The Fixer

For three hours, yesterday morning, Donald Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche argued that Michael Cohen, a self-admitted liar, tax evader and thief is not the reformed citizen the district attorney of New York wants the jury to believe.  Joshua Steinglass, who presented the People’s closing argument, rebutted this assumption when he reminded the jurors:

He had a legal title, but he wasn’t in the Trump Organization legal department. He didn’t answer to the general counsel, he answered to the defendant directly, He got the jobs no one else wanted. The jobs that the defendant wanted to keep quiet.

We didn’t choose Michael Cohen to be our witness. We didn’t pick him up at the witness store. The defendant chose Michael Cohen as his fixer because he was willing to lie and cheat on his behalf.

What Steinglass could have said, but probably chose not to because an immediate defense objection would likely be sustained by Judge Juan Merchan, was evidence throughout the trial that Cohen had been replaced as Trump’s “Mini-Me” by none other than (drum roll) Todd Blanche. Consider the following when Blanche took a page from his client’s playbook, projecting his own behavior on Cohen.  At the end of his closing statement, Blanche ticked off the many times Cohen had lied.  Then he suggested Cohen was still lying, loudly accusing Cohen, syllable by syllable, of “per-ju-ry.”

However, Blanche’s role as the latest in a long line of Trump fixers was evident from day one of the trial.  In his opening statement, Blanche claimed Trump never had a sexual encounter with Stormy Daniels.  Yet, provided no evidence to substantiate this highly suspicious assertion.  Trump no longer needed Cohen or Hope Hicks to “deny, deny, deny!”  He now had Todd Blanche.

Again, with no evidence, Blanche argued that the payments to Cohen were for legal services, despite the fact the transaction was listed in a footnote to Trump’s 2017 financial disclosure statement as follows.

In the interest of transparency, while not required to be disclosed as “reportable liabilities” on Part 8, in 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J. Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen. Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017. The category of value would be $100,001 – $250,000 and the interest rate would be zero.

We now know, based on Trump Organization’s CFO Allen Weisselberg’s handwritten notes, this “transparent” statement was false since the value of the transaction was actually $420,000, not in the range listed in the footnote.

More direct evidence came from the defendant himself.  In a May 3, 2018 tweet, Trump wrote:

Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement (my emphasis), a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA.

Blanche later proved his client demanded more of his fixer than simply lying.  He also had to cheat in service to his client.  And cheat he did during the trial.  His first defense witness was a paralegal who had constructed an Excel spreadsheet of phone records between Cohen and attorney Robert Costello even though the actual phone records were available.  Blanche used the reconstructed data to claim there had been over 75 calls between Cohen and Costello.  However, during cross-examination the paralegal admitted he did not differentiate between calls in which the two actually conversed versus those that went directly to voicemail, resulting in double-counting the number of actual conversations.

But best evidence of Blanche’s willingness to do anything for his client came in his closing statement when he told the jury, “You cannot send someone to prison, you cannot convict somebody based upon the words of Michael Cohen.”  During the next break, Judge Merchan reprimanded Blanche for a clear violation of the rules which forbid attorneys from addressing potential sentencing.

You know that making a comment like that is highly inappropriate. It is simply not allowed. Period. It’s hard for me to imagine that was accidental in any way,

When the jury re-entered the courtroom, Merchan provided the following curative instruction.

In the defense summation, Mr. (Todd) Blanche asked in substance that you not send the defendant to prison. That comment was improper and you must disregard it. In your deliberations, you may not discuss, consider or even speculate as to matters related to sentence or punishment.

Merchan considered this violation so egregious, he added an addendum to the standard jury charge this morning reminding jurors they “may not speculate about matters related to sentence or punishment,” that being the the purview of the judge.

There is a quote about legal strategy attributed to Carl Sandburg. “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”  That may still be true in most cases.  However, if your client is Donald Trump, Sandburg might add, “If that is not enough, lie and cheat.  That is what your client demands of his fixer.”

Michael Cohen served as Trump’s fixer for 10 years.  But not in Judge Merchan’s courtroom.  That title now belongs to Todd Blanche. The only remaining question is whether Blanche will one day be on a witness stand being vilified by a future Trump fixer for things he did in service of Mr. Trump.

For what it’s worth.