Trump’s Dangerous Dance with Cohen

Trump can’t afford to keep Cohen close to the vest, or to cut him loose.

I would not want to be Donald Trump right now. I mean, there are a thousand and one reasons not to be Donald Trump on general principle, but the man is now caught in a vise from which there seems little escape.

It is now known that Trump’s personal consigliere Michael Cohen was actively taking massive bribes from big companies with regulatory issues before the administration. The companies involved have taken various approaches to the release of the news, mostly claiming that engaging Cohen was a mistake and that they received no real quo in exchange for their quid. Many prominent figures, including Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti, have all but announced that there are many more such bribes to Cohen that are as of yet undisclosed.

The big question now is where the money went. In particular, there is considerable speculation about money paid to Cohen’s shell company by a firm with close ties to a Russian oligarch in Putin’s inner circle. Was the money being funneled through Cohen’s LLC directly to the Trump organization or campaign with Cohen taking a cut? Or was Cohen acting on his own recognizance, fattening his wallet by promising favors he had no intention of delivering on? Did the president or his advisers know about Cohen’s activities?

So far, the administration has been suggesting that Trump knew nothing of Cohen’s behavior. But it is highly suggestive that the president’s volcanic has not erupted at Cohen on twitter as we might expect it to if Trump were genuinely unaware of his close fixer’s corruption. If Trump knew about the bribes to Cohen and was taking money from Cohen as well, that’s obviously a huge problem. If Trump knew about the bribes but was letting Cohen keep all the money, why didn’t he do anything about it? If Trump genuinely didn’t know about the political activities of one of his closest confidants, then his administration is a whirlwind of corrupt incompetence.

But there is, of course, an even bigger problem for Trump in all this. Regardless of the truth of the matter, Trump cannot afford to be antagonizing Cohen at a time when Cohen holds so much leverage over him. The question everyone in Washington is asking is whether Cohen will flip on his boss. If Trump throws Cohen under the bus, it makes him likelier to become a witness for the prosecution. So does Trump cut him loose or keep him close? Can he afford to do either?

These are questions that we should be asking of mob bosses constricted by a tightening FBI net, not of presidents of the United States. If Trump is in an unenviable situation, he has only himself to blame.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.