Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, effectively turned on his former boss on Tuesday by implicating him in federal crimes related to illegal campaign contributions. That was shocking, since Cohen had earlier claimed he would take a bullet for Trump.
So why did Cohen flip? Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, offered a surprising answer on Wednesday: Trump’s actions during his July meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin were what finally convinced him to turn on Trump.
That’s, uh, interesting.
Davis told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “Helsinki was a significant turning point” for Cohen, “as he worried about the future of our country with the president of the United States aligning with somebody who everybody in his intelligence community ... said that Putin interfered and tried to help Trump get elected.”
“That shook up Mr. Cohen,” Davis added.
Many bristled at Trump’s actions in Helsinki. Among other things, he refused to criticize Putin for Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election and seemed to side with Putin over US intelligence agencies when the Russian leader said his country didn’t meddle.
But if Helsinki did in fact disturb Cohen to the point that he decided to abandon the man for whom he worked more than a decade — and it’s a very big if — it would prove a remarkable turnaround. After all, Cohen stood by his longtime friend and former boss when Trump:
- revealed highly classified intelligence to top Russian diplomats
- lambasted Congress for wanting to impose sanctions on Moscow over Russia’s election interference
- defended Putin when asked about the Russian leader’s penchant for killing dissidents
- equated US intelligence officials to Nazis because they may have collected information about his ties to Russia
None of those moments led Cohen to break with Trump. Instead, he waited until federal investigators were closing in to finally discover where his moral red line was.
Sure, why not.
Cohen did tell ABC News on July 2 that “my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty” — not Trump. So there’s certainly a chance, for whatever reason, that Cohen was already upset with Trump’s handling of Russia-related issues when the Putin summit happened. The Helsinki meeting took place just two weeks after the ABC interview, and Trump’s performance there could have been the last straw for Cohen.
It’s therefore possible Davis spoke the truth about his client’s feelings — that Cohen could no longer stand by and watch Trump cozy up to Russia. But if so, Cohen surely stomached quite a bit before the debacle in Helsinki.