Any way you slice it, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has already assumed a lot of legal exposure and it’s only getting worse. The story Cohen’s lawyer has advanced that Cohen simply handled the $130,000 hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels without ever informing Trump and without even asking if a sexual encounter took place puts him at risk for charges of fraud, defamation, malfeasance, and civil and criminal charges. As Harry Litman writes for the Washington Post:
The story Cohen and Trump are taking into litigation, then, is that Cohen was a complete freelancer. He saw a problem for his friend and fixed it, paying with his own funds, while insulating Trump from any uncomfortable repercussions and safeguarding his deniability. Cohen never asked and never knew whether the affair occurred because that wasn’t relevant to him.
Also, of course, as he previously asserted, his actions had no political goals and nothing to do with the looming election, which was just a coincidence. He would have done the exact same thing any time because “I truly care about him and the family — more than just as an employee and an attorney.”
Here’s where that argument risks leaving Cohen afoul of the law:
- Defamation: If he never confirmed the Daniels story with Trump, then how can he accuse her of lying about their affair.
- Professional Malfeasance: Lawyers are not allowed to freelance on behalf of their clients by entering into contractual agreements without informing them of the actions they are taking on their behalf. The bar will likely take issue with that.
- Fraud: Cohen led Daniels to believe that she was entering into an agreement with Trump that he claims he never informed Trump of. Litman writes: “Such fraud, under contract law, would mean that the agreement was never properly formed. Certainly, a court or an arbitrator won’t take kindly to learning that an agreement it is being asked to enforce was, on this level, a sham.”
- Making an illegal campaign contribution: The payment, “made less than two weeks before the election and three weeks after” Trump’s Access Hollywood brag-a-thon leaked, is impossibly coincidental.
Adding to Cohen’s woes, Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti is now seeking more information from the Treasury Department about the “suspicious” $130,000 payment.
A “suspicious activity report,” or SAR, was filed by First Republic Bank — the bank Cohen allegedly used to make the payment — to the Treasury Department, the Wall Street Journal reported last month. […]
“(W)e request that you publicly release the SAR, along with any and all underlying facts, transactions, and documents in your control upon which the SAR is based,” Avenatti wrote to [Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin. “And as Secretary of the Treasury, it is well within your authority to release the requested SAR information to allow the public to learn critical information relating to the payment.”
One way or the other, Cohen is in deep.