The Memo: Cohen’s negative headlines complicate Trump’s political life

Michael Cohen’s long and close relationship with President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE and his propensity for attracting negative headlines are becoming bigger problems for the White House.

People in the president’s orbit have told The Hill they are deeply concerned about the new focus on Cohen, who long served as Trump’s personal attorney. 

Their barely-disguised worries center on the idea that Cohen could have been involved in shady activities that would damage the president if they were exposed. 

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Their broader fear is that investigations into the president have shifted onto his business dealings rather than the narrower issue of whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.

Warning sirens have flashed since the raids on Cohen took place just a week ago. 

Experts note that law enforcement needed to make a compelling case for a warrant to search an attorney’s office.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, noted that press reports had indicated that communications between Cohen and Trump were among the documents that were being sought.

“That means that Donald Trump and Michael Cohen were talking about some topic that the FBI believes is evidence of a crime — and they have enough evidence to get a judge to sign it,” Mariotti said, “That has to be very concerning for the president.”

Cohen’s association with Trump dates back more than a decade. The attorney presented himself as a no-nonsense “fixer” for the then-businessman. It was Cohen who arranged a $130,000 payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 election, apparently to keep her quiet about her allegation that she had an affair with the president.

Cohen has a bare-knuckle reputation. In one exchange with the Daily Beast in 2015, Cohen threatened a reporter that “I will take you for every penny that you still don’t have” and threatened that he was going to “mess your life up.”

Cohen’s centrality to Trump’s personal and business dealings is one reason why Trump critics are so intrigued that he is now under the investigators’ spotlight.

Cohen “is very much involved in the day-to-day of everything Trump does. Because of that he is very much in the center of a lot of things that Trump does not want made public,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist and fierce Trump critic.

On Monday, Sean Hannity shared an unwelcome spotlight with Cohen as it emerged that the Fox News Channel host was also among the attorney’s clients.

In a tweet, Hannity said Cohen had never represented him in any legal matter. “I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective,” Hannity wrote.

One of the main purposes of Monday’s hearing was to adjudicate whether law enforcement agents could begin looking through the documents they had seized or whether the president and Cohen should first determine whether those documents were covered by attorney-client privilege, as their lawyers wanted.

Judge Kimba Wood ruled against the president’s side in that regard, further deepening the trouble in which he finds himself.

Separately, newspaper chain McClatchy recently reported that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE had found evidence that Cohen had travelled in secret to Prague in 2016 after all — an allegation first made in the so-called Steele Dossier but vigorously denied by Cohen.

The attorney continues to deny any such trip. “Bad reporting, bad information and bad story,” he responded on Twitter. “No matter how many times or ways they write it, I have never been to Prague. I was in LA with my son. Proven!"

The danger that circles around Cohen and Trump has fueled some dramatic media coverage. 

Perhaps the most prominent example came in The New Yorker over the weekend. The story suggested that the raids on Cohen’s premises were “a turning point” and predicted that “we are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency.”

Other coverage ran along similar lines: Esquire magazine predicted the raids could be “the event that shatters the bubble for good.”

But even some voices that are not normally sympathetic to the president caution that the predictions could be running ahead of reality.

Timothy O’Brien, the author of a critical biography of Trump and the executive editor of Bloomberg View, told The Hill that while Cohen’s testimony would be unquestionably “very significant” he was more skeptical of “speculation that this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

O’Brien noted that there are other figures who know more about the Trump Organization than Cohen. 

He added that even if there were charges leveled against Cohen, those would not necessarily be tied directly to Trump. He drew a parallel with former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John Manafort5 revelations from Mueller's indictment of Russians in DNC hack Mueller indicts 12 Russians in 2016 DNC hack The dishonesty of the deep state MORE, who faces numerous charges, none of which directly implicates Trump.

“The issue is how many things accrue to Cohen himself and how many attach themselves to the president,” O’Brien added.

Allies of the president, meanwhile, insist that the legal moves against Cohen are signs of overreach in a probe that they contend should be much more narrowly focused.

Michael Caputo, a longtime friend of Trump’s who also knows Cohen, said that he had some concerns for both men — based more on what he views as an out of control investigation than in their actual conduct.

“I am concerned for anyone in the crosshairs of this investigation because it appears to have no boundaries,” Caputo said. “I think the president’s base is by now quite familiar with the ‘Get Trump At Any Cost’ nature of these investigations. And what happens with Michael Cohen is no different.”

Caputo also insisted that Cohen’s loyalty to Trump was absolute.  

“I can’t imagine Michael Cohen putting the president in harm’s way in any shape or form,” he said.

Trump allies will be crossing their fingers in the hope his prediction proves true.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.