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Scrutiny of Trump Lawyer Cohen Adds to President’s Distractions

President Donald Trump often likes to point out how different he is from his White House predecessors in terms of style and substance. But it is unlikely any past president would envy the legal challenges facing Trump, from the Russia investigation to Stormy Daniels to the scrutiny law enforcement is giving his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

On Tuesday it was a night of pomp and glamor at the White House as President Donald Trump and Mrs. Trump welcomed French President Macron and his wife for a state dinner.

The two presidents got along famously during their White House meetings.

The only damper on the day came when both men were in the Oval Office and a reporter asked Trump about the legal difficulties facing his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

“Mr. President, what about Michael Cohen? Are you considering a pardon for Michael Cohen?” asked ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl.

After a pause, the president responded. “Stupid question,” he said dismissively.

Presidential frustration

Cohen is under scrutiny for a payment to an adult film star. Stormy Daniels says it was hush money to keep her quiet about a brief affair she had with Trump in 2006, a claim the president has denied.

Trump has frequently complained about the recent FBI raids on Cohen’s home and office and the ongoing Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Earlier this month Trump spoke up during a meeting with military officials at the White House.

“Here we are talking about Syria, we are talking about a lot of serious things with the greatest fighting force ever, and I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now.”

Cohen’s secrets

Several legal analysts have said the increased scrutiny of Trump’s long relationship with Cohen could become a serious problem for the president.

“There has been no suggestions that Cohen has nothing that he could say, which suggests that they know that Cohen actually does possess information that could be damaging to Trump or the Trump organization more generally as a legal matter,” said George Washington University Law Professor Paul Schiff Berman.

Cohen likely faces great pressure to cooperate with prosecutors, noted defense attorney Alan Dershowitz. “This is an epic battle for the soul and the cooperation of Michael Cohen, and prosecutors have enormous weapons at their disposal,” Dershowitz told ABC’s This Week.

But White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders insists the president is not worried. “The president has been clear that he has not done anything wrong. I think we have stated that about a thousand times.”

A federal judge in New York is considering who will have the job of reviewing the materials seized from Cohen. Judge Kimba Wood is expected to announce next month whether a special team of Justice Department lawyers will look at the material or whether a so-called special master should be appointed to carry out the task, as Cohen’s attorneys have requested.

Mueller’s fate

Members of Congress seem more concerned with protecting the Russia probe and continue to warn the president against firing special counsel Mueller.

“There is nothing more important right now than protecting our democracy and protecting the rule of law, which is what America stands for,” said Tennessee House Democrat Steve Cohen.

Huckabee Sanders said the fear is misplaced. “As we have said many times before, we have no intention of firing the special counsel. We have been beyond cooperative with them. We are continuing to cooperate with them.”

The Mueller probe has already led to several indictments and guilty pleas from two Trump associates for lying to federal investigators about their contacts with Russia. The investigation could go on for another year, according to Paul Schiff Berman.

“So the question of whether the president can literally be indicted or not, I think, is less important than the fundamental question of whether our institutions of government and our law enforcement authorities are allowed to do their business without fear and without influence from the president,” he said.

The president recently added former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani to his legal team, hoping to add fresh star power after some high profile departures.

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