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Legal Analysis

Here’s Why Michael Cohen Might be Parting Ways With His Attorneys

President Donald Trump‘s longtime friend, legal fixer, and attorney Michael Cohen will separate from his legal team in the matter currently before the Southern District of New York. This separation appears to be related to money.

Cohen is currently represented in the matter by attorneys Todd Harrison and Steve Ryan, with the New York City-based firm of McDermott, Will & Emery LLP. As soon as the departure was anonymously leaked just after noon on Wednesday, multiple theories abounded as to why and exactly how the rupture occurred. Let’s try and sort the major claims out here.

The initial report issued by ABC News claimed that Cohen was imminently preparing to cooperate with prosecutors in the aforementioned matter before the SDNY. Recall: the FBI, performing a raid on behalf of SDNY prosecutors, seized voluminous files–both digital and analog–from Cohen’s various living quarters and offices on April 9 of this year. ABC’s report claimed:

[A] source representing this matter has disclosed to ABC News that [Harrison and Ryan] are not expected to represent him going forward…Cohen, who is under federal investigation now with no legal representation, is likely to cooperate with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, sources said. This development, which is believed to be imminent, will likely hit the White House, family members, staffers and counsels hard.

The Wall Street Journal quickly doused ABC’s speculation with a clarification that Cohen and his legal team had simply decided to part ways after the ongoing privilege review of those 3.7 million seized documents was completed. U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood previously gave Cohen’s team a Friday deadline for their first review. The WSJ’s report also clarified that Cohen is currently “searching for a federal criminal lawyer in New York” and noted that Cohen wanted an attorney “with close ties to the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office.”

Those are fairly drastic gulfs in reporting on the how. As for the why, various explanations were also immediately trotted out.

The New York Times quickly followed up in a report partially written by highly-connected (to Trumpworld) journalist Maggie Haberman. Haberman claimed this report echoed ABC’s initial claims and said Cohen was “increasingly likely to flip.” When asked as to whether Cohen was sending a smoke signal to Trump for a potential pardon, Haberman decisively responded, “No.

But the Times report also offered a less immediate timeline for the departure of Cohen’s legal team than ABC’s initial report did. And, yet another reason for the law firm’s initial departure from the case. That article notes [emphasis added]:

Mr. Cohen’s current legal team is expected to stay with him for the rest of the week as they struggle to complete a laborious review of a trove of documents and data files seized from him by the authorities two months ago. But after that review is finished, he will seek new legal counsel, the people familiar with his case said. The issue is primarily over payment of the legal bills of one of his lawyers, Stephen Ryan, according to a person familiar with the discussions. 

This claim was also made by Fox Business reporter Charles Gasparino in a tweet. He noted:

Fox Business also ran a report on this exact issue where Gasparino said, “There’s a lot of speculation about whether Mr. Cohen can pay Mr. Ryan’s fees. There’s also speculation that maybe Mr. Cohen needs a different type of lawyer. Lots of talk right now.”

[image via Drew Angerer and Getty Images]

Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher

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