Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, said he thinks Trump tried to install a loyalist to head up the most powerful US attorney’s office so he could arrange to be federally indicted while in office and then pardon himself if he loses the general election in November.
In his book, “Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump,” published Tuesday, Cohen wrote about Attorney General William Barr’s recent attempt to oust the Manhattan US attorney, Geoffrey Berman, and replace him with Jay Clayton, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Clayton, “not coincidentally, was a golf buddy of the President and almost completely inexperienced in criminal law,” Cohen wrote.
He was “exactly what Trump and Barr wanted: a lackey,” he added. Ultimately, Barr was forced to appoint Audrey Strauss, Berman’s top deputy, as acting Manhattan US attorney after a public standoff with Berman. Berman eventually stepped down when Barr conceded and said Strauss would take over in an acting capacity until the Senate confirmed a permanent successor.
Cohen wrote that he “knew better than anyone” that the reason Trump wanted to replace Berman “was so that while in office, he could arrange to be federally indicted” and then, “in the event he loses the election in November, he could then pardon himself, as he’s long claimed to be his right.”
“The reason behind that unprecedented and serpentine thinking was that Trump knows perfectly well that he’s guilty of the same crimes that resulted in my conviction and incarceration,” Cohen wrote.
Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to eight counts of campaign-finance violations, tax fraud, and bank fraud as part of the Southern District of New York’s investigation into illegal payments made during the 2016 campaign to the adult-film star Stormy Daniels. Three months later, Cohen also pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress as part of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
In his guilty plea, Cohen said he acted at the direction of and for the benefit of Trump. The president’s former fixer also said he lied to Congress about the now defunct Trump Tower Moscow project to shield Trump from congressional or legal scrutiny.
In his book, Cohen wrote that Trump would try to preemptively pardon himself because “he also knows that I would be a star witness in that case, and my book a fundamental piece of evidence for his guilt.”
“Without the immunity from prosecution granted to the president, Trump will also almost certainly face New York State criminal charges,” he wrote.
The president and his businesses have drawn intense scrutiny from both the New York attorney general’s office and the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Trump is in a protracted legal battle with the latter to prevent District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. from obtaining his tax returns.
“He would likely be convicted on both the Federal and State charges and face serious prison time,” Cohen wrote, though he did not elaborate. “That is Donald Trump’s greatest fear in life, believe me, and if he fails to get reelected, that will be his fate — and he knows it — so silencing me was an essential part of his overall plan to evade the law and avoid that outcome.”
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow asked Cohen about the excerpt when he appeared on her show on Monday night.
“You say at the very end of the book that the president and Attorney General William Barr ousted the US attorney in the Southern District of New York and tried to install effectively the president’s golfing buddy as the new US attorney there, because the president, in your view, wanted to arrange for himself to be indicted while he’s still in office, because that would give him the opportunity to pardon himself after he lost the election,” she said.
“Well, my theory is that if he loses, there’s still the time between the election and the time that the next president would take office,” Cohen said. “And during that time, my suspicion is that he will resign as president, he will allow Mike Pence to take over, and he will then go ahead and have Mike Pence pardon him.
“And it’s a very — let’s just say it’s a very Nixon type of event, and it was probably discussed between Roger Stone and President Trump at some point,” he added. “That this is certainly one way to avoid any potential prison time.”
The White House has slammed Cohen’s book and described him as a felon and liar who can’t be trusted.
“Cohen is a disgraced felon and disbarred lawyer, who lied to Congress,” the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said in a statement over the weekend. “He has lost all credibility, and it’s unsurprising to see his latest attempt to profit off of lies.”