Attorney Lanny Davis represented President Bill Clinton in the 1990s during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent impeachment. He did enough to keep Clinton in office, and went on to serve as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns.
But it is unclear what, if any, benefit Davis provided to his client Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney for President Donald Trump who was sentenced Wednesday to three years in prison.
Cohen hired Davis last July — though Davis’s statement at the time suggested it was he who selected Cohen, not the other way around.
Davis said he had followed Cohen’s case in the media and had spoken to him for two weeks. “Then I read his words published on July 2” — an ABC News interview with former Clinton spokesman George Stephanopoulous, in which Cohen hinted he could turn on Trump — and “recognized their sincerity,” Davis said.
So after a former Clinton aide elicited the right responses, a former Clinton lawyer was convinced to take the case.
Davis had already published a book claiming Clinton deserved to win the 2016 presidential election, and calling for Trump to be ousted from office. In addition to removing Trump under the 25th Amendment for “mental disorder,” Davis argued that the way Trump had won the election was sufficient grounds for impeachment.
Whether to decide to impeach and remove President Trump cannot be clear until all the evidence is fully and fairly examined, giving Trump due process and the right to present his own evidence and rebuttal. But not to begin the process and conduct a bipartisan impeachment investigation, given the undisputed facts and conduct already on the public record, is not acceptable. The American people, who saw him achieve the highest office in an impaired election process, deserve no less.
Davis understood that Cohen could provide new “facts” to bring down the president.
A few weeks after taking on Cohen as a client, Davis gave CNN a recording of a conversation Cohen had with Trump about buying the rights to the story of former Playboy playmate and alleged Trump paramour Karen McDougal. Trump had already waived attorney-client privilege regarding the tape, believing it exonerated him.
But for Davis, the tape provided an opportunity to incriminate Trump.
In a remarkably candid moment, Davis told CNN: “Why am I representing [Cohen]? They [Trump’s lawyers] fear that he has the truth about Donald Trump. He will someday speak the truth about Donald Trump.”
He accused Trump of telling Cohen to pay McDougal in “cash,” adding, “only drug dealers and mobsters talk about cash,” though the audio was unclear and no cash was ever paid.
The leak did not help Cohen: a month later, he pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes.
Davis rushed to highlight what he felt was the key part of Cohen’s pleading: “Today [Cohen] stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime,” he tweeted. He noted Cohen was “fulfilling his promise made on July 2nd to put his family and country first and tell the truth about Donald Trump” — the reason Davis had cited for taking the case.
Davis admitted to Chuck Todd of MSNBC that there was actually no new evidence that Trump had committed a crime, and that it “may come down to Mr. Cohen’s word versus Mr. Trump’s.” What was important, to him, was that Cohen had made the accusation in court, and prosecutors approved it, placing the president under suspicion.
That delighted Davis and the media, but it did not save Cohen from prison. Indeed, though Cohen told a federal court on Wednesday that Trump had committed “dirty deeds,” and that his loyalty to Trump “led me to choose a path of darkness over light,” the judge sentenced him to three years in prison anyway.
In July, Davis was a source for a CNN story that claimed Cohen was prepared to tell Mueller that “then-candidate Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in which Russians were expected to offer his campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.”
That testimony would have provided the first evidence linking Trump to some kind of “Russian collusion.”
But Davis’s claim also implied that Cohen had lied in his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Davis was apparently eager to sacrifice his client’s interests to further the “Russia collusion” narrative, and undermined both. The Washington Post called the debacle “damaging to Cohen’s credibility,” though the Post appeared more concerned about the damage to Mueller’s case against Trump.
On Wednesday, following Cohen’s sentencing, Davis told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow he no longer represents Cohen. Davis then described things Cohen had told him — “long, heartfelt conversations” — in which Cohen said “he recognizes Donald Trump, as president, was a danger to his family and to the country.”
Davis said something similar in August when he adamantly refused the possibility of a pardon for his client, apparently with Cohen’s authorization: “Mr. Cohen would never accept a pardon from a man that he considers to be both corrupt and a dangerous person in the Oval Office.”
A prison term, and a lifetime as a convicted felon who might never practice law again, are a heavy price to pay for that opinion.
Davis never cared about the case for Michael Cohen as much as he cared about the case against Donald Trump. On Wednesday, he accomplished his mission, as Cohen denounced Trump, leading the media to speculate that “Trump is next.”
It was politically brilliant. But even by the low standards of the legal profession, it was morally troubling.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.