During the period between the FBI raid on his home and offices and the point at which Michael Cohen chose to break from his joint defense agreement with Donald Trump and make a deal with prosecutors, attorneys connected to Rudy Giuliani opened a “back channel” for email communications between Trump’s former personal attorney and Trump. Those emails appear to show how clearly Trump was dangling a pardon in front of his “fixer” if he would just fix the Mueller investigation by staying silent.
CNN has obtained copies of emails between Trump’s legal team and Cohen that were part of the large collection of documents that Cohen provided to the House Intelligence Committee during closed-door testimony early in March. The emails, both from April 21, 2018, don’t directly offer a pardon in exchange for Cohen’s silence—but “implicit” doesn’t seem to cover the level of promise included.
The emails came from attorney Roberto Costello. Costello, who has worked with Giuliani for over 30 years, is one of two attorneys who Cohen testified had approached him claiming that they would provide him with legal assistance so long as he remained in the agreement with Trump. In the first email, Costello tells Cohen that Rudy “asked me to tell you that he knows how tough this is on you and your family and he will make (sure) to tell the President. He said thank you for opening this back channel of communication and asked me to keep in touch.”
A second email from Costello is even more explicit. He informs Cohen that both Trump and Giuliani “are in our corner.” Then he explains, “Rudy said this communication channel must be maintained. He called it crucial and noted how reassured they were that they had someone like me whom Rudy has known for so many years in this role.” The email also states that the conversation with Trump was “very, very positive,” and assures Cohen, according to CNN, “You are loved.” Finally, Costello ends the email by telling Cohen, “Sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places.”
Costello now claims that these emails had nothing to do with hinting to Cohen that there was a pardon in his future, and says that it was all about Cohen being worried that Trump was “mad at him.” And of course, the word “pardon” isn’t in there.
But there’s a good reason that a pardon isn’t explicitly mentioned: Cohen had not been charged at that point. The emails may not be directly peddling a pardon, but they certainly seem to be assuring Cohen that Trump has his back. And with messages like “Sleep well” and “You have friends in high places,” it certainly seems that Cohen might have anticipated there was a pardon in his future, no matter how “ridiculous” Costello claims to find the idea.
Meanwhile, on the question of Cohen’s statements about pardons before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen’s attorney provided a letter to the committee on Wednesday morning. In that letter, Cohen’s attorney stated that Cohen “could have been clearer regarding the time frames” and meant to discuss only the period after he left the joint agreement with Trump when saying he never discussed a pardon. That statement apparently satisfied committee Chair Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, who issued a statement saying, “Our practice on this Committee is to give witnesses an opportunity to clarify their testimony, and that is what Mr. Cohen has done. I do not see the need for further action—at least at this time.“
It’s unclear if Cohen made any statements to other committees of the House or Senate behind closed doors that could still require clarification, or might result in charges of lying to Congress.