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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Will Michael Cohen tough it out?

| Saturday, April 28, 2018, 5:11 p.m.
President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen (center) leaves the U.S. Courthouse in New York on April 26, 2018.
AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen (center) leaves the U.S. Courthouse in New York on April 26, 2018.

“I can do two years standing on my head.” That was once the mantra of tough guys who were looking at a stint in prison, but you do not hear it much anymore.

Things change, and between mandatory sentences and strict sentencing guidelines, especially at the federal level, the boast is not so simple. These days, even the toughest among the accused must decide if they can do 10 or 20 or even more years — standing on their heads.

Depending on your age, a sentence like that can be a game ender. If you are older, a long sentence becomes a life sentence, with a strong possibility that you will die in prison.

If you are younger, you face the prospect of never seeing your kids grow up, along with losing family and friends. And, when you are finally released, you will enter a new and different world, alone and without prospects.

Those are the things that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal lawyer, could be pondering lately. After federal agents raided Cohen's office and hotel room, seizing files and electronic devices, no one could blame him for imagining the worst.

Cohen has not been charged with anything and he may not be. But, he has been around he block a few times, and he knows the drill.

In “Behind Bars,” a handbook of sorts for folks who are facing prison time, authors Jeffrey Ian Ross and Stephen C. Richards describe what is a familiar scene to anyone who has spent time in the legal trenches.

“You might think you'd never snitch on your friends or acquaintances or plead guilty to a crime, but you might end up singing like a bird … ”

Your interrogators may threaten to arrest your family and confiscate your assets “to compel confessions, collaborating testimony and plea bargains.”

Cohen's Ukrainian-immigrant in-laws have invested successfully in New York City, but their success, along with their Russian associates, is now drawing unwanted attention, making Cohen even more vulnerable to this approach on other fronts.

Ross and Richards call all this “the mathematics of terror,” but Cohen still has some cards to play. Lawyer-client confidentiality and presidential power weigh heavily on his future.

In Politico last week, Josh Gerstein wrote, “Although Trump's detractors are rooting for Trump's personal attorney to flip on the president ... legal obstacles make it difficult for lawyers to expose their clients' guarded secrets.” The privilege belongs to Trump, and it is not Cohen's to waive.

Plus, there is always the possibility of a presidential pardon, but that would only free him from prosecution for federal crimes. If there are parallel state investigations, even the president of the United States could not stop those prosecutions.

There are still a few tough guys out there, unwilling to flip on someone in exchange for the guarantee of a lighter sentence. Some are innocent, and pleading guilty to anything would be an unimaginable concession. Others remain bound to an old-fashioned notion of personal honor.

Michael Cohen is in a tight spot. And, while he may have fancied himself as a tough guy up until now, things change.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (

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