By Maggie Koerth-Baker of FiveThirtyEight
Will Michael Cohen flip? The media have been debating that question ever since the FBI raided the office of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer on April 8. Cohen is under investigation for bank fraud and campaign finance violations, and while that case is separate from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, many have wondered if Cohen will be tempted to help Mueller in exchange for a little leniency on his own legal troubles. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, one of the country’s foremost Trump whisperers, said on CNN that Cohen could end up having to choose between “his life or the president’s.”
But the key question about somebody like Cohen is not only “will he flip” but also “should we trust him if he does?” A Cohen flip would be a big red flag to researchers who study what’s known as “accomplice witnesses.” These kinds of witnesses aren’t treated with enough scrutiny by juries, experts said, and the use of accomplice witnesses and other informants by prosecutors is largely unregulated and undocumented. That’s led some experts to be suspicious about any case that hinges on testimony from someone who is incentivized to talk.