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It was only a week ago that Democrats, journalists, and NeverTrump Republicans were (again) calling for the impeachment of the president. But this time, they were certain the end was near.
Following the plea agreement between Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and federal prosecutors for campaign finance violations tied to payoffs in 2016 to Trump’s alleged lovers, this tiresome anti-Trump cabal insisted the Cohen fiasco would finally spell the doom they’ve been counting on since Trump took office. A New York Times columnist claimed Trump was “credibly alleged to have purposefully conspired with Cohen to commit criminal acts,” and that the conduct met the constitutional threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for which the president should be removed from office. Legal fossils from the Watergate era arose from the political dead to offer up bogus comparisons between the two crises. Reporters claimed the White House was in chaos and accused the president of “lashing out” after the double-whammy of the Cohen deal and the guilty verdict in the trial of his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.
Things looked grim. Even longtime defenders of the president were gobsmacked about how to mitigate the damage as the political pile-on continued.
Then along came Lanny Davis.
For a brief moment, a divided nation shouted in unison as Davis’s familiar face appeared on television: “Oh, dear God, not this guy!” Between Davis and the reemergence of Rudy Giuliani as Trump’s latest attorney, we thought we would be forced to party like it’s 1999.
Cohen hired the longtime Clinton family fixer to make his case to the public and portray the president’s lawyer as yet another victim of Trump’s skullduggery. The plotline of one shady presidential lawyer hiring another shady presidential lawyer was too enticing for the media to ignore; Davis was eagerly booked on morning shows and cable news programs to tell the porn-star silencer’s tale of woe. (In one interview, Davis solemnly lamented about “the pain [Cohen] went through for his family,” and later alluded to a popular political trope about Cohen being separated from his family when he goes to prison.)
But it didn’t exactly work out as planned. Davis kicked off his media blitz last Wednesday with an interview with his fellow Clinton crony, George Stephanopoulos, on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Davis accused the president of “committ[ing] a criminal act” when he directed Cohen to pay off two alleged lovers before the presidential election, and then suggested his client has information about Russian collusion that would interest Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
In an interview later that morning with Megyn Kelly, Davis made the same accusations about his truth-telling client, but added a twist:
Could I just take one opportunity to remind everyone that Michael Cohen has suffered a tragic and difficult experience with his family, he’s without resources and we’ve set up a website called “michaelcohentruth.com” [audience starts to laugh] that we’re hoping that he will get some help from the American people so he can continue to tell the truth.
In response to that appeal, Kelly’s audience rejoined with loud guffaws. (The real joke is that the website address redirects to Trump’s reelection campaign homepage.) This offended Davis. “I would say the reaction from your audience is that they are not as interested in getting the truth out about Donald Trump as many as other people in the country are.” Nothing like being scolded about the value of candor by a guy who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial, right?
Then, another 12 hours later, the curtain started to come down hard on The Lanny Show.
In a bizarre, rambling interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Davis referred to himself as a “crisis manager to get facts out.” He pushed back several times against Cooper’s skepticism about Cohen’s sudden conversion from dishonest Trump backer to sincere Trump foe, insisting his client had had a “transformative experience” and was compelled now to warn his fellow countrymen that the president is a danger to the nation.
But the fact-telling crisis manager awkwardly started to backpedal on his own claims from earlier in the day that Cohen had damning evidence about Trump-Russia collusion. Davis said—contrary to previous reporting—Cohen did not have proof than then-candidate Trump knew about the infamous June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer. Referring to Cohen’s statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee that Trump was not aware of the meeting either before or after it occurred, Davis confirmed that his client’s congressional testimony was accurate.
“So Michael Cohen does not have information that President Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian beforehand or any time?” Cooper asked.
“No, there’s not,” Davis replied.
Oops. One small problem: Davis’s comments totally obliterated a CNN “bombshell” report from last month that claimed Cohen did have evidence. The network posted an explosive story on July 26 based on “sources with knowledge” that Cohen would testify to Mueller’s team and that Trump knew about in advance—and approved—the Trump Tower meeting. The revelation contradicted previous public statements by Trump and his allies that Trump was unaware of the gathering. “If this information is true and accurate, it’s very, very significant,” said Bernstein in a segment that accompanied the piece. “The meeting goes to the intent to collude.”
The supposed “bombshell” also stated that, “contacted by CNN, one of Cohen’s attorneys, Lanny Davis, declined to comment.” The piece took off like wildfire in the media, with follow-up stories posted in major news outlets from NBC News to the Washington Post and was fodder for cable news pundits for nearly a month.
But it turns out CNN was double-teaming Davis: He was both the unnamed “source with knowledge” and the named member of Cohen’s legal team who would not comment. Further, other news organizations latched on to CNN’s reporting and also used Davis as an anonymous source to confirm the story. It was all a lie.
Now the self-proclaimed crisis manager and fixer is trying to fix his own self-made crisis. Davis came clean in a Buzzfeed article posted late Monday when he confessed that he misled people about the Trump Tower meeting “I’m glad to take ownership of the mistake. Now I’m taking the heat, and it’s justified,” he told the online publication.
With that, Davis not only torched his own credibility but he buried any remaining shards of Cohen’s, too. He also set off a firestorm of controversy in the media world as CNN refuses to retract its original reporting and other news outlets that relied on the initial post are forced to issue corrections and out Davis as a source. A Washington Post reporter complained that Davis and Cohen have done damage to the case against Trump.
And the calls for Trump’s impeachment based on any accusations by Michael Cohen have been silenced.
So, thank you, Lanny Davis. Who would have guessed that a Clinton pal would be the guy to pimp out Donald Trump’s former lawyer; humiliate CNN; infuriate the rest of the news media; mislead Robert Mueller; and spare President Trump?
Maybe Trump should hire him for his 2020 re-election campaign.
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