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Cohen's fight to survive makes him dangerous

The evolution of Michael Cohen continued this week with his implication of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE in the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyers in June 2016. This is all part of the new Michael Cohen rolled out last week by his lawyer Lanny Davis, who explained it is all part of Cohen’s “new resolve” to “reset his life” where he is trying “to tell the truth.”

For most of us, truth is not so much an option as it is an obligation but, then, most of us are not like Cohen. At best, he comes across as Watergate era attorney John Dean without the guilt or discernible legal skills. At worst, he is the type of person once described by fabled Texan Sam Houston as having “all the characteristics of a dog except loyalty.” Whether this is the new or old Cohen, his move this week could present serious perils for both himself and Trump, who was his former client.

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Trump has long denied prior knowledge of the meeting. That position was supported by his son, Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpElection Countdown: Florida Senate fight resumes after hurricane | Cruz softens ObamaCare attacks | GOP worries Trump will lose suburban women | Latest Senate polls | Rep. Dave Brat gets Trump's 'total endorsement' | Dem candidates raise record B Eric Trump: Trump Org has 'zero investments' in Russia or Saudi Arabia West Virginia sports stars back Manchin in new ad MORE, who spoke both under oath and to investigators. He was closely questioned on this very point, including possible calls to his father before or after the meeting. Other Trump staffer and lawyers have repeated this denial. Yet, Cohen now alleges that Trump not only knew but approved the meeting. He reportedly said further that he could name other people in the room when Trump was briefed on the meeting and gave his approval.

The president today repeated his own denial and tweeted that “I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam (Taxi cabs maybe?). He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary’s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice!”

It was a curious jab at Cohen for hiring Davis, since Trump has hired former Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Democratic Donald Trump is coming Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure Dershowitz: Obama, Ellison have 'special obligation' to condemn Farrakhan MORE lawyer Emmett Flood as his own counsel. However, the denial could not be more clear. In other words, someone is lying. Indeed, Cohen’s new role as a truth teller seems to have triggered an impulse that is destructive for both him and his former client. This is a type of “mutually assured destruction” strategy with a twist. Usually you make such a threat to avoid the actual mutually assured destruction move.

Here, Cohen is using it in the hope, perhaps, of post-apocalyptic survival through a deal with Mueller. The new account seems to contradict Cohen’s prior statements to Congress and investigators when he was specifically pressed on this very question. Even if Mueller gives him a deal, it will not protect him from state charges and it could involve a guilty plea, as with former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Of course, if Cohen’s account is corroborated, this could get real bad, real fast, for Trump. It is not that Cohen’s account changes the dynamic on collusion. Even if Trump approved the meeting, it could still be as it has been described, as a willingness to hear alleged evidence of criminal conduct on the part of Clinton or her associates.

But in many ways, this would be more serious than trying to fashion some unknown crime of collusion. This would be a clear crime of making false statements. It is the very crime that Mueller has used to indict a myriad of people in this investigation. It is not a risk for Trump, who has not discussed this matter under oath or to federal investigators. But that may not matter with his son in the crosshairs of such an allegation.

Once you go after the son, Trump could well act more as a parent than a president. If Trump approved the meeting, Trump Jr. could be indicted under Title 18 of the U.S. Code as well as possible perjury laws. The same is true for some Trump aides, but this is his son. Ironically, Trump would be in the same position as Michael Flynn, who copped a plea reportedly in part to protect his own son. Trump is not likely to cop a plea, since he has more options than did Flynn, but they are all bad options.

Trump’s visceral rhetoric has never been matched by real actions, but that could change. He has long railed against the investigation and called for it to end. If Mueller were to pursue his son, Trump could lash out and fire Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinRosenstein to appear for House interview next week Former FBI lawyer speaks with House lawmakers on Rosenstein, 2016 Meadows calls on Rosenstein to resign 'immediately' MORE, and even Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsRosenstein to appear for House interview next week Emmet Flood steps in as White House counsel following McGahn departure McGahn departs as White House counsel MORE. That list could grow, since Trump may be forced to find anyone at the Justice Department willing to shut down this probe, let alone the one being handled in the Southern District of New York.

Trump could also fire off a slew of pardons, even including one for himself. That would trigger cascading events which could well lead to criminal or impeachment counts, or both. At a minimum, it would push this matter on a fast track toward impeachment, just as the House of Representatives may flip to Democratic control in the November midterm elections.

New Jersey mobster Sam DeCavalcante once said, “Honest people have no ethics.” Cohen’s new found “honesty” appears to rest on the same dubious distinction, as he actively seeks to incriminate his former client to save himself with secret recordings and “gotcha” accounts. It also is possible that the new Cohen is a lot like the old Cohen, who is a stranger, perhaps, to both honesty and ethics. Nevertheless, he has the ability to move this scandal into a precarious stage for this administration. Cohen is fighting for simple survival, and that makes him dangerous. The real “truth” is that Cohen is done, but that does not mean he is finished.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.