Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney for President Donald Trump who is now a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, was under the impression Trump would offer him a pardon in exchange for staying on message in support of the President in discussions with federal prosecutors, according to two sources.
After a March 2018 visit to Mar-a-Lago, the President’s private club in Florida, Cohen returned to New York believing that his former boss would protect him if he faced any charges for sticking to his story about the 2016 payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, according to one source with knowledge. Trump was also at Mar-a-Lago at the time of Cohen’s visit.
Another source said that after the April 2018 FBI raid on Cohen’s office and home, people close to the President assured Cohen that Trump would take care of him. And Cohen believed that meant that the President would offer him a pardon if he stayed on message. It is unclear who specifically reached out to Cohen.
“The President of the United States never indicated anything to Michael, or anyone else, about getting a pardon,” said Rudy Giuliani, the President’s attorney. “Pardons are off the table, but it’s not a limitation on his power in the future to pardon in any case.”
Cohen’s lawyers could not be reached for comment.
Following the raid on Cohen’s home and office, Cohen’s attorneys had a legal defense agreement with Trump and his attorneys. During this time, there was a steady flow of communication between the two sides, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
At first, publicly, Trump seemed very supportive of his former attorney. On the day of the raid, Trump said Cohen was “a good man” and that the investigation reached “a whole new level of unfairness.” He unloaded on law enforcement, calling the raids “a disgraceful situation.”
But in the days that followed the raid, one source says, things started heading south with the President.
Trump started to distance himself from Cohen. And when Trump appeared on “Fox and Friends” two weeks after the raids and said that Cohen only did a “tiny, tiny little fraction” of his legal work, Cohen knew the game had changed. According to one source, Cohen knew that things had changed and he acted to protect his family — and himself.
By last summer, Cohen had told friends that he did not think the President would pardon him, CNN previously reported. And in August, his lawyer Lanny Davis told The Washington Post that Cohen would not want a pardon from Trump.
It couldn’t be learned whether Cohen shared this information with Mueller, though Cohen has spent more than 70 hours providing testimony over the last several months.
These developments represent an extraordinary reversal of fortunes for Trump and Cohen, who once boasted he would “take a bullet” to protect his longtime boss. But since then, Cohen implicated Trump under oath in the illegal hush-money scheme with Daniels. If Cohen did share this information with Mueller’s team, then it could be used as part of the obstruction of justice probe in determining whether the President was trying to illegally influence a witness in the investigation.
Cohen pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying to Congress about the Russia investigation. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts relating to the Daniels hush-money scheme and tax fraud from his personal business dealings.
Cohen asks judge for no prison time
In a new court filing late Friday, Cohen asked a federal judge for no prison time in his sentence and provided more details about the revelations he’s made through his guilty pleas.
His lawyers wrote in the filing that Cohen kept Trump apprised of his communications regarding a possible Moscow Trump Tower project, which included a “lengthy substantive conversation” with a personal assistant to a top Kremlin official and other communications that went on “as late as June 2016.”
Cohen also discussed with Trump, who is referred throughout the document as “Client-1,” the idea of potentially traveling to Russia in the summer of 2016.
“Michael took steps to clear dates for such travel,” the attorneys wrote.
The details were part of a sentencing memo filed with the federal court in Manhattan, which requested that Cohen be given no prison time.
Cohen’s lawyers Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester laid out the extent of Cohen’s cooperation with the special counsel’s office, as well as with prosecutors from the US Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York and the New York state attorney general’s office.
In the filing they said that Cohen has had seven voluntary interviews with the special counsel and that Cohen continues to make himself available as needed.
The government will file their response to the submission next week.
Cohen will be sentenced in federal court in Manhattan on Dec.12.