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Trump’s “love letter” tweets about Michael Cohen’s book deal, explained

Trump is right that Cohen was shopping a book deal. It doesn’t mean his congressional testimony was made up.

Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

President Donald Trump seems to believe he has a new line of defense in his rebuttal of Michael Cohen’s testimony: a book deal his former lawyer and fixer was previously shopping about his experiences in Trump’s orbit.

On Friday, Trump fired off a series of tweets referring to a book deal that Cohen, who testified before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, was shopping in the past. Trump contended that the previously pitched book would have been flattering to him (he called it a “love letter to Trump,” apparently referring to comments made by a journalist about the potential book last year) and said its contents were discrediting to Cohen’s testimony.

“Book is exact opposite of his fake testimony, which now is a lie!” Trump tweeted.

He called on Congress to “demand the transcript” of the book — presumably, the manuscript. “Your heads will spin when you see the lies, misrepresentations and contradictions against his Thursday testimony,” Trump tweeted, confusing the date of Cohen’s appearance. “Like a different person! He is totally discredited!”

Michael Cohen was shopping a book about Trump last year

So what’s Trump talking about?

The president appears to be referring to a book proposal Cohen shopped to publishers while he was still in Trump’s good graces. Maxwell Tani at the Daily Beast reported in February 2018 that Cohen had sent a proposal to “multiple publishers” for a book that would cover Cohen’s role in Trump’s campaign and business.

Cohen was reportedly looking, in part, to position his book as a rebuttal to journalist Michael Wolff’s explosive tell-all Fire and Fury, and believed his years-long relationship with Trump could help his proposal stand out from multiple other manuscripts being shopped by Trump insiders.

“No issue was too big, too sticky or too oddball for me to tackle,” the proposal read, according to the Daily Beast. “I saw it all, handled it all. And still do.”

He planned to address his role in the $130,000 Stormy Daniels payout to keep her quiet about her alleged affair with Trump, discuss the “complexities and nuances of the Trump family, and the probe into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 election.”

The tentative title: Trump Revolution: From The Tower to The White House, Understanding Donald J. Trump.

“I have been working on a book and am extremely thankful that is has been well received and sought after by multiple publishers,” Cohen told the Daily Beast at the time of the report.

The book was going to paint Trump in a positive light, though it’s not clear it was the “love letter” the president described in his Friday tweets. The “love letter” reference seems to be a quote from Vox Media journalist Liz Plank in a February 2018 appearance on MSNBC.

But Cohen’s book dreams ultimately died after the FBI raided his office, home, and hotel room in April 2018. That set off a cascade of legal woes for Cohen, who has since pleaded guilty to eight federal crimes and been sentenced to three years in prison. The Daily Beast reported in May 2018 that a potential agreement for Cohen’s book had been scrapped.

Cohen’s book proposal doesn’t invalidate his testimony — but Trump does have a point

Trump’s assertion that Cohen’s book proposal shows he “committed perjury on a scale not seen before” doesn’t really add up. It’s true that Cohen has lied and obfuscated in the past, but that doesn’t mean everything (or anything) he said on Wednesday was made up.

But Trump does have a point in that Cohen kept working for him — and had that flattering book on the market — well after some of the events that he says eventually led him to turn on the president. Asked what caused him to change his mind on Trump on Wednesday, Cohen replied, “Helsinki, Charlottesville, watching the daily destruction of our civility to one another, putting up silly things like this.”

But as Trump correctly pointed out on Friday, racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his equivocal reaction to it occurred well before February 2018 — that was in August 2017. And Cohen stuck around after it.

(Trump’s troubling performance alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, took place in July 2018, after the book was already scrapped. So on that front, the president was off.)

More broadly, there’s something to the assertion that Cohen is speaking out now against Trump and cooperating with investigators not because he had some come-to-Jesus moment of moral and ethical clarity but instead because he got caught. Would Cohen be voluntarily testifying before Congress, talking with prosecutors, and engaging in an ongoing public mea culpa were he not in legal jeopardy? It’s impossible to know, but maybe (or probably) not.

Cohen on Wednesday said that last time he came before Congress, it was to protect Trump, but now he’s telling the truth because that’s no longer where his loyalties are. “I am not protecting Trump anymore,” he said.

Multiple Republican lawmakers on Wednesday asked Cohen about his interest in another potential book deal, seemingly trying to imply that he was speaking out against Trump in hopes of making money on books or movies (once he’s out of prison, of course) and paint him as an opportunist.

Cohen acknowledged the prior book deal had been worth about $750,000 and claimed he ultimately turned it down, though he said he wouldn’t rule out another one. That one probably won’t be so nice about Trump.

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