Anybody who has paid close attention to press reports claiming that Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Alan Weisselberg could be the "perfect storm of cooperators" probably already realizes that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and New York state investigators are grasping at straws. But in case you needed any more evidence, consider a report Thursday afternoon from ABC News citing anonymous sources (likely from inside the Mueller camp, just like all other leaks pertaining to grand jury testimony or private meetings with investigators) claiming that Cohen has sat for hours worth of interviews with investigators from the special counsel's office.
The special counsel’s questioning of Cohen, one of the president’s closest associates over the past decade, has focused primarily on all aspects of Trump's dealings with Russia -- including financial and business dealings and the investigation into alleged collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign and its surrogates to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, sources familiar with the matter tell ABC News.
Investigators were also interested in knowing, the sources say, whether Trump or any of his associates discussed the possibility of a pardon with Cohen.
ABC News has also learned that Cohen is also cooperating with a separate probe by New York state authorities into the inner workings of the Trump family charity and the Trump Organization, where Cohen served as an executive vice president and special counsel to Trump for 10 years.
But here is the key detail from the report that many readers might overlook.
The interviews with Cohen took place in Washington, D.C., and New York City. They were also attended in part by prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York.
Cohen’s participation in the meetings has been voluntary -- without any guarantee of leniency from prosecutors, according to several people familiar with the situation.
As was widely reported at the time, Cohen struck a deal with prosecutors over the summer that guaranteed him leniency in exchange for his cooperation with federal investigators. So if ABC's reporting is accurate, these meetings happened over the summer, or even earlier...
...Which means that if Cohen had given investigators anything substantial, that information would have leaked by now.
As has become the norm now that every minor tidbit of information leaked from the office of prosecutors has become newsworthy, this is the only new information contained in the report. Literally 75% of its 1,500+ word count is background and filler.
Since Mueller first announced the indictment against Manafort, Mueller and other prosecutors have been putting the screws to potential cooperators in the hopes of squeezing out some actionable intel - or the mythical smoking gun that will show the Trump campaign directly coordinated with Russia. But prosecutors can fish for as long as they like - the reality is, unless one of these increasingly desperate witnesses decides to flat-out lie or fabricate evidence, Mueller won't be able to cobble together a case strong enough to justify bringing the first indictment of a sitting US president in the history of the Republic.
But instead of telling prosecutors to kiss off, Cohen, Manafort and the like have every incentive to go through the motions. After all, Mueller and his colleagues in the Southern District are using crimes like bank fraud - which have nothing to do with the campaign or Trump - to put the screws to Cohen & Co. This means that, if Cohen and Manafort want to have a prayer of preserving some of their wealthy so that their families don't wind up in the poor house, they have no choice but to play ball.