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Lanny Davis reversal on Michael Cohen, CNN story sparks backlash

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Lanny Davis
Lanny Davis.
Sean
Gallup/Getty Images


  • Michael Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis has made stunning
    reversals in recent days.
  • Experts say it could make it much more difficult for
    Cohen to be viewed as a valuable witness in other
    investigations.
  • Meanwhile, the reversals have caused CNN to come under
    fire for a story from which Davis has backed away.
  • But CNN is standing firmly by its report.

Michael Cohen’s attorney has come under fire in recent days after
backtracking on explosive claims that his client had knowledge
that President Donald Trump knew in advance of the controversial
June 2016 Trump Tower meeting involving top campaign officials
and a Russian lawyer.

The reversal from Lanny Davis, the attorney, sparked widespread
condemnation — particularly on the right — of
a July CNN story citing
multiple sources who claimed Cohen was prepared to tell special
counsel Robert Mueller about Trump’s advance knowledge of the
meeting. It also opened up Cohen to new questions about his
credibility and, experts told Business Insider, it may complicate
his ability to cooperate in other investigations.

Last week, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts of federal
felonies, including two campaign-finance violations stemming from
hush money payments to a pair of women who alleged affairs with
Trump.

Davis’s reversals have brought a July CNN story under the
microscope:

  • In the story, “sources with knowledge” told CNN that Cohen
    knew that Trump knew in advance about the Trump Tower
    meeting and was “willing to make that assertion” to
    Mueller. 
  • Trump has has publicly denied this.
  • The sources told CNN that Cohen was in the room with several
    others when Trump first learned of the Russians’ offer to meet.
  • A source told CNN that Cohen did not testify that Trump had
    advance knowledge when he was testifying before the House
    Intelligence Committee.
  • CNN said that Davis “declined to comment.”

At the time, Trump’s team hit back. The president’s personal
attorney, Rudy Giuliani, called Cohen a “pathological liar” who
has been “lying for years.”

Giuliani has shared his thoughts on Davis’s
credibility to Business Insider
, pointing to the attorney’s
past work for former President Bill Clinton. Davis served Clinton
as an attorney and spokesman amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

What happened

Last week, nearly a month after the CNN story ran and right after
Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court, Davis seemed to contradict
the report, raising some eyebrows.

“I think the reporting of the story got mixed up in the course of
a criminal investigation,” Davis told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“We were not the source of the story.”

  • Davis then told The New York Post and
    The Washington Post, two
    outlets to which Davis had confirmed the CNN story, that he
    actually could not independently confirm it.
  • In his interview with The Washington Post, Davis also walked
    back from another claim — that Cohen could provide Mueller with
    information suggesting Trump knew in advance about Russian
    hacking efforts.
  • Additionally, Davis told Axios last week that he
    didn’t shoot down the CNN story earlier because “we were not
    the source, we could not confirm, and we could not
    correct.” 


michael cohen
Michael
Cohen.

Craig Ruttle/Associated
Press


But after initially denying he was a source in the CNN story,
Davis told BuzzFeed on
Monday
 that he was an anonymous source for the
publication. That contradicted words he said on CNN days prior.

“I made a mistake,” Davis told BuzzFeed, adding that he didn’t
lie to Cooper but just “unintentionally misspoke.”

CNN comes under fire

CNN is standing by the story, and two employees told Business
Insider the network’s level of commitment is “100%.”

Those people, who requested anonymity to discuss internal
deliberations, pointed to the multiple sources who provided the
outlet with the information and what they said is an ulterior
motive Davis could have for suddenly changing his tune.

After Cohen made his plea deal last week, leaders of the Senate Intelligence
Committee issued a statement saying
they “recently reengaged
with Mr. Cohen and his team following press reports that
suggested he had advance knowledge of the June 2016 meeting
between campaign officials and Russian lawyers at Trump Tower.”

“Mr. Cohen had testified before the Committee that he was not
aware of the meeting prior to its disclosure in the press last
summer,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr and
Vice Chairman Mark Warner said. “As such, the Committee inquired
of Mr. Cohen’s legal team as to whether Mr. Cohen stood by his
testimony. They responded that he did stand by his testimony.”

If Davis, speaking on behalf of his client, stood by his original
comments to CNN, Cohen could be opened up to a perjury charge.

Some critics called for
CNN
 to issue some sort of
correction
 — or even a full-blown retraction — but
the CNN employees said that’s not under consideration. One person
said the reaction to Davis’s reversal is “overblown” and there
was “no freak out” among people inside the network.

That person added that CNN would make immediate amendments if the
story was incorrect, but they haven’t found any reason to believe
it is untrue. The person pointed to Davis saying not that the
story was false, but simply that he cannot independently confirm
it, as bolstering CNN’s argument.

A second CNN employee said Davis was one of at least two “primary
sources” on the story. The backlash to the story is “an attempt
to delegitimize” CNN, the other person said.

On Tuesday afternoon, two of the reporters who authored the
original CNN piece wrote on Davis’s reversals in an
attempt to provide clarity
amid the backlash.

Davis did not return a request for comment from Business
Insider. Cohen has not publicly addressed Davis’s reversals
or the CNN story itself.

Legal experts: Davis just harmed Cohen’s credibility

Legal experts told Business Insider that Davis’ reversals could
prove harmful to Cohen if he wants to further cooperate with the
government in any ongoing investigations.

“To the extent that Michael Cohen knew that Lanny Davis would
make (or had made) that representation and took no steps to
repudiate it, that would create a credibility issue that could be
used on cross-examination,” Mitchell Epner, an attorney at
Rottenberg Lipman Rich and a former federal prosecutor in the
District of New Jersey, told Business Insider. “Special Counsel
Mueller would consider that information as part of the baggage
that comes with Michael Cohen.”

Even if Cohen “immediately denied” the veracity of Davis’
statements, Epner said there is still “a potential credibility
problem in the fact that Lanny Davis continues to represent
Michael Cohen.”

Epner said he was surprised Cohen hired Davis originally because
of Davis’ past comments on Cohen-related
issues.

“It is difficult for an attorney to represent a client when that
attorney has previously attacked the credibility of that
individual,” Epner said.

Roland Riopelle, a partner at Sercarz & Riopelle who was
formerly a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New
York, seconded Epner’s assessment, telling Business Insider in an
email that the reversals “reduce Mr. Cohen’s value as a witness
because they provide fodder for any future cross-examiner.”

“Mr. Davis has done a disservice to his client, in my opinion, by
presenting his case in the press and then contradicting himself
and making grandiose claims about what Mr. Cohen knows or can
do,” he said. “These sorts of statements may very well benefit
the Clintons … but they do not benefit Mr. Cohen.”

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