Trump torches Cohen and smothers Manafort with praise
The president is offering kind words for his former campaign chairman’s loyalty
This story is published in a content partnership with POLITICO. It was originally reported by Caitlin Oprysko on politico.com on August 22, 2018.
President Donald Trump has long put a high price on loyalty.
And after two of his closest associates got whacked with bank and tax fraud violations on Tuesday, the president is staying true to form.
In a series of fiery tweets on Wednesday, Trump slammed his former long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen – who implicated the president in a hush money payment scheme – as a two-bit lawyer, while offering high praise for his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was found guilty on eight felony charges.
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” Trump wrote in one of the tweets. “’Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”
Watch: Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen pleads guilty
That tweet came after Trump whacked Cohen, tweeting, “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”
It was a stark expression of disgust for Cohen, who has abandoned his loyalty to Trump and instead offered to fully cooperate with prosecutors as the investigation into his personal finances and legal work for Trump intensified.
And while Trump has never had an overly warm relationship with Manafort, Trump on Wednesday clearly expressed his appreciation that his former campaign chairman has not yet flipped on him, despite facing another trial next month and the possibility of a prison sentence for the rest of his life.
The tweets also put a spotlight on the possibility that Trump could pardon Manafort – a highly controversial reward for loyalty that could unleash even more headaches for Trump.
Trump’s long-standing fixation with loyalty is well documented, and it has played out in a number of ways throughout special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
Trump, a week after being sworn into office, reportedly asked then-FBI Director James Comey for a pledge of loyalty.
“I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” Trump said, according to Comey. When Comey demurred, and after repeatedly failing to bring the Russia investigation to a close as Trump nudged him to, Comey was fired, prompting the appointment of a special counsel.
Trump has likewise sought the same loyalty from his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and has ripped him repeatedly for his decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe, publicly humiliated him on Twitter, and even had Sessions offer up his resignation over his perceived failure to remain loyal to the president and shut down the investigation.
Trump has also tried to legally ensure loyalty from his staff in the form of non-disclosure agreements, including the unusual move of asking White House staffers to agree to keep all information under wraps even when they left their jobs.
A confidentiality agreement the Trump campaign had staffers sign went so far as to include a clause that would ban staffers from releasing information that could be confidential or damaging about Trump, his business, his family members and even family members’ companies.
Trump has been known to treat those who remain loyal to him well, and he has continued to stock his administration with long-time loyalists. But his tweets on Wednesday outline clearly the diverging paths for those who he feels have remained loyal to him and those he who he feels have broken his trust.
The president wasn’t always so keen on Manafort. Trump brought him on toward the end of March 2016 to manage what looked to be a contentious and potentially chaotic nominating process at the Republican National Convention and later promoted him to campaign chairman.
But as reports of Manafort’s foreign entanglements spread during that summer, Trump reportedly quickly lost faith in the man running his team.
Trump’s first campaign manager Corey Lewandowski last year revealed in a book that when Trump was alerted to a report in August 2016 that Manafort had received millions illegally from his work in Ukraine, he told associates that “I’ve got a crook running my campaign.”
Lewandowski said that Trump wanted Steve Bannon, who had just joined the campaign, to fire Manafort right away but was talked into minimising his role instead. Manafort was fired three days later.
As Manafort’s legal troubles mounted, Trump and the White House took a didn’t-know-him approach.
In June of this year, however, Trump began to change his tune on Manafort, though still continuing to distance his campaign from the charges levelled at Manafort and arguing that had he known about Manafort’s overseas work, Trump would not brought him on in the first place.
Watch: Former Trump campaign chairman Manafort convicted on eight of 18 charges
In statements and tweets since, Trump condemned the treatment of his former aide, who was held in solitary confinement as he awaited trial, as worse than that of the legendary mob boss Al Capone.
As the Manafort jury deliberated last week, Trump told reporters on his way out of town that Manafort’s trial was “a very sad day for our country” and noted that Paul “happens to be a very good person.”
And after the Manafort verdict landed, Trump told the press that Manafort was “a good man” and called his downfall “very sad”.
The tale of Trump’s relationship with Michael Cohen is a much different story.
Cohen had arguably been one of Trump’s most loyal aides for the past decade, famously declaring on Fox News last year that he would “take a bullet” for the president.
And he wasn’t always so forthcoming with details of his work for the real estate mogul. Take, for instance, when news of Cohen’s payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, and to the National Enquirer to keep a lid on former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal’s claims of an affair with Trump first came to light.
Cohen insisted that he had paid off both women out of his own wallet. He said that Trump was unaware of the payments, and that he had no expectation that the president would pay him back.
But after the FBI raided Cohen’s flat earlier this year and it emerged that he was facing felony fraud charges from prosecutors in Manhattan, Cohen quickly changed his tack. “My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos in an interview in July. “I put family and country first.”
As Trump’s long-time fixer and confidant, there’s a high chance Cohen has even more dirt on the president – information that Mueller’s investigators would likely be interested in hearing.
As TODAY anchor Savannah Guthrie pointed out on Wednesday, “now it seems in a sense [Cohen] is the bullet.”
Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, in the hours following his client’s plea deal has been saturating the airwaves, speaking with more than half a dozen news outlets, saying Cohen has more information that would be of interest to the Mueller investigation, and he plans to tell the truth to whoever asks.
Davis also insisted that Cohen is neither counting on nor does he want to be “dirtied” by pardon from Trump.
“His answer would be no, I do not want a pardon from this man,” Davis told CNN. “Under no circumstances, since he came to the judgment after Mr. Trump's election to the presidency of the United States that his suitability is a serious risk to our country.”