Michael Cohen’s plea deal and his financial dispute with Trump and his lawyers, explained

Yesterday morning ABC News reported that Michael Cohen had parted ways with his lawyers, and he was preparing to cut a plea deal against Donald Trump. As the day went on, other news outlets suggested that Cohen and his lawyers had quit because they weren’t getting paid, which some interpreted as a sign that maybe Cohen wasn’t flipping after all. But now we’re getting to the bottom of the story, and it’s even uglier than we were expecting.

Late last night the New York Times reported that Cohen and his lawyers split over a dispute about who was paying their legal fees. Here’s the thing: it’s long been widely reported that Donald Trump had arranged for the payment of Cohen’s legal bills, in an attempt at preventing him from flipping. This dovetails with the fact that Cohen is rather obviously broke; his taxi company is hemorrhaging money, and he had to take out a home equity loan just to pay off Stormy Daniels. Cohen has never paid one cent of his legal bills; Trump has always taken care of it.

The fact that Trump is no longer paying Cohen’s legal bills is a big deal. Trump has used various tactics to cover the legal bills of various Trump-Russia players, from having the RNC pay for it, to having his own “reelection” campaign pay for it, meaning none of it’s come out of his pocket. For whatever reason, Trump has decided to stop paying Cohen’s legal bills. It’s not because Trump is a cheapskate, as it was never actually his money to begin with. Something happened that prompted Trump to decide it was time to stop paying Cohen’s way.

The only logical explanation for this is that Donald Trump figured out – or was tipped off – that Michael Cohen was about to flip on him, and thus decided to pull the plug on paying the legal bills. This means Trump must have concluded that there wasn’t even any way of changing Cohen’s mind. This is eerily similar to last year when, just as Michael Flynn was thought to be on the verge of cutting a plea deal, Team Trump made a point of announcing that Flynn’s legal bills would not be paid. Flynn’s deal was announced a few days later.

Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report