I have to admit I was a little insulted when Michael Cohen explained that his job as Donald Trump's lawyer was to be his "fixer." For more than a decade, I was widely known around my old law firm as the firm fixer. "Plumber" was another of my nicknames. Technically, I created the Crisis Law & Strategy Group. At my new firm, Boies Schiller Flexner, I've created a practice group to do precisely what Mr. Cohen didn't know how to do: actually fix things, because all companies and many leaders have issues — including gender issues — that could be tinder for a "Me Too" moment. You fix things by getting there before the fire, by working with management and the board to review culture and complaints and concerns and situations so they don't plague the company, or the candidate.
The thing is, Michael Cohen didn't fix anything. Fixing things involves solving problems, not creating new ones, much less producing documentary evidence of your lies and disregard for the law, all of which he did. He was a terrible lawyer, as well as a criminal one.
He lied. Stupid. Sometimes I may leave something out. Sometimes I may choose to shoot down a straw man. I look at things as an advocate. I have a message. But I never lie. You lie, you're a liar. Michael Cohen's idea of fixing things was to lie for his client, which not only made him a criminal but also makes his client look like one.
Don't write threatening letters about your client's lousy grades. They'll come out anyway, with more attention because of the letter, which will come out, too. Cover-ups and threats are way worse than C's.
Cohen seemed almost proud of his "catch and kill" system where he would stop a negative article before it was printed by working with the parent company of the National Enquirer. Four points. First, how shocking to hear that not everything in the Enquirer is true. Second, whoever sees a story before it gets killed will probably give it to someone else. Third, not to insult the Enquirer, but if the Enquirer can figure it out, somebody else in the "fake media" will. And, finally, everyone in politics hears about stories before they run, and you always try to shape them or kill them. Not a Cohen invention. But you do that by convincing the reporters and editors (not the parent company) that they're wrong. Just by telling the story, Cohen destroyed whatever shred of integrity the Enquirer tries to hold onto. Which means, if I were an Enquirer reporter and not a "real" reporter, I'd be out to show Cohen that his days of "catch and kill" are over.
Not only did Cohen not fix anything; his understanding that a "fixer" is the same as an errand boy for his client is an insult to my profession. On behalf of Deb Yang and Mark Fabiani and Eric Holder and Jamie Gorelick and all the lawyers who work for high-profile clients in the most high-stress situations, where they want you to "fix" things yesterday, let me just say that Mr. Cohen is not one of us. The first qualification of a real fixer (even before adequate intelligence, which he also lacked) is the guts to say no to power. Lawyers advise, and clients decide, but advising doesn't mean saying yes to whatever the client wants. The client has people to do that. Mostly in situations like this, it involves saying no, or "not now," or "not until we talk more," or "not until you try to let me resolve this informally," or "not until we've consulted with my partner to get his view."
Trump didn't want a lawyer like that. He wanted exactly the lawyer he got. I almost feel sorry for Cohen. He wasn't the adviser, and he wasn't the fixer. He was just another pawn of a king he made the mistake of worshipping.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.