One sub-thread to the Cohen investigation is that the US Attorney in Manhattan (SDNY) recused himself from involvement in the case. It’s been assumed that that was because of his ties to Trump. Trump appointed him (he hasn’t actually been confirmed yet or technically even nominated). He made campaign contributions to candidate Trump and even did some work on the transition. But most notably he sat for a personal interview with the President while he was being considered for the post. That is entirely irregular, though there’s no particular rule against it. It’s been widely assumed that some combination of those factors triggered Berman’s recusal. But this new New York Timespiece suggests that’s not the case.
There’s lots of news bubbling this evening on the Cohen raids front. But I want to flag a particular issue that requires more attention. I invite feedback from lawyers and prosecutors and for that matter lawyers who are engaged in criminal conduct.
We have new news on that third Michael Cohen husher, the one with Trump fundraiser and RNC deputy finance chair Elliott Broidy and an unnamed former Playboy model. As with the earlier two it was ‘negotiated’ by Cohen representing Broidy and Keith Davidson representing the unnamed woman. The settlement was for $1.6 million.
We have just come off of one of those assaultive news weeks in which each day brought a greater rush of news than seemed conceivable the day before. It’s hard to keep up. More particularly, as Michael Cohen has moved from comic side show figure in the Trump saga to something much closer to the center, it’s been hard to figure out just how these myriad threads of sleaze and criminality fit together. Is this about bank fraud and hush money and possible extortion? Is it tied to Donald Trump in ways that go beyond working as Trump’s “fixer” covering up affairs and assaults? Most specifically, is this tied to the larger Russia probe or did one or more investigators just stumble on to Cohen’s various shady enterprises and realize there were lots of crimes going on that required investigation on their own?
Possibly the weirdest new thread is the one with this big Trump donor Elliott Broidy, for whom Cohen also negotiated a hush agreement. The Broidy thread is potentially highly significant because he is an important player in a major though still murky thread of the Russia probe – the one growing out of the Seychelles/Russia back channel and various machinations of Gulf states trying to buy off Trump associates.
Equally unclear is how exactly Broidy’s story relates to Trump. He was a major Trump donor and involved in Trump foreign policy machinations – like Cohen he was a deputy finance chair of the RNC. But it’s not clear on the surface why Trump would care if Broidy were exposed for having an affair or having a child with a mistress. Broidy paid a woman to have sex only with him for two years. She got pregnant. She retained Keith Davidson. They wanted money. Davidson contacted Cohen. Cohen contacted Broidy, told him what was happening and then became Broidy’s lawyer in the subsequent negotiations. This concluded with a $1.6 million confidentiality agreement.
I’m going to try to write up a piece this evening putting all the news of today in some perspective based on my and our team’s reporting over the last year into Cohen’s business background. But here’s an important morsel for understanding what’s happened today and where Cohen may be heading in the coming days.