In bocce ball – American boules – you get two points if your ball is touching the jack at the end of a game. This is useful information for the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as bocce ball is offered to inmates at Otisville prison in New York state, along with basketball, tennis and horseshoes. Forbes once called Otisville one of America’s ‘10 cushiest prisons’.
But Cohen already knows what Otisville is like. Cockburn hears that over the past few years he’s visited a childhood friend imprisoned there on fraud charges. It’s that kind of place, a white-collar prison, a jail for tax cheats and embezzlers not gangsters and hitmen. At Otisville, the rules of bocce ball are probably more useful than knowing how to make a shiv from a toothbrush handle. Still, it’s not ClubFed, as the most lax federal prisons are known. Cohen’s atrocious plaid jackets will be swapped for khaki green work clothes. He will have to get a prison job, mowing the lawns perhaps, or washing up in the kitchen. He won’t have much time to work on the book and film of his life that Cockburn hears he’s been discussing with an agent. He will be away from his family. (Whatever else, no one has ever accused Cohen of being a bad family man.)
After months of finding every possible excuse to delay, Cohen has begun his sentence at Otisville. He even arrived two hours early at the prison’s front gate. He is the only one of Donald Trump’s inner circle convicted of a crime who has directly implicated the president. Cohen gave money to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, so she wouldn’t go public with a story about an affair with Trump, breaking the campaign finance laws since the payment was made two days before the presidential election. Prosecutors said he did this ‘in coordination with and at the direction of…Individual 1’ as Trump is described in court papers. You could draw two opposite conclusions from this. One is that if Trump were not president, he would be on his way to Otisville too. The other is that Cohen would never have been prosecuted if Trump were not president. That’s what Cohen believes. He tells friends: ‘I end up going to jail because he had his pecker pulled by a porn star?’
The Fates seemed to be poking fun at Cohen as he left the family home in Trump Park Avenue this morning. As he stopped to face a bank of flashing cameras, he stood under the building’s portico so that the word ‘TRUMP’ was suspended above his head in foot high gold capitals. Making a short statement, he wore his now familiar hangdog expression. ‘I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends, that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice and lies at the helm of our country.’ These high principles were discovered only after Cohen was arrested for mortgage fraud. His wife’s signature was also on the paperwork and the feds told him she’d go to jail too if he didn’t admit everything – this, he says privately, is why he cooperated. Despite this, Cohen has compared himself to John Dean, who exposed the ‘cancer’ at the heart of the Nixon presidency. He went on: ‘There still remains much to be told and I look forward to the day that I can share the truth.’
That is an odd thing to say after months of tweeting that ‘#Mueller knows everything’. He might be talking about things outside Mueller’s investigation, unrelated to Russia, Trump’s business dealings for instance, famously a ‘red line’ for the president. Cohen says privately that the Trump Organization will be ‘done, over’ by the time prosecutors are finished. Presumably he will be eager to help them, in return for time knocked off his sentence. Or does he mean that one day he will speak publicly – to the American people – about what he told Mueller’s team? Or are there things he didn’t tell Mueller? Cohen wrote that tweet above and others like it to deny he had ever been to Prague to meet Russian agents, as claimed in the Steele dossier. The Mueller report mentions Prague only once. ‘Cohen had never traveled to Prague and was not concerned about those allegations, which he believed were provably false…’ This was a curious way for Mueller to extinguish the Prague story, appearing to put the denial in Cohen’s mouth. Did Mueller know the Prague allegation was false based on secret intelligence he could not put in his report. Or did he simply take Cohen at his word?
Cockburn has been told – by a source who is in a position to know with certainty – that Mueller was given new evidence on Prague only weeks before he handed in his report. If that is true, if such evidence exists, we do not know why Mueller dismissed it. If there is anything at all to this, it may turn out to be important that Cohen never had a formal cooperation agreement with prosecutors, either Mueller’s or those in New York looking at Trump’s businesses. Cockburn hears that Cohen tells people that’s because an agreement would mean years, even decades, of having to help the feds: they would own him. He wants to put the whole Trump nightmare behind him as soon as possible. But – just possibly – this may be a self-serving explanation. As the New York Times points out, a formal cooperation agreement would force him to disclose any and all crimes he may have committed. If he left anything out, prosecutors could tear up the agreement and get him more jail time. So is it remotely conceivable that – after eight meetings with Mueller’s people and 80 hours of testimony – Cohen knows still more of Donald Trump’s secrets than he has let on?