Donald Trump should have known not to trust Michael Cohen

People reveal themselves to us.
People reveal themselves to us.
Image: AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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So Michael Cohen has turned on his highest-profile client, Donald Trump.

For years, the American lawyer went above and beyond to protect the interests of Trump the businessman and Trump the president. It sometimes involved shady business. For Trump, Cohen created shell companies; he paid people off; he issued threats. Last year he claimed he would take a bullet for Trump.

But Cohen hinted at a change in posture this month in the midst of a deepening investigation, announcing that his first loyalty was to his family—hence, not to Trump. And sure enough, things have started to come out.

This week, it emerged that Cohen had taped a conversation with Trump in which the two men discussed buying the rights to a Playboy model’s story of an alleged affair she claimed to have had with Trump years ago. Now, according to multiple news reports, Cohen is ready to tell special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump had prior knowledge of the now-infamous June 2016 meeting between his son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin who had promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Trump denied this, attacking his former confidante in the process:

But the circle of people defending the president is getting smaller. Aside from his close family, there is no reason to doubt others might turn against him, should things get tough. It’s already happened, after all, with former White House advisor Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn, Trump’s initial pick for national security advisor.

This time it’s Cohen, with each leak offering further evidence of how misguided Trump is in choosing his closest collaborators.

This begins and ends with an issue of values: For Trump, personal loyalty is the most important trait when he picks his confidants. That’s a terrible metric.

Trump witnessed Cohen lie, and threat, and cheat for him. Evidently—understandably, even—he read that as a sign of dedication. Instead, he should have seen it for what it showed: that Cohen was capable of lying, threatening, cheating. He was Trump’s pitbull—and there was no reason to expect he wouldn’t turn to bite his owner.

There is a simple rule that applies to business deals, management, relationships—in short, life: Liars lie. Cheaters cheat. You don’t want someone who would do anything for you as a partner, an employee, or personal lawyer; you want someone who would do anything moral for you. Sure, it’s tempting to believe that someone who makes you an accomplice of their lies by confiding in you is somehow allowing you into a deeper circle of trust, but it’s not true.

What they are doing, instead, is showing you flawed morals and character—and those are people who shouldn’t be kept close, but at arm’s length.