What does Michael Cohen’s new-found conscience mean for President Trump?

Michael Cohen arrives in US federal court in New York on Wednesday.
Michael Cohen arrives in US federal court in New York on Wednesday.(Corey Sipkin/AFP/Getty Images)

Michael Cohen is going to prison for his part in a growing dossier of unlawful activity. It’s labeled “crimes committed while working for Donald Trump.”

Trump’s one-time personal lawyer said his crimes — for which he received a three-year prison sentence Wednesday — were done at Trump’s direction. They include lying to Congress about Trump’s real estate dealings in Moscow and paying off two women who said they had affairs with Trump.

And so, Cohen incriminates a president.

On Tuesday, Trump’s Oval Office reality show, costarring Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, offered an entertaining distraction. What happened Wednesday in federal court put the spotlight back where the president doesn’t want it: on the growing list of Trump advisers convicted of crimes while working for Trump. And while the circumstances are all different, in one way or another they all implicate Trump and reveal his moans about a prosecutorial witch hunt for what they are: fake news.


Michael Flynn, who served briefly as national security adviser to Trump, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of lying to federal investigators about contacts he had with the Russian ambassador during Trump’s presidential transition. George Papadopoulos , a member of a foreign policy advisory panel put in place during Trump’s presidential campaign, pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents about working with Russia contacts who said they had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Paul Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign manager, was convicted of tax and bank fraud.

Maybe none of the above sticks to Trump. But in his case, Cohen is working hard to apply Gorilla Glue. Cohen once said he would “take a bullet” for Trump. Now he blames “blind loyalty” for leading him “to take a path of darkness instead of light.” Responding to Trump’s mockery of him as “a weak person,” Cohen said: “Recently the president tweeted a statement calling me weak, and it was correct, but for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again, I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass.”


Trump, who has never shown loyalty to anyone, is now finding out what disloyalty can mean to him. He has called Cohen “a liar” and “not a very smart person.” And now it’s payback time for Cohen. Cohen’s lawyer told the court his client showed courage by standing up to “the most powerful person in the country.” If only Cohen did that before he got caught. But of course his moral compass clicked in only as he tried to save himself. As prosecutors said, he is no hero.

The judge also said that, as a lawyer, “Mr. Cohen should have known better.”

Blinded by ambition and a quest for power, Cohen ignored what he should have known. Today, he’s apologizing to the public, saying, “You deserve to know the truth, and lying to you was unjust.”

What does Cohen’s new-found conscience mean for Trump? After first denying the payments to the women, Trump now acknowledges them, but calls them “a simple private transaction” that broke no campaign finance laws. And if they did, it’s a civil infraction, not criminal, according to the president. As for the Russia real estate deal, Trump has repeatedly said he had “nothing to do with Russia,” either in business or in the 2016 campaign. But his word, which time after time has proved to be the opposite of good, will go up against whatever documents, tapes, or other evidence Cohen brings to the table.


Cohen said he was taken in by a man whose business acumen he admired. He had to face prison before he decided that the crimes he committed while working for Trump should stick to Trump.

It shouldn’t take that for the rest of the country to apply the same adhesive.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.