Donald Trump has a well-earned reputation for flagrantly disregarding his attorneys’ advice, and then refusing to pay them for services rendered; also, for bragging about sexually assaulting women, praising white nationalists, denigrating racial and religious minorities, and trying to undermine the rule of law in the United States.
These infamous habits have made it exceedingly difficult for the president to find quality legal representation. So, last Friday, Trump found himself ringing up his old divorce lawyer to get some fresh perspective on his myriad legal woes.
That attorney, Jay Goldberg, proceeded to tell the president that his longtime lawyer (and current target of federal prosecutors) Michael Cohen “will never stand up [for you]” if charged by the government. Days later, Goldberg told The Wall Street Journal the same thing — going so far as to liken Cohen to the Gambino crime family’s famous snitch, Sammy ‘the Bull’ Gravano. That latter move was a bit strange; as Jonathan Chait observed, Goldberg’s comments to the Journal plainly imply that the president is guilty of a crime that Cohen could reveal to authorities.
So, on Thursday, Goldberg went on CNN to clean up the PR mess he had created. In an interview with Erin Burnett, Goldberg clarified that he did not believe Cohen would “flip,” because “‘flip’ means to me that when faced with the potential of spending time in jail, he will tell the truth.” Rather, Goldberg insisted, his concern was that Cohen would give false testimony against the president to escape jail time.
Trump’s legal adviser did not explain why this false testimony would pose a threat to the president, given how difficult it would ostensibly be to corroborate. Goldberg did, however, offer a more elaborate explanation for why Michael Cohen would go to such lengths to avoid incarceration.
“He’s of a type that I’ve recognized in the past as one not suited to stand up to the rigors of jail life,” Goldberg explained. “It’s difficult to say this — prison has a racial overtone. Michael doesn’t see himself walking down Broadway while people are clamoring, ‘You’re going to be my wife.’”
The unmistakable implication of Goldberg’s remarks: Michael Cohen will tell prosecutors whatever they want to hear because he is afraid of being raped in prison — specifically, by a fellow inmate who has “racial overtones.”
Coincidentally, shortly after Goldberg offered these reflections, the Justice Department released former FBI director James Comey’s memos — including one in which the president “jokes” about punishing journalists who report leaks by subjecting them to prison rape.
Around 80,000 people are sexually abused in American correctional facilities every year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That epidemic of sexual violence is a humanitarian catastrophe, and blatant violation of the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The fact that it is treated as a laughing matter in American popular culture is an indictment of our collective morality, and an insight into how good, god-fearing people can accommodate themselves to inhuman political regimes.
Anyhow, it seems fair to say that Goldberg’s showing on CNN did not inspire much confidence about his acumen as a cable-news surrogate, let alone as a defense attorney. If the president wants an attorney who will stay on message and avoid controversy, he’d be better off with someone more reliable — like, say, Rudy Giuliani.