Michael Cohen Hints at Cooperating With Federal Investigators. Or Does He?

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“One of the best ways to get to Trump is through television,” Mr. Miller said, adding that a televised appeal for a pardon might not carry the same legal risks of requesting one directly. “All Cohen has to do is send a signal through the press saying, ‘Mr. President, I’m at the end of my rope. I can’t take much more of this. I’m going to have to make a deal.’”

Observers of the case — including Mr. Trump’s allies — have long considered the Cohen investigation as a bigger threat to the president than even Mr. Mueller’s inquiry, given that Mr. Cohen worked for Mr. Trump for years at the Trump Organization and helped him navigate some of the most difficult episodes in his career. For months, there has been speculation that Mr. Cohen might turn on Mr. Trump, and those concerns were heightened this month when Mr. Cohen hired a new lawyer, Guy Petrillo, who once held a senior role in the same prosecutors’ office that is investigating him. The Trump family had been paying a portion of Mr. Cohen’s legal bills, and Mr. Cohen will soon be splitting with his current lawyers partly over a disagreement about those payments.

In the interview with Mr. Stephanopoulos, Mr. Cohen said he would defer to Mr. Petrillo “for guidance” if and when criminal charges are filed. Once Mr. Petrillo officially takes over the case, as early as this week, Mr. Cohen’s defense agreement with Mr. Trump’s lawyers and lawyers for the Trump Organization will come to an end, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. Neither Mr. Petrillo nor Mr. Cohen’s current lawyers responded to phone calls seeking comment.

Those developments, in combination with Monday’s interview, suggested to Samuel W. Buell, a former federal prosecutor who is now a professor at Duke Law School, that Mr. Cohen was at least “positioning himself to make cooperation a serious and available option.”

But as Mr. Buell added: “The puzzle in all of this is why do you go on ABC News to talk about it?”

Mr. Buell said that Mr. Cohen may be angling not just for leniency against potential charges, but for full immunity against them, and is trying to recast himself in public as a principled person with direct knowledge of Mr. Trump’s conduct.

“I know that’s not how it normally works, but this is not a normal case,” Mr. Buell explained. “If Cohen is looking for immunity, then it makes sense to go on TV and create momentum that he is an important witness who has principles and facts. Then people might say, ‘What’s wrong with the government that it won’t cut a deal with this guy?’ He is putting pressure on the prosecutors to do it.”

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