Michael Cohen has a real problem.
And it’s not just that Donald Trump’s former friend and fixer finds himself in the crosshairs of attack dogs from the New York U.S. Attorney’s office, investigating him for, among other things, falsified bank records, fraudulent business dealings and illegal hush-money payments to presidential paramours.
No, Mr. Cohen’s real problem is that he recently fired his experienced but low key legal team and hired, in its place, a combination lawyer/PR man. And that particular “counselor” is none other than our old buddy and self-promoter par excellence, Lanny Davis.
Look out below!
Now whom, you may ask if you haven’t been paying attention, is Lanny Davis?
The short answer is that Mr. Davis is the consummate Democrat D.C. swamp thing, a lawyer-turned-public relations pretender whose client list reads like a Who’s Who of disgraced companies, corrupt politicians, ruthless dictators and virtually anyone else willing to pay his exorbitant fees.
Topping the Davis client roster are a federally-subsidized Maryland additive company accused of putting useless fatty acids in infant formula sold to poor women, for-profit colleges accused of exploiting students, and at least two African despots condemned by the international community for assorted crimes against humanity. (Not to mention, Harvey Weinstein!)
Davis got his start as a Bill Clinton White House lawyer who became one of the President’s primary public defenders against Monica Lewinsky, right up until Clinton admitted lying about his sexual shenanigans in the Oval Office. Thereupon presidential alibi-er Davis wrote a book, Truth to Tell, in which, lo and behold, he extolled the public relations virtues of being honest all the time.
Having found religion through his public relations epiphany, the former Clinton con man became a “crisis communications counselor.”
“My credibility,” Davis humbly told The New York Times, “is the only thing I have.”
Evidently, that was good enough for the cornered Cohen to drop his low profile, white-shoe lawyers from McDermott Will & Emery and sign on with loquacious Lanny.
And ever since he did, Davis has been an omnipresent presence on cable TV, dropping bombshell after bombshell about his new client’s treasure trove of Trump tapes.
Here’s why Cohen’s desperate hiring of Davis may likely prove fatal for the fallen fixer.
Davis’ spotlight strategy is the last thing Cohen needs
Michael Cohen’s best chance of avoiding jail is to cooperate with prosecutors behind the scenes, providing valuable information quietly so that those he’s fingering (guess who?) are kept in the dark and off balance. Presumably, that’s what his former lawyers were trying to do. And that’s what experienced public relations counsel would recommend as well.
But not Lanny, who claims to be guided always by a mantra of “tell it early, tell it all, tell it yourself,” which is admirable in theory, but often impractical, especially when “revealing all early” proves counterproductive to your client.
Such is the case with Michael Cohen.
When Davis launched his perpetual publicity machine, first leaking word that Cohen taped his client talking about playmate hush money and then revealing the tape itself on CNN and talking about it non-stop on all the other channels, he set Cohen up for a monumental fall.
As Rudy Giuliani correctly concluded, the secret taping of a client destroys Cohen as a witness, leaving him with even less credibility than his spokesman. Even more important, if all Cohen has is a single, surreptitiously-recorded, garbled tape that may or may not suggest Trump lied about paying hush money to starlets, prosecutors may not be interested in striking a deal.
In that case, the Davis strategy of breathlessly busting out the tape for all to dissect and dispute is a colossal public relations blunder.
Lanny’s bombast on behalf of Cohen has destroyed any chance of a presidential pardon
Say what you will about Donald Trump: he’s a coarse, lying, cheating philanderer, who paid off strippers and starlets to hide his extra-marital meandering. Fair enough.
But he has also proven himself loyal to his allies, as long as they don’t cross him.
Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, for instance, have remained true to their former employer, even in the face of a withering attack from a running-out-of-time special prosecutor desperate to get the goods on Trump. Both will be convicted of crimes, and both may well receive presidential pardons for their loyalty.
Cohen, on the other hand, especially now that he’s retained such a loud-mouthed Trump hater, will likely not be so pardoned when the government’s wrath rains down on him. Even if Trump wanted to pardon Cohen, he couldn’t because …
Davis is a proxy for the evil empire the Trump base will simply not abide: the Clintons
Lanny Davis has been a Clinton toady for nearly three decades, first defending Bill’s sexcapades in the White House and then later toiling in the never-ending Hillary campaigns.
The nadir for loyal Lanny probably came in 2010 when the government was forced to release a glut of Secretary of State Clinton’s private account emails. The most obsequious of all 2,100 released emails came from Davis, asking if his “dear friend" Hillary might say some complimentary things to a reporter writing a news article about him.
Bringing new meaning to the word “unctuous,” Lanny suggested that perhaps Hillary could cite his bipartisan approach to politics, “inspired, of course, by my friend the great Junior Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, whom my friend Lindsay Graham once told me was the nicest and most effective person in the U.S. Senate!”
How’s that for “public relations?”
So, in recruiting such a high profile and, in the eyes of Trump supporters, repulsive, Clintonista to his team, Michael Cohen has effectively made it impossible for the President to pardon him.
Lanny loves the limelight way more than he loves his “clients”
Davis’ penchant for personal publicity has already and will continue to impair the Cohen case for clemency.
The fact is that whether it’s due to chronic insecurity or the constant need to convince his D.C. peers that he, too, is a bone fide “power broker,” Davis lives for the media limelight. And with every new TV appearance or print interview or over-the-top public challenge to the president, Davis digs the hole deeper for his confused and beleaguered client.
In one particularly revealing interview, Davis acknowledged, “I don’t need to speak any further or go on any more shows. The tape speaks much better than I do.”
And to whom did he acknowledge this new strategy of radio silence? Why, to the New York Times, of course, in a front-page story, complemented by a four-column beaming self-portrait, which he later washed down with interviews in the Washington Post and Politico. Lanny, it seems, just can’t get enough of Lanny.
So, the bet here is that poor, beleaguered Michael Cohen, like other similarly-panicked and put-upon suckers before him, ultimately sealed his fate the day he hired an ersatz “crisis communications guru” who has demonstrated time and again that his only real “client” is himself.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, author and teacher for 40 years. He is author of the Pearson text “The Practice of Public Relations,” now in its 13th edition, and co-author of “Rethinking Reputation" and "Idea Wise.” He may be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.