On Air Force One yesterday, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, “Is Michael Cohen still the president’s personal attorney?” She replied, “I believe they’ve still got some ongoing things, but the president has a large number of attorneys, as you know.”
Hogan Gidley, another White House spokesman, used very similar language on CNN last night, emphasizing Donald Trump’s “many” lawyers, of which Cohen was merely one.
And just like that, the effort to put some distance between the scandal-plagued president who’s under investigation and the scandal-plagued lawyer who’s under investigation got underway. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake highlighted the problem: this is never going to work.
Come on. Trump certainly has a lot of lawyers – especially given his special counsel investigation problem – but Cohen was the only one negotiating hush-money payments with porn stars, appearing on TV as a surrogate, and to whom Trump regularly referred as “my attorney.” Cohen is the guy who has expressed unflinching and complete loyalty to Trump.
Cohen isn’t just another lawyer. In fact, “lawyer” doesn’t begin to describe his closeness to Trump.
Quite right. Any effort to put some distance between Trump and Cohen may be hilarious, but it’s also doomed. Axios today accurately described Cohen as Trump’s “make-it-go-away guy,” adding, “Cohen … is the only person on earth intertwined in Trump’s professional, political, personal, legal and family life”
Try Googling “Trump,” “Cohen,” and “fixer.” The list of results isn’t short.
The trouble is, the White House appears to have a playbook featuring exactly one play: “Let’s pretend Trump isn’t close with the guy in trouble, if he knows the guy at all.”
We first saw this play in earnest when Paul Manafort was indicted, at which point Trump’s former campaign chairman became some random staffer “who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”
When White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign in disgrace, Team Trump decided he was “a former Obama administration official” who did some “volunteer” work for the president.
Carter Page was described as someone Trump “does not know.” George Papadopoulos was dismissed as a “coffee boy.” Trump World even tried to downplay its association with Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign’s data firm.
None of these efforts has been especially successful, but when it comes to Michael Cohen, the White House should probably stop trying now. The two are inextricably linked.