Uh oh: Actually, Michael Cohen did represent me on the Stormy Daniels deal, says Trump

He and Michael Cohen have been in a Catch-22 on Daniels for weeks. If Cohen was acting independently on the hush-money deal, not as Trump’s lawyer but as the principal of EC, LLC, then arguably the agreement isn’t valid because Trump himself never signed it. Trump is listed as a party to it and gives up certain rights under its terms, like the right to sue Daniels civilly, but if Cohen wasn’t representing him for purposes of the agreement then he couldn’t bind POTUS to it. The contract is unenforceable, just like Daniels and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, have said.

If, however, Cohen *was* representing Trump on the deal, that’s arguably worse. Because even though it would (probably) mean that the deal is enforceable and Daniels owes Trump damages for speaking about their affair, it would also put Trump smack in the middle of a payment to her that looks a lot like an unreported campaign contribution. Did POTUS know about the payment? Did he authorize it and offer to reimburse Michael Cohen for it? If so, it may not just be Cohen who broke the law by failing to report the payment. It may be Trump himself. If the idea is to let Cohen take the fall for the Daniels deal (if it comes to that), Trump should claim that he had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

The smart thing to do when you’re a jam like that is to decline comment and let your lawyers handle it. The Trump thing to do is to chatter about it on national television during a live interview with “Fox & Friends.” Which brings us to this surreal scene — the president of the United States, admitting that Cohen *did* represent him on the Daniels deal, while Avenatti reacts live on the air in real time across the dial on Joe Scarborough’s show.

He was excited after the show, too…

…but not as excited as the Manhattan U.S. Attorney was. Remember, there’s a motion pending in federal court there over who gets to keep custody of the files seized by the FBI from Cohen. The U.S. Attorney wants to keep the files in the possession of its own “taint team” of prosecutors; Cohen wants an independent “special master” to be appointed by the court to review the material instead. One of the factors the court is weighing is just how much privileged material is likely to be in those files. If there’s a lot, that might lead the judge to side with Cohen on the theory that so much legally protected confidential info really shouldn’t be in the hands of the DOJ.

But watch the clip again. Trump says at one point that Cohen handled only a “tiny fraction” of his legal work. If that’s true, it strengthens the U.S. Attorney’s case that maybe there isn’t as much privileged material in Cohen’s files as he’s implied and therefore those files can stay with the “taint team.” Lo and behold, the feds have already flagged Trump’s soundbite in a letter to the court this morning:

The president is undermining his own potential defense and that of his friend Cohen and doesn’t even seem to understand that he’s doing it. If you were his lawyer, what would you do? He needs to stop talking. And yet, he won’t stop talking.

The most you can say here for POTUS is that he and Cohen were probably going to lose the civil suit against Stormy Daniels anyway. Cohen announced yesterday that he’ll plead the Fifth to shield himself from discovery in Daniels’s civil suit, which is a smart move given the criminal jeopardy he’s in but also a gut punch to his chances of winning against Daniels. The jury in the civil suit will be allowed to infer from his silence that he’s hiding something incriminating, which naturally improves Daniels’s odds of victory. But Cohen probably doesn’t care at this point. His first and last priority right now is staying out of prison, whatever that means for Daniels airing any remaining dirty laundry she has on Trump.

By the way, elsewhere in the “Fox & Friends” interview, Trump said of his unhappiness with his Justice Department, “You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it’s a disgrace,“ he said. “And our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from, but at some point I won’t, our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia.” What does “at some point I won’t” mean? Is that another hint that he wants to fire Mueller?