Michael Cohen
Credit: CNN/Screen capture

In a Federal District Court in Manhattan on Thursday morning, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen pled guilty to one charge of lying to Congress during his testimony to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. In exchange for pleading guilty, he has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation of an alleged conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 election.

There are a few things to keep in mind about this agreement. First of all, it comes just two weeks before Cohen is scheduled to be sentenced in a previous agreement he reached with federal prosecutors after pleading guilty to making hush-money payments to conceal Trump’s sex scandals.

Secondly, this one will play out very differently from the agreement Mueller reached with Paul Manafort.

Cohen’s earlier plea deal with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York implicated President Trump in campaign finance felonies. Since then, Cohen has spent more than 70 hours in interviews with Mueller’s team. The questioning has focused on contacts with Russians by Trump associates during the campaign, Trump’s business ties to Russia, obstruction of justice and talk of possible pardons, sources familiar with the discussions have told ABC News.

After 70 hours of interviews, investigators have—at minimum—a good idea about whether or not Cohen is telling the truth. And they might have already gotten most of what they need to know from him.

He has been determined to tell Mueller’s team, other federal prosecutors and the New York State Attorney General’s Office all that he knows — and his testimony poses a potentially serious threat to the president, sources told ABC News. They also say Cohen’s voluntary cooperation has been crucial to the special counsel’s case.

Thirdly, the game of attempting to decipher Mueller’s motives has proven to be an interesting exercise over these last two years. This time, it is interesting to note that there was a lot of speculation about the special counsel making big moves as soon as the midterm elections were over. But it was about three weeks before we saw them accuse Manafort of violating his plea agreement and officially enter into one with Cohen. What preceded those two events was Trump’s submission of written answers to the questions posed by the special counsel. If Cohen has been cooperating all along, it begs the question of why make his plea agreement publicly now. Mueller got the president on record before he knew what was coming next.

Finally, I doubt that it’s necessary to itemize all of the ways Cohen’s testimony is a threat to the president. From financial deals with the Russians that might have set Trump and his family up as assets for the Kremlin to the truth about the Trump Tower meeting to the fact that the Steele dossier names Cohen as the one who took over management of the conspiracy with Russia after Manafort was fired, the president’s personal attorney knows it all.

That is probably why, two hours before Cohen appeared in that Manhattan courtroom, the president was busy rage-tweeting.


If you still have a functioning irony meter, the idea that the man whose mentor was Roy Cohn is accusing Robert Mueller of going on an “illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt” should take care of that.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.