Michael Cohen's Trump tape release may mean he's ready to make a deal, experts say

Michael Cohen’s decision to allow Tuesday’s release of a secretly recorded conversation he had with President Donald Trump may signal that Cohen is moving toward making a deal with prosecutors, legal experts say.

The tape features Cohen, once seen as Trump’s most loyal fixer, discussing with him a payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal. The conversation occurred just weeks before the 2016 presidential election; since then, McDougal has publicly alleged that she and Trump previously had a lengthy affair. Trump has denied her claim.

For months, Cohen has been under a federal criminal investigation for possible bank and wire fraud, as well as campaign finance violations. The tape released by his legal team was one of several that the FBI seized from Cohen’s home and office in April.

The tape’s release ― with more possible coming ― could help Cohen “improve his public standing and begin to look candid, which might help him if he goes to trial” or “attract the interest of a prosecutor... who wants to help him with a plea bargain in exchange for what he knows,” Duke law professor Donald Beskind said.
 

18 PHOTOS
Donald Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen
See Gallery
Donald Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen exits a hotel in New York City, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Michael Cohen, personal attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives to appear before Senate Intelligence Committee staff as the panel investigates alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen drives after leaving his hotel in New York City, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Attorney Michael Cohen arrives at Trump Tower for meetings with President-elect Donald Trump on December 16, 2016 in New York.

(BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)

Michael Cohen, personal attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, talks to reporters as he departs after meeting with Senate Intelligence Committee staff as the panel investigates alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for National Security Advisor, Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Donald Trump, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry talk with each other in the lobby at Trump Tower, December 12, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration.

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 19: Michael Cohen, center, a personal attorney for President Trump, leaves Hart Building after his meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss Russian interference in the 2016 election was postponed on September 19, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Attorney Michael Cohen arrives to Trump Tower for meetings with President-elect Donald Trump on December 16, 2016 in New York.

(BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal attorney arrives with his attorney, Stephen M. Ryan to speak with reporters after meeting with Senate Intelligence Committee staff on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, White House national security adviser-designate, from left, Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Donald Trump, and Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, speak in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he had the 'highest confidence' in the intelligence community, in sharp contrast to President-elect Donald Trump's attack on the CIA after reports it found that the Russian government tried to help him win the presidency.

(Albin Lohr-Jones/Pool via Bloomberg)

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, looks on as his attorney (not pictured) delivers a statement to reporters after meeting with Senate Intelligence Committee staff on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Attorney Michael Cohen arrives to Trump Tower for meetings with President-elect Donald Trump on December 16, 2016 in New York.

(BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 19: Michael Cohen, center, a personal attorney for President Trump, leaves Hart Building after his meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss Russian interference in the 2016 election was postponed on September 19, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen exits a hotel in New York City, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen is pictured leaving a restaurant in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Levy
Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, arrives with his attorney, Stephen M. Ryan, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen is pictured arriving at his hotel in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Levy
Michael Cohen, personal attorney for U.S. President Donald Trump, departs after meeting with Senate Intelligence Committee staff as the panel investigates alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Jens David Ohlin, vice dean and law professor at Cornell, told HuffPost the tape makes it clear that Cohen knows a lot of Trump’s secrets and could prove valuable to federal prosecutors.

“From [Cohen attorney] Lanny Davis’ perspective, he wants Cohen’s situation wrapped up completely as quickly as possible,” Ohlin said. The best way to do that is “to work out a deal with prosecutors to convince prosecutors that Cohen is not very culpable in the grand scheme in things... and he’s got a lot of testimony.”

Cohen, who once said he would take a bullet for the president, indicated earlier this month that he is now looking out for himself. In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that aired July 2, Cohen said he is putting “family and country first.”

Davis told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that his client is no longer seeking a pardon from Trump as protection against any possible criminal convictions.

“I think [Cohen] is going to get a deal [with federal prosecutors],” Ohlin said. “I don’t see any way that this is going to play out differently.”

Ohlin said Cohen’s shift in legal strategy is probably due to Trump not wanting to grant pardons that could be seen as obstructing justice amid the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the ’16 campaign. 

In reaction to the tapes going public, Trump questioned what kind of lawyer would tape a client. “So sad!” the president tweeted.

It is highly unusual for a lawyer to secretly record a client, four lawyers told HuffPost. However, recording is legal in many states, including New York, as long as one party involved in the conversation gives consent.

“As a lawyer, I certainly wouldn’t do that,” said Binny Miller, director of American University’s Criminal Justice Clinic.

CBS and CNN reported that Trump’s legal team waived the president’s attorney-client privilege on Cohen’s recording.

Pace University law professor John Humbach said that while a lawyer might tape a conversation for note-taking purposes, it’s unlikely the client wouldn’t know about the recording.

“A lawyer has first and foremost a fiduciary duty to put the client’s interests ahead of the lawyer’s interests,” Humbach said. “It’s kind of inconceivable to [record a conversation] without the client’s knowledge. If the lawyer is recording a conversation to protect the lawyer, that’s clearly a case of not putting the client’s interests first.”

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
Read Full Story