Michael Cohen walked into a courthouse in Manhattan on Tuesday and told a federal judge under oath that he committed a felony and that his former client, President Donald Trump, directed him to do so. In that moment, Cohen upended a months-long strategy by Trump to undermine the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, and for the first time presented a path to the end of the Trump presidency.
What is most surprising about Tuesday’s events is that Cohen was not required to implicate Trump in order to plead guilty. The charges prepared by prosecutors did not state that Trump directed Cohen’s criminal activity. They said merely that Cohen “coordinated with one or more members of the campaign” about the unlawful campaign finance payments to whom we know from press accounts to be a Playboy model and an adult film actress.
When the judge asked Cohen to tell him about the crimes he committed, Cohen could have repeated the vague language in the charges. Instead, Cohen said that he committed two of the eight crimes “in coordination with, and at the direction of” his longtime boss: Trump.
It’s not clear whether federal prosecutors knew in advance that Cohen would implicate Trump, but if they had any reason not to believe him, they were obligated not to permit Cohen to lie to the judge. Because they didn’t, we know that his statements were consistent with the other evidence in their possession.
So Cohen wanted to publicly reveal that Trump directed him to commit crimes. The implication of his statement is obvious — it is a crime to direct someone else to commit a crime. And Cohen is not done. His attorney Lanny Davis told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Tuesday night that Cohen is willing to provide information to Mueller about a possible “conspiracy to collude” with Russia and whether Trump “knew ahead of time” about computer hacking.