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“THAT SPELL MAYBE IS STARTING TO WEAR OFF”: WITH KEITH DAVIDSON TALKING TO THE FEDS, MICHAEL COHEN FACES GROWING PRESSURE
As Cohen’s legal headaches mount, people in his inner circle say that he is exasperated and without allies in Washington, despite what some read as the hidden message in Trump’s recent pardons. “Those people he pardoned had been convicted and already served time,” one of these people said. “That’s not at all the same thing.”
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Michael Cohen and the gang he is up against: Keith Davidson, Michael Avenatti, and Donald Trump ...
Clockwise from right; By Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images, by Heidi Gutman/ABC/Getty Images, by Peter Foley/Bloomberg/Getty Images, by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images.
As the ubiquitous Michael Avenatti turned up in California this week to file a lawsuit against Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson, alleging that the two lawyers had “colluded” to take advantage of his client, Stormy Daniels, a different sort of legal drama was playing out on the East Coast. While Avenatti prepared to file suit and mount another media blitz, Davidson was otherwise occupied. He was in New York City to speak with federal investigators for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District, who have their own vested interest in the Cohen-Daniels relationship, according to a person familiar with the situation. (David Wedge, a spokesman for Davidson, said he could not comment on an ongoing investigation. On Thursday evening, he filed a defamation claim against Daniels and Avenatti, as well as a separate claim against Cohen, for allegedly illegally recording phone calls with Davidson.)
In April, federal agents had raided Cohen’s home, hotel room, and office, seizing his safety-deposit box, more than a dozen electronic devices, and thousands of documents pertaining to a $130,000 payment Cohen made to Daniels, just days before the 2016 election, to buy her silence about an alleged affair with Donald Trump. (The president has repeatedly denied any sexual relationship with Daniels.) Shortly thereafter, federal agents contacted Davidson, and he began cooperating with prosecutors. Wedge, at the time, said in a statement that Davidson was asked to provide “certain limited electronic information. He has done so and will continue to cooperate to the fullest extent possible under the law.” (A spokesman for the S.D.N.Y. had no comment.)
Davidson’s trip to New York to speak with prosecutors this week appears to be the next step in this process as the investigation continues. Cohen’s attorneys have been spending hours each day combing through the documents federal agents seized in April, racing to meet a June 15 deadline that Judge Kimba Wood set in court last week for Cohen to delineate which communications he believes should be protected by attorney-client privilege. That’s about a month earlier than Cohen’s attorneys had asked for. In court last week, one told Wood that they’re working so hard that associates are sleeping on couches in their office, and one associate had to be sent home for a hand tremor he developed from lack of sleep.
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Other legal intrigues have appeared to raise the pressure on Cohen, too. Two weeks ago, The New York Times reported that one of Cohen’s business associates, Evgeny Freidman, a Russian immigrant who managed taxi medallions for Cohen, cut a generous deal with prosecutors. Freidman was facing four counts of criminal tax fraud and one of grand larceny—charges that could carry a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison each—but was ultimately sentenced to just 5 years probation and required to pay a fine. The Times noted that Freidman could potentially share what he knows about Cohen’s business dealings with federal prosecutors in New York and with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who referred the Cohen investigation to the Southern District.
Those close to Cohen have downplayed Cohen’s relationship with Freidman. “I think the plea was overblown,” one longtime friend told me. “He was friends with Michael and managed his medallions. He is involved with so many shady characters that he could be cooperating on a number of things. Michael knows this is being overplayed like all the other stuff has been overplayed.” The morning after the news broke last month, Cohen himself tweeted that he is “one of thousands of medallion owners” who use management companies to operate their medallions. “Gene Freidman and I are not partners and have never been partners in this business or any other.”
Still, there is a sense among Cohen’s inner circle that he is exasperated and without allies in Washington, despite what some read as the hidden message in Trump’s recent pardons. The friend added that what is more upsetting to Cohen is the way in which the president and his associates have distanced themselves from him. According to two people familiar with his thinking, Cohen did not see the presidential pardons and commutations Trump issued last week as a signal that Cohen would get his own pardon, or that he should stay strong and not agree to cooperate with investigators. “Those people he pardoned had been convicted and already served time,” one of these people said. “That’s not at all the same thing.”
Cohen, who once vowed he would “take a bullet” for Trump, declined to comment. His e-mail signature no longer identifies him as the personal attorney for the president. In a call last month, Trump’s new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, told me that he was unsure of when and how Cohen and Trump decided that Cohen would no longer serve as his personal attorney, though he said it was already the case when he joined Trump’s legal team in April. “I imagine it was just informal,” he added.
While Cohen spends hours each day with his attorneys—with the occasional break for lunch at Fred’s or dinner at Le Bilboquet—he is rankled by statements Trump and Giuliani have made publicly, and bothered by what they have not said publicly to defend him. “For years, he was under the spell of Trump,” the longtime friend said. “But all of this is happening now because of him. And Michael’s family is telling him that. The people who love and care about him are telling him that. That spell maybe is starting to wear off.”
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EMILY JANE FOX
Emily Jane Fox is a reporter for the Hive covering Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and the .001 percent everywhere.