Of course, this could all be a ploy to have Trump pay Cohen’s legal fees, as he has reportedly requested, or even to angle for a pardon. But for Trump, offering large payments or a future pardon risks the accusation that he is engaged in witness tampering or obstruction of justice. If he actually granted Cohen a pardon, that could precipitate abuse of power hearings in Congress, tip public opinion further against Trump — and unleash state attorneys general to go after Cohen for state charges Trump cannot pardon under the Constitution. The New York attorney general has demonstrated her readiness to act independently with her recent lawsuit against Trump for infractions at his charitable foundation.
So the most likely Cohen scenario is that he does make a deal. In that case, Cohen’s lawyer would first “proffer” the areas where Cohen might be able to provide evidence to support the investigation and prosecution of others. Then Cohen himself would meet with prosecutors and divulge everything he knows about his and others’ potential illegal activities, including Trump’s. That could, as with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, result in a plea to a single charge carrying no jail time — or something more (or less) serious, depending on Cohen’s own alleged wrongdoing and the quality of the information he has to offer.