This Sounds Right

NEW YORK - JUNE 3:  Undefeated junior welterweight boxer Dmitry Salita (L) and honoree businessman Evgeny A. Freidman attend the UJA-Federation of New York's Russian Leadership Division's Charity Ball at The Bowery Hotel June 3, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
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As you could probably tell if you read my morning item on Gene Freidman and Michael Cohen, I was struggling to figure out how the Michael Cohen raids were related to the much sweeter deal New York State prosecutors offered “Taxi King” Gene Freidman after April 9th. I think TPM Reader JO’s explanation makes perfect sense. In fact, it makes so much sense I’m really kicking myself for not figuring it out myself. But you can’t win ’em all.

From TPM Reader JO

I have to disagree with you regarding the intrigue surrounding the Friedman deal. You wrote:

But why would the raid make a difference? Why would that change things? If anything one might speculate that it would make Freidman’s cooperation slightly less valuable since presumably federal investigators got a lot of information about Cohen in those raids. One might also speculate that the raids upped the importance of the Cohen prosecution to federal investigators and made Freidman’s cooperation more attractive. But that doesn’t really add up. If Freidman had key information relevant to the Russia probe, I can’t see how it wouldn’t have been as valuable to federal prosecutors in January or March as it was in May.

I doubt a deal like the one just struck on the table – for Friedman or state prosecutors – before the FBI raid. Remember, New York state prosecutors probably have a close relationship with the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. But prior to the FBI raids on Cohen, SDNY was on absolute lockdown in terms of media leaks about this case. Mueller’s office would have violently opposed SDNY reaching out to state prosecutors (much less Friedman’s attorney) to even float the possibility of a deal. The NY Post would have known about it within 24 hours. And then Trump would have done everything in his power to intercede.

SDNY handles a lot of big cases, but the Cohen case has the potential to take down a president. They could not entrust such a secret to state prosecutors or Friedman’s attorney before the raids. I also think it may be a mistake to assume that Friedman is offering “key information relevant to the Russia probe”. It seems likely that Friedman is merely offering information about ordinarily law-breaking by Cohen, entirely unrelated to the Russia collusion. If SDNY is not working on Russia collusion, why would state prosecutors?

I wrote this in an email to you on 4/19/18, soon after the Cohen raids:

Friedman faces up to 100 years in prison on just the tax fraud charges. Notably, these are state charges brought by Eric Schneiderman. If I were [Friedman’s attorney], I would view Robert Muller and the SDNY’s interest in Michael Cohen as a possible opportunity for my client to avoid prison time in June.

I stand by this analysis. I think it is entirely possible that as soon as the raids occurred, Friedman’s lawyer reached out to state prosecutors and explained that Friedman had information to trade about Cohen. Prior the FBI raids on Cohen, state prosecutors would have been unlikely to offer Friedman a great deal in exchange, since Friedman’s own law breaking is likely as bad or worse than what is alleged against Cohen. But context is everything, and the FBI raids radically changed what “information on Cohen” meant, both for Friedman and state prosecutors.

The truth is that the FBI raid changed everything for state prosecutors. Taking down Friedman was going to be a feather in the cap of state prosecutors, given the guy’s reputation as a “taxi king”. But a chance to participate directly in a case that leads to Michael Cohen flipping on Trump? It’s a whole other stratosphere. If SDNY and state prosecutors can break Cohen, they could play a role in taking down a rogue president. This simply wasn’t a possibility the day before the FBI raids. The day after, it suddenly was.

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