Michael Cohen’s legal team admitted Wednesday that, after the FBI raided his home and office last year, he asked President Donald Trump’s lawyers about a potential pardon.
Now reporters are trying to nail down the specifics of exactly what happened in those discussions. Federal prosecutors could be looking into the topic, too. And President Trump himself claimed in a Friday morning tweet that Cohen “directly asked” him for a pardon, adding, “I said NO.”
Bad lawyer and fraudster Michael Cohen said under sworn testimony that he never asked for a Pardon. His lawyers totally contradicted him. He lied! Additionally, he directly asked me for a pardon. I said NO. He lied again! He also badly wanted to work at the White House. He lied!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 8, 2019
Cohen soon responded in a tweet disparaging “another set of lies” by Trump, but didn’t go into specifics.
The pardon discussions seem to have taken place after the April 2018 raids but over a month before Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, struck a plea deal with the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) last August.
What’s not yet entirely clear is whether this was mainly a case of Cohen seeking a pardon to no avail or whether he received an encouraging response from Trump’s team on the topic.
Perhaps most intriguingly, a recent ABC News report described a murky situation in which two lawyers “who claimed to be in close contact with Rudy Giuliani” reached out to Cohen and purportedly dropped hints about a pardon. The New York Times reported these discussions were about a “pre-pardon” for Cohen. One of the lawyers involved denied these accounts.
Now, on top of that, there’s Trump’s allegation that Cohen “directly” asked him for a pardon — though Trump has not yet explained when or where this happened.
In Cohen’s sworn testimony last week, he said he “never” asked for a pardon — but by his lawyer Lanny Davis’s admission, he did in fact authorize his previous attorney to “explore possibilities of a pardon.”
No pardon promise for Cohen seems to have materialized. But it’s worth understanding the details of what happened, because there has been much interest in how the president’s team uses the prospect of pardons to interfere with investigations. It’s already been one topic special counsel Robert Mueller has probed, and now it appears the SDNY prosecutors could be looking into it too.
Cohen was “pardon-curious” from April to June 2018
On April 9, 2018, the FBI raided Cohen’s office, residence, and hotel room, making it obvious that he was in very serious legal jeopardy.
For about two months after that, Cohen remained publicly defiant, and continued to proclaim his loyalty to Trump (whom he’d once said he’d “take a bullet for”). In mid-June, that suddenly changed, as word leaked out that Cohen was changing his legal team and “likely to cooperate” with prosecutors.
Behind the scenes, it’s now clear that before mid-June, there was at least some talk of a possible presidential pardon for Cohen. But how much of this talk started with Cohen, and how much came from Trump’s legal team, is a matter of dispute.
Cohen’s own lawyer and PR maven, Lanny Davis, admitted in a statement this week that Cohen had in fact authorized his previous attorney to “explore possibilities of a pardon” with Giuliani and other Trump lawyers, during that April to June 2018 period.
Additionally, Cohen privately testified to Congress that he spoke about a pardon with Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, according to the Washington Post. Sekulow denies this.
Now, there’s Trump’s claim that Cohen “directly” asked him for a pardon. If that actually happened, it probably took place around this time. However, Trump’s team has not yet presented any specifics or corroborating details for this claim.
In any cae, last week, Cohen publicly testified that he has “never asked for, nor would I accept, a pardon from President Trump.” Even leaving aside Trump’s new claim, this statement seems to be quite misleading and arguably outright false. Davis’s attempt at clean-up tried to claim Cohen was only referring to “after July 2, 2018” when he said he never asked for a pardon, but Cohen actually said he “never” did.
Two attorneys may have talked pardons with Cohen
In any case, the most intriguing account of what took place during Cohen’s “pardon-curious” period came from ABC News’s Eliana Larramendia, James Hill, and Lauren Pearle, who offered the following new details.
- Weeks after the FBI raided Cohen’s office, in late April 2018, two New York attorneys who “claimed to be in close contact with Rudy Giuliani” reached out to Cohen.
- The attorneys said they were interested in representing Cohen, and urged him not to leave a joint defense agreement with Trump and his allies — essentially, not to flip on Trump.
- Per ABC’s sources, “there was an implicit message that if Cohen hired these lawyers, it could preserve or increase his chances of a pardon down the road.”
- Cohen did not hire the pair of attorneys. Afterward, they sent him a legal bill, which he didn’t pay.
- Cohen told the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York about all this, and they may be investigating it.
After the story was published, ABC News updated it to include the two attorneys’ names: Robert J. Costello and Jeffrey Citron. (Costello told them the story was “not accurate” but that he couldn’t comment further because of attorney-client privilege.)
Meanwhile, the New York Times’s Michael Schmidt, Ben Protess, and Maggie Haberman added more details on the situation:
- Costello sent Cohen “a cryptic email” saying “he had raised some issue of importance with” Giuliani, per their sources.
- The talks with Costello “centered on whether Mr. Cohen could be given a ‘pre-pardon’” by Trump before his anticipated indictment.
It is unclear what, exactly, a “pre-pardon” would have entailed, but President Gerald Ford famously gave an unconditional pardon to his predecessor Richard Nixon for any crimes committed while he was president.
There’s no concrete allegation of wrongdoing here, and a lot of hints and maybes. One obvious unanswered question is whether Costello and Citron truly were acting at Giuliani’s behest, or whether they were talking a big game in hopes of landing a high-profile client. Another is whether the “pre-pardon” talk went beyond wishful thinking on Cohen’s side.
No pardon promise seems to have materialized for Cohen — but this is a broader issue
Cohen did not hire Costello and Citron, and ended up striking plea deals with both SDNY and Mueller. He has also had a high-profile falling-out with Trump, and publicly attacked the president at length in his recent testimony.
So, while anything’s possible, it certainly seems unlikely that all these pardon talks resulted in Cohen receiving what he viewed as a credible pardon promise.
Still, it’s worth understanding the facts of what happened here to get a better sense of how the president’s team may use the possibility of pardons more broadly to interfere with investigations.
The New York Times has reported that in 2017, Trump’s then-lawyer John Dowd had talks with attorneys for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, in which he “broached the idea” of Trump pardoning them if they were to be charged by Mueller.
Flynn struck a plea deal with Mueller in December 2017, and committed to cooperate with investigators. Manafort, on the other hand, has fought the charges against him, and even after he eventually agreed to cooperate, Mueller’s team accused him of lying to them.
Trump’s use of pardons has drawn investigations’ interest, as potential obstruction of justice. In a recent court hearing, Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said Manafort could well be attempting to “augment his chances for a pardon.” Furthermore, a leaked list of questions Mueller wanted to ask Trump included one about “efforts” to “reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon.”
The recent ABC News story about Cohen suggests that SDNY prosecutors, too, could be looking into pardons. And when Cohen was asked at his testimony about his last communications with Trump’s team, he responded, “Unfortunately, this topic is something that’s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York, and I’ve been asked by them not to discuss and not to talk about these issues.”
For more on the Mueller probe, follow Andrew Prokop on Twitter and check out Vox’s guide to the Trump-Russia investigation.
What happens when a gothic lit expert moves into a haunted house
Welcome to Vox’s weekly book link roundup, a curated selection of the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects. Here’s the best the web has to offer for the week of May 19, 2019.
Another thing about that first workshop was that I heard something about myself that I had never heard before: that my story was protective and civilized and carefully managed. These to me seemed the primary virtues of fiction that I loved and that I wanted to write. There’s nothing I want more than peace and order. I had a difficult life. A strange life. And so in turning to fiction, I wanted to create for my characters a space where the urgent material of their lives would not contain the question of whether or not they would live or die. I wanted to write about people moving through the world who could count on more time, who didn’t have to confront the ugliness of violence and harm and malevolence. I wanted only to make for my characters a space where they could be. I left the workshop that night feeling like I had been struck by lightning. I was angry and ashamed.
Become a literary citizen of the world. Spend time in a foreign literary community by hatching an insane plot to launch a new Holy War against the infidels of Egypt, a plot so deeply deranged that when you finally manage to present your plan to Louis XIV, a king who enthusiastically led France into four major wars, he’s so appalled by the idea of a new crusade that he literally responds, “I have nothing to say.” Do all of this just to live in Paris for a bit.
“I don’t think the Times has ever seen this number of requests,” a veteran editor concurred, adding, “For department heads, it’s become almost impossible to manage.” The glut of big newsy projects that require essential beat reporters to take book leave is especially tricky. For one thing, there’s always concern among editors about balancing reporting that’s exclusive to books with reporting that can be published in the Times. More practically, as another Times journalist put it, “It’s kind of made the editors stand up and realize, holy shit, we have all these people writing books, and that’s an awful lot of man- and woman-power off the daily report in a pretty significant way.”
Books can be aesthetic signifiers, colorful set pieces of sorts, their spines telegraphing a certain gravitas — or a certain playfulness, depending on how they’re arranged. “I like to compare physical books to candles,” Mr. Blackwell said. “Light bulbs do the job, but there’s a strong aesthetic of a candle that puts soul into a room. Books do that, too. They create theater and drama.”
It is lined with red, marbled paper. On the inside cover, two skeletons hold a banner reading: “Statutum est hominibus semel mori,” or “All people are destined to die once.” It’s Hebrews 9:27, and it wouldn’t be nearly as ominous if it wasn’t next to 10 little drawers labeled with names of poisonous plants, and a mirrored shelf holding several little glass bottles.
The compartments bear the German names for hemlock, wolfsbane, foxglove, and more—all lethal, properly administered—and the suggestion seems to be that the little vials are there for a would-be poisoner to mix up their own deadly cocktails.
Stories give shape to experience, sometimes by accommodating traditional literary forms, sometimes by turning them upside down, sometimes by reorganizing them. Stories draw readers into their web, and engage them by putting them to work, body and soul, so that they can transform the black thread of writing into people, ideas, feelings, actions, cities, worlds, humanity, life. Storytelling, in other words, gives us the power to bring order to the chaos of the real under our own sign, and in this it isn’t very far from political power.
Of course, bookstores sell books, but these shops often serve other purposes as well. Leftist bookstores in particular commonly act as multipurpose spaces for local activists as well as stops for progressive and leftist authors’ book tours. In some smaller towns, these bookshops can be neighborhood or even city strongholds for locals who may not have many other places to safely and comfortably organize, or even just hang out. Bookshops that are not expressly political in their mission still frequently host authors whose work is political, and thus when these authors are targeted, often bookshops are as well.
This is the problem with white people, as Eddie Murphy assesses it in his 1983 standup comedy special Delirious: we stay in haunted houses, like idiots. We don’t heed the warnings; we don’t read the signs. In pursuit of the American dream of homeownership—the middle-class domestic ideal, the manicured lawn, the 30-year mortgage and its promise of equity and upward mobility—we colonize spaces, nominally vacant and hauntingly occupied, as if we belong there. As if it is our right.
Here’s a rundown of the past week in books at Vox:
As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!
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Whales dying from plastic bags: The alarming trend, explained
Another dead whale has washed ashore with a belly full of plastic.
This week, the carcass of the young sperm whale, estimated to have been 7 years old, was found on a beach in Cefalù, Italy. Investigators aren’t certain whether the plastic killed the whale. But it’s part of a gruesome pattern that’s become impossible to ignore.
In April, a pregnant sperm whale washed up on a beach in Sardinia with nearly 50 pounds’ worth of plastic bags, containers, and tubing in her stomach. Biologists in Florida last month euthanized a baby rough-toothed dolphin with two plastic bags and a shredded balloon in its stomach.
“The dolphin was very young and emaciated,” said Michelle Kerr, a spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in an email. “Due to a poor prognosis, the decision was made to humanely euthanize the animal on scene.”
In March, a 1,100-pound Cuvier’s beaked whale was recovered in the Philippines filled with 88 pounds of plastic bags, fishing line, and rice sacks. A beached sperm whale was found in Indonesia last year with more than 1,000 pieces of plastic inside.
As the quantity of plastic humans dump in the ocean has reached obscene proportions, we’re seeing more and more sea life — including birds, otters, sea turtles, and fish — choking on it.
But the impact on whales is particularly alarming. After centuries of whaling and overfishing, the survival of many whale species is already precarious. Now, just as their numbers are starting to recover, whales are consuming our toxic waste. And their deaths aren’t just about biodiversity loss: Whales play a critical role in marine ecosystems, which provide 3 billion people with their primary sources of protein.
To find out more about why whales are so vulnerable to plastic waste, I talked to Lars Bejder, director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the University of Hawaii Manoa. He said there are multiple mechanisms at work here and that dying isn’t the only plastic hazard for whales, and explained why the problem will only get worse.
There’s a gargantuan amount of plastic in the ocean
The root cause of these stranded, plastic-filled whales is that plastic is cheap and easy to produce but almost impossible for nature to destroy. Chunks of plastic linger for decades, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces. This waste then churns in the ocean in massive gyres.
Roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic — a mass greater than that of the Great Pyramid of Giza — enters the ocean each year.
Meanwhile, we’re still trying to figure out how much plastic waste has already accumulated in the ocean. A study published this week in the journal Scientific Reports estimated that 414 million bits of garbage weighing 238 tons have been deposited on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands 1,300 miles off the coast of Australia. It’s a sign that even the most remote regions of the world are now contaminated with the detritus of civilization.
“Sadly, the situation on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is not unique, with significant quantities of debris documented on islands and coastal areas from the Arctic to the Antarctic,” researchers wrote. “[G]lobal debris surveys, the majority of which are focused solely on surface debris, have drastically underestimated the scale of debris accumulation.”
And the amount of plastic waste in the ocean is surging. Our current trajectory puts us on track to have more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum.
So for the largest, hungriest animals in the ocean, plastic is becoming an unwelcome part of their diets.
Different whales face different risks from plastic
Whales are among the more intelligent creatures in the ocean, so why aren’t they smart enough to avoid eating plastic?
Well, one reason is that often plastic is in their food.
Small crustaceans like krill and tiny fish like anchovies often end up inadvertently consuming microplastics. Whales, the largest animals ever known to have existed, have a voracious appetite for these critters. A blue whale eats between 2 and 4 tons of krill per day.
Whales like the blue whale have baleen plates in their mouths that act as filters, trapping their small prey as well as small bits of plastic. This means they are less likely to ingest larger plastic waste items like bottles and containers, but the small plastic bits they consume quickly pile up.
“These baleen whales filter hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of water per day,” Bejder said. “You can imagine all these microplastics they encounter through this filtration process that then become bioaccumulated.”
Microplastics are unlikely to obstruct the digestive tract of a baleen whale, but as they build up inside an animal’s tissues, they can leach toxic chemicals like endocrine disruptors that make the creature sick. This problem can affect all ocean filter feeders, including manta rays and whale sharks.
That means there could be large whales dying of plastic poisoning without obvious culprits like flip-flops and food containers in their stomachs, according to Bejder.
A study published this week in Royal Society Open Science also reported that plastic pollution is more dangerous to baleen whales than oil spills. “Particle capture studies suggest potentially greater danger to [baleen whales] from plastic pollution than oil,” the authors wrote.
Toothed whales like sperm whales and dolphins normally catch bigger prey, like squid. But since they can swallow larger animals, they are vulnerable to larger chunks of plastic, like bags and nets.
“They might be seeking those out because they’re thinking they might be prey,” Bejder said. A plastic container in murky waters could resemble a fish to a toothed whale, or a sperm whale may inadvertently swallow plastic garbage as it hunts for a meal.
Once ingested, the plastic piles up in the whale’s stomach. It can then obstruct bowels, preventing whales from digesting food and leading them to starve to death. It can also give a whale a false sense of being full, leading the whale to eat less and get weaker. That leaves it vulnerable to predators and disease.
We’re only seeing a tiny fraction of the whales being harmed by plastic
Part of the reason we pay so much attention to whales killed by plastic is because the whales themselves are very big and the plastic culprits are startlingly obvious. Large animals decay slowly, giving people plenty of time to figure out the cause of death, whereas smaller fish and crustaceans dying from plastic decompose quickly and are rarely investigated. Even for casual observers, a dead whale blocking a beach vacation photo is pretty hard to ignore.
Still, we’re missing a big part of the picture.
“The ones that land on the beach that are killed through ingestion, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. They’re just the ones that we see,” Bejder said. “I’m sure that many, many marine mammals have some levels of plastic bags and plastic items in their stomachs.”
Many more whales could be dying from plastic poisoning without our knowledge. Around the Gulf of Mexico for example, 2 to 6 percent of whale carcasses end up on a shoreline. That means the vast majority sink to the ocean floor. This is likely the case for most of the world’s waters.
And the fact that whales are suffering shows that our marine ecosystems in general are in peril. “Whales, baleen whales, these larger dolphins species are pretty much at the top of the food chain,” Bejder said. “They are sentinels of ocean health for sure.”
But with more plastic waste pouring into the ocean, the prognosis for the most mega of megafauna is grim.
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