabinet officials were ‘ready to support’ 25th Amendment effort

Former top FBI lawyer James Baker, in closed-door testimony to Congress, detailed alleged discussions among senior officials at the Justice Department about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office, claiming he was told Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said two Trump Cabinet officials were “ready to support” such an effort.

The testimony was delivered last fall to the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees. Fox News has confirmed portions of the transcript. It provides additional insight into discussions that have returned to the spotlight in Washington as fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe revisits the matter during interviews promoting his forthcoming book.

MCCABE DETAILS CENTRAL ROLE IN RUSSIA PROBES, DOJ MEETINGS ON WHETHER TO OUST PRESIDENT

Baker did not identify the two Cabinet officials. But in his testimony, the lawyer said McCabe and FBI lawyer Lisa Page came to him to relay their conversations with Rosenstein, including discussions of the 25th Amendment.

“I was being told by some combination of Andy McCabe and Lisa Page, that, in a conversation with the Deputy Attorney General, he had stated that he — this was what was related to me — that he had at least two members of the president’s Cabinet who were ready to support, I guess you would call it, an action under the 25th Amendment,” Baker told the committees.

The 25th Amendment provides a mechanism for removing a sitting president from office. One way that could happen is if a majority of the president’s Cabinet says the president is incapable of discharging his duties.

Top Republicans on Judiciary Committees call for McCabe and Rosenstein to testify

Rosenstein, who still works at Justice Department but who is expected to exit in the near future, has denied the claims since they first surfaced in the media last year.

Fox News requested further comment from the parties involved. Lawyers for Baker and McCabe declined comment, as did an FBI spokesperson.

In his testimony, Baker said of McCabe’s state of mind: “At this point in time, Andy was unbelievably focused and unbelievably confident and squared away. I don’t know how to describe it other than I was extremely proud to be around him at that point in time because I thought he was doing an excellent job at maintaining focus and dealing with a very uncertain and difficult situation. So I think he was in a good state of mind at this point in time.”

The testimony, for which they are criminal penalties if the witness lies to congressional investigators, comes as McCabe, who was fired last year by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has discussed the alleged meetings as he promotes his forthcoming book.

On Thursday, the Justice Department issued a statement that said Rosenstein rejects McCabe’s recitation of these events “as inaccurate and factually incorrect.” It also denied that Rosenstein ever OK’d wearing a “wire” to tape Trump.

“The deputy attorney general never authorized any recording that Mr. McCabe references,” the statement said. “As the deputy attorney general previously has stated, based on his personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment, nor was the DAG in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment.”

During his testimony, Baker acknowledged…

FBI scrambled to respond to Hillary Clinton lawyer amid Weiner laptop review, newly released emails show

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Newly released internal FBI emails showed the agency’s highest-ranking officials scrambling to answer to Hillary Clinton’s lawyer in the days prior to the 2016 presidential election, on the same day then-FBI Director James Comey sent a bombshell letter to Congress announcing a new review of hundreds of thousands of potentially classified emails found on former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

The trove of documents turned over by the FBI, in response to a lawsuit by the transparency group Judicial Watch, also included discussions by former FBI lawyer Lisa Page concerning a potential quid pro quo between the State Department and the FBI — in which the FBI would agree to effectively hide the fact that a Clinton email was classified in exchange for more legal attache positions that would benefit the FBI abroad, and allow them to send more agents to countries where the FBI’s access is ordinarily restricted.

The quid pro quo would have involved the FBI providing some other public reason for withholding the Clinton email from disclosure amid a Freedom of Information Act request, besides its classification level. There are no indications the proposed arrangement ever took place.

And, in the face of mounting criticism aimed at the FBI, the documents revealed that Comey quoted the 19th century poet Ralph Waldo Emerson by assuring his subordinates, “To be great is to be misunderstood.”

The FBI did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment on the released emails.

New Strzok-Page texts reveal others 'leaking like mad'
New Strzok-Page texts reveal others ‘leaking like mad’

On Oct. 28, 2016, Comey upended the presidential campaign by informing Congress that the FBI would quickly review the Weiner laptop. The Justice Department’s internal watchdog later faulted the FBI for failing to review the Weiner laptop through much of the fall of 2016, and suggested it was possible that now-fired FBI Agent Peter Strzok may have slow-walked the laptop analysis until other federal prosecutors pressured the FBI to review its contents.

On the afternoon of Oct. 28, Clinton lawyer David Kendall demanded answers from the FBI — and the agency jumped into action, the emails showed.

FILE - In this Nov. 2, 2016, file photo, the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover headquarter building in Washington. New documents show the FBI scrambling to respond to Hillary Clinton's lawyers in 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
FILE – In this Nov. 2, 2016, file photo, the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover headquarter building in Washington. New documents show the FBI scrambling to respond to Hillary Clinton’s lawyers in 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

Many of the emails found on the computer were between Clinton and her senior adviser Huma Abedin, Weiner’s now-estranged wife. Despite claims by top FBI officials, including Strzok, several of those emails were determined to contain classified information.

“I received the email below from David Kendall and I called him back,” then-FBI General Counsel James Baker wrote to the agency’s top brass, including Comey, Page and Strzok, in an email. “Before doing so I alerted DOJ via email that I would do that.”

Page and Strzok eventually were revealed to be having an extramarital affair, and Strzok was terminated after a slew of text messages surfaced in which he and Page derided Trump and his supporters using their government-issued phones. Republicans, citing some of those text messages, have accused Strzok and Page of orchestrating a coordinated leak strategy aimed at harming the president.

GOHMERT UNLOADS ON ‘SMIRKING’ STRZOK: ‘HOW MANY TIMES DID YOU LOOK SO INNOCENT INTO YOUR WIFE’S EYES AND LIE?’

Although a portion of Kendall’s email was redacted, Baker continued: “He said that our letter was ‘tantalizingly ambiguous’ and made statements that were ‘inchoate and highly ominous’ such that what we had done was worse than transparency because it allows people to make whatever they want out of the letter to the prejudice of Secretary Clinton. … I told him that I could not respond to his requests at this time but that I would discuss it with others and get back to him.

“To be great is to be misunderstood.”

— Fired FBI Director James Comey, quoting Emerson

“I suggest that we have some kind of follow up meeting or phone call with this group either this evening or over the weekend to address this and probably other issues/questions that come up in the next 24 hours,” Baker concluded. “Sound reasonable?”

DOJ BLAMES SYSTEM-WIDE SOFTWARE FAILURE FOR MISSING STRZOK-PAGE TEXTS; STRZOK’S PHONE TOTALLY WIPED

In a partially redacted response, Strzok agreed to spearhead a conference call among the FBI’s top officials the next day.

Paul’s lawyers want his political views excluded from trial

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul never shies away from speaking his mind, but his attorneys are asking a Kentucky judge to make the Republican lawmaker’s political beliefs off-limits at his upcoming trial against the neighbor who tackled him while he was doing yard work at his home.

That’s fine with the neighbor’s attorney, who’s pushing back against a second request from Paul’s team: to also refrain from talk of the senator’s lawn-maintenance habits.

Paul suffered multiple broken ribs in the 2017 attack, and the neighbor, Rene Boucher, pleaded guilty to assaulting a member of Congress. Paul sued Boucher, and a jury trial set for Jan. 28 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, will determine the amount of damages the senator can receive.

Paul’s legal team says his political beliefs are “irrelevant” to the trial, noting Boucher has said the attack had nothing to do with politics.

“Any reference to Senator Paul’s detailed political positions could only serve to alienate potential jurors who do not share his beliefs,” Paul’s lawyers said in a recent pretrial motion. “Accordingly, the court should exclude any mention of Senator Paul’s political ideology from this trial.”

Boucher’s attorney, Matt Baker, said Friday he agrees that Paul’s political views are irrelevant to the trial.

A hearing on the motion by Paul’s lawyers is scheduled next…

Study: Most Innocent People Need to Hire Thirty-Five Lawyers at Some Point

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla / Getty

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Most people who are innocent of any crimes will still need to hire thirty-five lawyers at some point, a new study shows.

According to the study, commissioned by the University of Minnesota Law School, thirty-five is the “bare minimum” number of lawyers that an innocent person should have on retainer in the event that he or she becomes the subject of an entirely unjustified criminal investigation.

“We found that many innocent people are going through life without taking the basic precaution of hiring thirty-five lawyers,”…

Bill Nelson lawyer: Unopened ballots exceed Rick Scott victory margin

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s legal team says the number of uncounted vote-by-mail ballots exceeded incoming Sen. Rick Scott’s margin of victory when he defeated the incumbent in November.

“Remember when we thought 6,670 mail ballots in Florida were rejected due to failure by the post office to deliver them in time to the counties?” said Nelson attorney Marc Elias on social media.

“Well, we now know it was 6,882 ballots. And over 4,000 ballots were thrown out for signature mismatch. Nelson lost by 10,033 votes.”

But Jessica Furst Johnson, National Republican Senate Committee counsel, said Scott’s margin of victory remained insurmountable.

“Even if this were true,” she responded, “it would be almost EIGHT times the largest vote margin where an American recount actually flipped the election result. Completely irresponsible to drag FL through a recount under those circumstances.”

Nelson conceded the election on Nov. 18, 12 days after the election and after filing several lawsuits looking for more votes to be counted.

Elias, who represented Democrats including former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and former Washington…