When former Trump attorney Michael Cohen testified before Congress last month, he leveled numerous accusations against President Donald Trump, and for some, he brought along documentation to bolster his case.
Now, CNN reports that Cohen also has two emails showing that an attorney working with Rudy Giuliani, counsel for the president, assured him he could “sleep well tonight” because he had “friends in high places” in April 2018.
New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait believes this is a solid first step to showing that Trump obstructed justice during the investigation, by dangling a pardon in front of Cohen in hopes he would not flip.
Attorney Robert Costello sent Cohen an email on April 21, writing: "Rudy said this communication channel must be maintained. He called it crucial and noted how reassured they were that they had someone like me whom Rudy has known for so many years in this role."
Costello closed out the email with, "Sleep well tonight, you have friends in high places."
The narratives provided by Cohen and Costello regarding the email’s context could not be more different: Cohen says it raised the possibility of a pardon; Costello says it was a reference to a Garth Brooks song.
But Chait notes that if Trump was dangling a pardon in front of Cohen, which appears the more likely scenario, he cannot necessarily rely on the power to pardon as a legitimate use of presidential authority — which it is.
This situation is not about Trump issuing a pardon. It’s about Trump dangling a pardon.
As Alex Whiting explained, the argument for why a president can pardon his own subordinates is that it’s a public act, and the voters can examine the facts and look at whether the president acted corruptly in issuing the pardon. “As long as it remained secret,” he notes, “it could be done without incurring any of the political downstream consequences that come with actually pardoning someone.”
Even as staunch an advocate of presidential authority as William Barr agreed in his confirmation hearings that dangling pardons could be obstruction of justice. “Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?” asked Senator Pat Leahy. “No. That would be a crime,” replied Barr.