President Donald Trump‘s longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on Thursday to making several false statements in front of Congress. During an early morning appearance at a downtown Manhattan courthouse, Cohen admitted to making intentionally false statements about several matters related to Trump’s business dealings. This turn of events suggests that Robert Mueller intentionally leveled a surprise attack against the 45th president of the United States.
Why’s that? It’s all about the timeline here.
President Trump just last week submitted a series of written answers to several questions posed by the special counsel’s office. These questions were strictly related to one prong of Mueller’s wide-ranging inquiry: Russian electoral interference during the 2016 presidential campaign. That is, Trump’s answers about alleged obstruction of justice have yet to be received–and are not expected to be provided in written form for that matter.
Cohen’s plea more or less comes immediately after Mueller’s team took the time to review Trump’s on the record statements–statements made under penalty of perjury. And legal experts say that’s no coincidence.
CNN legal analyst Ross Garber was one of the first to raise the timing issue via Twitter.
“Timing of Cohen plea (right after Trump turned in answers) may be more than coincidental,” he wrote. “Mueller might not have wanted to tip his hand before answers were provided.”
MSNBC’s justice and security analyst Matthew Miller had essentially the same thoughts.
“Feels like Mueller was waiting for Trump to turn his answers in before he moved to the next phase, and now that he has them, the other shoes are starting to drop,” Miller wrote on Twitter. “Cohen first, then Corsi, Stone, and….?”
And then it was off to the presidential imperilment races.
CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin chimed in on his network just a few moments later to suggest that it was indeed no coincidence that Cohen’s plea comes just on the heels of Trump’s written statements being turned in.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s chair and former Obama White House ethics attorney Norm Eisen was quick to try and settle the issue.
“Friends, no coincidence that the Cohen deal implicating Trump personally in Russia contacts during campaign is announced just AFTER Mueller locked Trump in on collusion in writing–& just BEFORE Trump will be face to face with Putin,” Eisen predicted. “As I have said all along: Bob loves surprises.”
As for those Russia contacts? As for Trump? They are indeed interspersed throughout Cohen’s plea agreement.
Former solicitor general Neal Katyal noted that “Cohen’s plea evidently has Trump all over the document including three discussions with Trump.” For more on the specific Russia-and-Trump-related aspects of Cohen’s plea agreement see Law&Crime’s additional coverage here.
And these are just initial reactions–strictly based on the timeline theory of how endangered Trump likely is here. Experts have also long-cautioned that Michael Cohen poses a particular and outsize threat to Donald Trump’s empire of dirt.
Aside from the timeline and source of Trump’s danger here, there is least one additional and key fact about Thursday’s plea–to whom it was technically made.
Recall: Cohen has been in the cross-hairs of both Mueller and prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) for quite some time. He’s been working with the SDNY specifically as a cooperating witness since late this past summer–absent a traditional cooperation agreement; Cohen previously suggested his work with the SDNY was a matter of civic duty.
Cohen’s Thursday guilty plea, however, comes with a more standard cooperation agreement–from Mueller’s team.
Hmmm. Significant that the plea is to charges from Mueller, not SDNY prosecutors. Once this happens today, the Mueller probe has now resulted in the guilty conviction of the President’s former top lawyer. https://t.co/O9kFbENOlt
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) November 29, 2018
[image via SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images]