Once privileged legal memos create new credibility crisis for Trump fixer Michael Cohen

In the high stakes trial the former Trump “fixer” will have to confront a new opponent: His past words and deeds.

Published: March 24, 2024 11:01pm

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former fixer, will be a star witness central to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s effort to win a conviction against the former president. But first Cohen will have to address his record of perjury convictions and be confronted by his own words years ago to his own lawyers that exonerated his former boss.

Memos reviewed by Just the News show Cohen in 2018 repeatedly insisted to his attorney that he had no incriminating evidence on Trump related to the hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. The contradictions between Cohen’s public statements and claims to his attorney were first reported by Just the News last year, but have fresh relevance in light of new developments in the New York hush money case.

Some of the memos, recently obtained by Just the News, provide insight into Cohen’s state of mind and potential motivations for bringing forth new allegations against his former boss, even after telling his lawyers he had nothing.

These memos are just a fraction of the baggage Cohen is bringing to Trump’s hush money trial in New York—including previous convictions for lying to Congress, tax evasion, and bank fraud—where he will be a key witness for the prosecution.

Last Monday, the judge overseeing Trump’s hush money case in New York court denied his defense team’s motion to prevent both Cohen and Daniels from testifying at trial. Trump’s legal team specifically sought to prevent Cohen’s testimony because of his previous perjury and over allegations he lied in Trump’s civil fraud trial last year in the same state.

Then, later the same week, another judge, who was reviewing Cohen's request for early release, suggested Cohen may have committed perjury once again in his testimony at Trump's civil fraud trial in Manhattan. The revelation further bolster's Trump's legal team's efforts to paint Cohen as an unreliable witness, creating another obstacle for Bragg's case. 

Back in 2018, Cohen became infamous for flipping on Trump and claiming his erstwhile boss personally directed him to make hush money payments to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, when brought him allegations in 2016 that she had an affair with Trump years earlier. In his own trial in August 2018, Cohen testified that he made the payments to the adult actress “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” referring to Trump.

Yet, these claims stand in stark contrast to the account he gave his lawyer, Robert Costello, in 2018 before his trial took place. Memos reviewed by Just the News detailing Costello’s interviews with federal prosecutors and House Intelligence Committee staff in 2019 show Cohen had told him quite the opposite of his later assertions. These memos are no longer shielded by attorney client privilege after Cohen waived his own rights according to a court filing obtained by Just the News

In one memo of an interview with House Intelligence Committee staff—dated May 6, 2019—Costello noted he asked Cohen a year earlier if he had any information on Trump as a way to explore legal options, such as cooperating with the investigation in exchange for immunity.

“We asked him at the hotel, we said, let’s talk about your options, do you have any info on Trump, a get out of jail free card,” Costello said, according to he memo. “[But] he said he didn’t have anything on him, nothing,” he added, referring to Trump.

According to the memos, Cohen was also adamant about avoiding jail time for his alleged offenses. “He said repeatedly, ‘I will never spend a day in jail’ and ‘I don’t care what the F** I have to do’,” the memo reads.

In a document containing notes from his representation of Cohen, Costello detailed his client's "angry" insistence that he would do anything to avoid prison. 

“I will never spend one day in jail. I will do what I have to do," Costello claims Cohen said, describing him as angry when he said it. 

Cohen later reiterated this same sentiment: "I will never spend a day in jail, I will do whatever I have to in order to protect my family," he said, according to Costello. 

"At the end of the meeting, the following was clear, Michael Cohen was considering all options in order to make sure that he did not spend one day in jail," Costello summarized. 

Costello told investigators his former client also repeatedly raised the issue of a presidential pardon, indicating he had strong motivations, born from a fear of jail time, to share any incriminating evidence he may have had on the President. Yet, did not share such information with his lawyer. His claims only came later, during his trial.

Last year, on the John Solomon Reports podcast, Costello shared what his former client told him about his efforts to secure the payment for Stormy Daniels. The documents reviewed by Just the News corroborate his account and state Cohen claimed in 2018 that Trump had no knowledge of Cohen’s actions, despite the fixer’s later claims to the contrary.

Cohen took out a HELOC—a common abbreviation for a home equity line of credit, though this is not confirmed—on his own during the 2016 presidential election into order to pay Daniels under a nondisclosure agreement he had negotiated with her lawyers, he told Costello, confirming Trump did not provide him funds and indicated Trump had no prior knowledge of the transaction.

"He said," Costello recalled a 2018 conversation, "'I didn't believe the information, but I knew that this was a situation that would cause embarrassment. So I negotiated with this lawyer, and we worked out an NDA ... for the payment of $130,000.’

"And I said, 'Did you get that money from Donald Trump?' 'No.' 'Did you get it from any Trump Organization?' 'No.'

"I said, 'Did you take that money out of your own savings or checking?' 'No.'

"I said, 'Well, how'd you get the money?' He said, 'I took out a HELOC loan.' 'Why would you take out a HELOC loan to cover something like this?' He said 'because I wanted to keep it secret. If I took money from my account, my wife would know about it. I didn't want my wife to know about it. I didn't want Melania Trump to know about it.' He said, 'That's why I did it that way.’"

"Now, if you're gonna do it that way, that means you're keeping it from Donald Trump and Melania Trump," Costello added, summarizing the story he offered grand jurors and Manhattan prosecutors.

Another memo, from the month before in April 2018, shows Costello did not believe Cohen put stock in the allegations against his boss. This memo memorialized a separate interview with federal prosecutors about the same case one month before the interview with congressional staff.

“First, I don’t think Cohen believed it (the alleged unprotected sex with a porn actress), or that Trump did it,” the memo reads, recounting Costello’s statements to the prosecutors.

“He did not say whether president did or did not direct him, he just talked about it as a course of business, more like the cost of doing business,” Costello reportedly added later.

Costello noted to investigators that neither President Trump nor his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, were “concerned about Cohen as an adversary.”

When asked why, he reportedly said: “I was not surprised that they’re not concerned, Cohen said he had no information against Trump as well.”

Cohen’s attorney, David Schwartz, did not respond to a request for comment from Just the News.

The hush money case, in which Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has charged Trump with falsifying business records and conspiracy related to the payments to Stormy Daniels in the midst of the 2016 presidential election, faced delay recently when the Department of Justice released 200,000 documents to Trump’s lawyers that may have a bearing on the case.

The trial was originally set to begin Monday, however, the dispute over relevant documents and accusations the Manhattan prosecutors withheld relevant evidence from Trump’s defense team have postponed the trial until April 15.

Cohen expressed frustration over the Justice Department’s decision to hand over documents to Trump in a timely manner. Cohen, who previously allied with journalist Brian Karem, originally filed a Freedom of Information Act request in December 21 to obtain the same documents.

But, the production was significantly delayed until the first trickle of documents began arriving this March through the Southern District of New York, the venue which handled a previous investigation which mirrors Bragg’s probe.

Cohen expressed animus toward his former boss in comments to the Daily Beast about the apparent disparate treatment.

“Trump put in a request for the documents in January, so that orange piece of shit in 45 days gets documents that I’ve been waiting on for years,” Cohen told the outlet. “I’m angry that he’s able to delay this case.” These comments come just one month before Cohen is set to testify in a trial against his former boss.

Cohen was previously sentenced to three years in prison for various crimes born of the scheme to pay off Daniels and for lying to Congress. Before the trials, Cohen famously claimed he would “take a bullet for the president,” yet as the investigations into his conduct accelerated, he decided to flip on his former boss and cooperate in multiple investigations, including the Mueller probe and others directed at the 2016 campaign and Trump family members.

Cohen blamed Trump for leading him down a “path of darkness” after his sentencing. One of Cohen’s attorney’s requested leniency in light of his cooperation against his former boss.

Yet, one attorney with the Southern District of New York stated Cohen “didn’t come anywhere close to assisting this office in an investigation” and that his charges “portray a pattern of deception, of brazenness and of greed.”

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