A new Michael Cohen recording hurts his credibility. But it makes the case against Trump look even stronger
A new Michael Cohen tape is making waves — and this time it's Cohen who was recorded without his knowledge
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen denied responsibility for tax and bank crimes he has already pleaded guilty to in a secretly recorded phone call with actor Tom Arnold.
President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, is scheduled to report to federal prison on May 6 to serve a three-year sentence. In August 2018, he pleaded guilty to tax evasion and bank crimes as well as criminal campaign finance violations — undisclosed hush money payments in which Trump is directly implicated.
Arnold gave a copy of the 36-minute recording from last month to the Journal, which reported that Cohen told Arnold, “There is no tax evasion” and has posted highlights of the recording online. This directly contradicts Cohen's guilty plea, and will likely be used to cast doubt on his credibility as a witness against Trump.
But the call suggests something much more damning for the president. When Cohen pleaded guilty to the campaign finance crimes, he said Trump — named in court filings as "Individual-1" — directed him to carry them out, which exposes the president to potential criminal liability. In the recording, Cohen seems to suggest that the evidence on the campaign finance charges was the strongest the prosecutors had. He said "they had me on campaign finance.”
Some of Trump's defenders, most notably Rudy Giuliani, have suggested that having decisively caught Cohen on financial crimes, prosecutors used that leverage over him to force him to plead guilty to the campaign finance crimes in a way that implicated the president. This new tape suggests the opposite — SDNY's evidence for the campaign finance crime in which Trump is implicated was so thorough and incontrovertible that Cohen pleaded guilty to other crimes he thinks he could have fought.
However, there was another factor in Cohen's decision, according to the report. He feared that his wife may be implicated in the charges against him.
“I love this woman,” Cohen told Arnold, “and I am not going to let her get dragged into the mud of this crap. And I never thought the judge was going to throw a three-year fricking sentence.”
During the conservation with Arnold, Cohen complains about how much he has lost. “You would think that you would have folks, you know, stepping up and saying, ‘You know what, this guy’s lost everything.’” And the 52-year-old attorney discussed the toll his legal problems have taken on his family, telling Arnold, “My family’s happiness, and my law license—I lost my business.… my insurance, my bank accounts. All for what? All for what? Because Trump, you know, had an affair with a porn star? That’s really what this is about.”
The porn star Cohen is referring to is Stormy Daniels. The campaign finance violations stemmed from hush money payments Cohen made to Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom alleged that they had extramarital affairs with Trump. Because the payments were made by Cohen directly ahead of the 2016 election and in order to help Trump's chances, prosecutors have said — and a judge agreed — that they constituted an illegal undisclosed campaign contribution. The president has denied these claims.
According to Arnold, Cohen didn’t know he was recording their March 25 conversation.