One of the cornerstones of the American justice system is that your attorney cannot be compelled to testify against you, even if your attorney knows you’re guilty of the crime in question. The sole exception is when your attorney has conspired with you to commit that crime. So here’s the question for Donald Trump today: just how bad is it that his attorney now needs an attorney?
That’s the key takeaway from today’s revelation that the Senate Intelligence Committee is now seeking testimony and evidence from Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen in relation to the Russia scandal (link). Legally, they can’t even so much as ask him to give up what he knows about any laws that his client Donald Trump may have broken. Their only angles would be if they suspect he witnessed other people in the Trump campaign committing crimes whom he doesn’t represent, or if they suspect Cohen may have committed crimes of his own during the scandal.
To be clear, there’s no publicly available evidence that Michael Cohen has broken any laws, or that he participated in the Russia scandal in any way. Thus far the only public accusation has come by way of former MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s now infamous Trump-Russia dossier, which asserted (without providing evidence) that Cohen secretly met with the Russian government in Prague as part of a conspiracy. Cohen insists he’s never even been to Prague. Other unrelated parts of the dossier have since been confirmed, but the Cohen part has not.
Asking Trump’s attorney to testify in the Russia scandal only makes sense if the Senate Intel Committee believes the move will yield major new revelations. Otherwise it’s a big risk to take that could end up backfiring. So it raises the question of what the committee knows that we don’t. And if you’re Donald Trump, you’ve got to be worried about how much evidence the committee might be sitting on if it’s now willing to put your attorney in a position where he needs an attorney of his own.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report