Lanny Davis
Credit: Fox News/YouTube screen capture

To call Lanny Davis “problematic” would be an understatement. Davis has spent a career as a hired propagandist for the rich and powerful, and not always for the most savory characters. On the Democratic side, Davis gained fame and infamy for his advocacy of the Clintons, but also for Joe Lieberman even after he lost his primary to Ned Lamont in 2006. Since then, he has balanced a career in public relations for foreign governments that has included civil rights advocacy on the side of the angels, as well as representation for some reprehensible regimes and companies. He is also currently representing a Ukrainian oligarch with mob ties.

Charitably speaking, Davis is a PR advocate and attorney who crafts the most effective messaging he can on behalf of his clients. Less charitable analysts would use significantly more caustic language to describe his work.

This matters immensely today as Davis is currently representing Michael Cohen. Much like with Trump and his made-for-TV “attorney” Rudy Giuliani, Davis has made the mistake of becoming more of a story than his client–and of shedding doubt on his client’s own proclamations. CNN now finds itself the subject of a journalistic controversy.

Lanny Davis has offered many variations of his client’s knowledge regarding the meeting in Trump Tower but says he is now less certain about Cohen’s claims.

“I should have done a much better job of speaking with more suspicion than certainty, and I regret my mistake,” Davis told CNN.

On July 26, citing sources with knowledge, CNN was first to report that Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, claimed he was willing to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower. CNN said Cohen claimed he was present when Donald Trump Jr. told Trump about the Russians’ offer to share dirt on Hillary Clinton, and Trump gave approval for the meeting to take place.

CNN stands by its story.

A CNN spokeswoman said Tuesday: “We stand by our story, which had more than one source, and are confident in our reporting of it.”

It’s not just Donald Trump’s foreknowledge of the Trump Tower meeting that is at odds with reported stories. More crucially, Cohen is claiming (again through Davis) that he was never in Prague to conspire with Russian agents to hack Democratic campaign data as the Steele Dossier indicated he was–even though McClatchy stands by their story that Mueller does indeed have evidence of Cohen going to Prague at the stated time.

So we have to believe one of two things: either Lanny Davis was lying originally about the president’s involvement in the Trump Tower meeting and CNN was wrong in its multiply-sourced reporting and McClatchy is wrong about Mueller’s awareness of Cohen having been in Prague. Or Lanny Davis is lying on behalf of his client now. The latter seems far more likely.

The question, as my colleague Nancy LeTourneau asks, is why Cohen would play games with Mueller like this. My best guess is that Cohen doesn’t want to implicate himself in the much more serious crime of conspiracy with foreign agents in the hacking of Clinton campaign emails on behalf of the Trump campaign (as well as plans for undermining the Clinton administration in the event of its victory). He would prefer, instead, to make a plea for the far less consequential crime of evading campaign finance rules in helping Trump hide his zipper problems. If that’s the case, then Cohen is still just trying to save his own skin from jail time and recrimination rather than genuinely trying to do the right thing. Neither Cohen nor Manafort seem inclined to tell the whole truth.

Why? Who knows? Speculation abounds. Maybe it’s fear of Russian retaliation, or perhaps it’s fear of Trump himself and Republicans in the United States. Or perhaps Mueller and his team are unwilling to wipe the slate clean if they did indeed conspire so brazenly against American democracy.

But we can put easy money on the likelihood that Lanny Davis was telling the truth about Cohen, Donald Trump and the Trump Tower meeting then, and is fibbing on behalf of his client now. If that is true, then Davis should fire his client rather than help him attempt to deceive and play games with the special counsel.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. 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.