Michael Cohen, a lawyer close to the Trump Organization, was the subject of an in-depth post this summer.
It’s time for an update since Cohen’s name just surfaced in newly-released emails about a potential Trump Tower project in Moscow.
The project was not pursued beyond preliminary discussions and was not built.
This post covers the latest news, followed by the profile of Cohen.
What’s New in the Story about Michael Cohen, Trump, and Moscow?
As Trump, in late 2015, revved up to run for President, his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and an associate, Russian immigrant/American businessman Felix Sater, worked to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow. They failed, but the lines from an email Sater sent Cohen are the stuff of David Mamet. “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.” Or, “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected.”
Cohen later followed up, sort of, by attempting to re-rev up the flagging deal, writing to Trump’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, using a general email inbox because he didn’t have Peskov’s address. Nothing came of the project—In a statement released on Monday, Cohen said that Sater was given to “salesmanship”—but Cohen comes off looking like a clueless, contactless rube. Nonetheless, it has dropped the Russia collusion story back in the headlines just as Trump is trying to make headlines about his no-one-has-ever-done-it-better performance as the Harvey-Houston-hurricane consoler in chief.
The killer line in the New York Times story (link here) is Sater admitting what he really wanted out of the attempt to put a gleaming Trump Tower in midtown Moscow—“the home run,” in Sater’s words— to be appointed ambassador to the Bahamas. (That makes him no different from rich people—all those Obama bundlers, for example—who buy their glamorous (no war zones or poverty that can’t be hidden) ambassadorships.
I spent many hours earlier this year researching Cohen whose biography is so zany, so colorful that it would make a wonderful novel or screenplay; only problem being that an editor would say, “You can’t use that plot line, that anecdote, that incident; no one would believe it.”
Here’s my look at Cohen who remains in the clutches of the House and Senate Intelligence committees, which, last May, subpoenaed his “information and testimony.”
The Bully’s Bully
Roy Cohn? Tom Hagen?
◆ Michael Cohen made headlines big time, as his boss, Donald Trump, might say, when he was falsely accused in the infamous “dossier,” complied by a former British spy who was paid by Trump’s opponents. Major media outlets reported tales of Cohen, then Trump’s special counsel and executive VP of the Trump Organization, meeting in August, 2016 in Prague with Kremlin representatives to deliver a peace plan for Ukraine that would somehow allow the Trump administration to ease sanctions against Russia.
The story, reported widely in major media outlets, was totally discredited, on many fronts, one of which was Cohen showing that he was in Los Angeles on those dates visiting colleges with his son. Cohen tweeted a photograph of his passport with the hashtag #fakenews and wrote that never in his whole life had he ever been to Prague.
◆ Cohen, 50, occupied the office beside Donald Trump on the 26th floor of Manhattan’s Trump Tower. Nicknamed Trump’s “pit bull,” he has served as the Donald’s lawyer, top enforcer, and the concocter of the most absurd, outlandish arguments in defense of his boss.
He is, in some ways, the reincarnated Roy Cohn; the disgraced lawyer/bully, who was once chief counsel to Joe McCarthy and later represented the young Donald Trump. (Cohn died of AIDS in 1986, abandoned at the end by the germophobe Trump who had once considered Cohn his closest personal and legal advisor and his “greatest” friend.)
During the campaign, any complaints from political opponents were met with the response that Michael Cohen had nothing to do with the campaign. “I’m not part of the campaign,” Cohen said to every cable host who would have him, and they all had him because he was correctly perceived to be thisclose to Trump. Politico, last summer, quoted a “Trump insider” as describing Cohen as “….in the room for everything …without exception.”
He left the Trump Organization last January but continues as the President’s personal attorney based in New York.
From Backstage to Center Stage
◆ In the last few days, he has taken center stage as the House Intelligence Committee– part of its investigation in alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election–subpoenaed Cohen’s testimony, personal documents and business records. After first saying he would not cooperate, Cohen changed his mind, texting a New York Times reporter, “To date, there has not been a single witness, document or piece of evidence linking me to this fake Russian conspiracy. This is not surprising to me because there is none!” (The NYT story is here.)
A kind of all-purpose consigliere—reporters like to compare him to Tom Hagen, Vito Corleone’s adviser in “The Godfather”–Cohen has been taking on Trump’s enemies since 2006. That was the year he gave up his partnership in a personal injury law firm that had represented Trump and joined the Trump Organization.
During the campaign, he remained Trump’s most reliable surrogate in sparring with cable hosts—CNN’s Chris Cuomo, in particular, couldn’t seem to get enough of Cohen.
Putting Out Fires, Lots of Them
He does not kill them with kindness
◆ Last summer, when a reporter described a charge of rape that Trump’s first wife and the mother of three of his children lodged against him in 1993, Cohen hit back hard and mean, threatening a Daily Beast writer with not only a $500 million lawsuit, but also: “… Tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting….And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse….. And there’s very clear case law.” (In fact, all 50 states have laws that consider nonconsensual sex with a spouse to constitute rape. Cohen later apologized.)
Again, complaints were answered with the convenient disclaimer that Cohen is Trump’s business, not political, counsel.
In reality, Cohen had been up to the knot in his Hermes tie with Trump’s frequent flirtations with running for office.
Cohen relished recalling highlights of past fledging, exploratory campaigns. In 2012, for instance, when he led a “draft Trump” movement, did advance work for Trump, scoped out New Hampshire and Iowa, and created a “Should Trump Run?” website. “I already mapped out everything that has to be done to be an effective candidate,” he boasted, “and what we’d have to do to get on the ballot on all 50 states.” When Trump threatened to mount a third-party run in 2012 to “make American great again,” Cohen, described as Trump’s “counsel and spokesman,” was at the boss’s side.
This cycle, Cohen created the “National Diversity Coalition” to boost Trump’s numbers with minorities. He described the group of mostly African-American pastors as his “vision” and boasted to Chris Cuomo: “We have an enormous amount of African-Americans, Hispanics. He won in New York amongst Hispanics, male and female in New York. This notion that let’s keep knocking Donald Trump. He’s a racist. He’s misogynist. He’s sexist. None of them are true.”
Tackling Trump’s Critics Head On
◆ If Trump seems intemperate in confronting his critics, Cohen is, figuratively speaking, foaming at the mouth.
In 2011 Cohen told ABC News, “If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit…..If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck, and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.” In 2013, when New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a fraud suit against Trump University, Cohen responded: “The damage to the attorney general is going to be very significant,” he told The New Yorker. “So significant that he will possibly have to resign.” Earlier this month, Cohen told CNN’s Erin Burnett that “Trump University had a 98 percent approval rating…..Why don’t you ask [about]…. the 14-year-old boy who went with his mom and ended up making a million dollars?”
The Daily Mail described Cohen more recently as he “gleefully reminisced about ruining the reputation of former Miss Pennsylvania Sheena Monnin after she suggested Miss USA had been rigged.”
During the campaign, the artist who drew a nude portrait of Trump sporting a tiny penis—relevant only because of the loony Rubio/Trump exchange over hand/penis size—was threatened by Cohen with a law suit. Same for the New York Times, after it ran last month’s story on Trump’s treatment of women. (Cohen later said he’d settle for a retraction and an apology; he got neither.) Before RNC head Reince Priebus accepted that the GOP was stuck with Trump as its party’s nominee, Cohen blasted Priebus for doing a “terrible” job and meekly implementing the establishment’s plan to prevent his boss from becoming the nominee. Either Trump gets treated fairly,” Cohen blustered, or “this will be a very, very bad thing for the Republican Party….. Woe be on them.”
In June 2016, Trump tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton with the concocted message that she had “murdered an ambassador,” referring to American ambassador Christopher Stevens slaughtered in a 2012 attack on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. (The Washington Post headlined the story as “Trump Lawyer Tweets Image Saying Hillary Clinton ‘Murdered’ Ambassador“)
Fiercely Loyal to “The Patriarch”
◆ Like Trump—always “Mr. Trump” to Cohen—the American University-educated (college and law school) Cohen will say anything to boost the boss–“an entrepreneur extraordinaire,…insanely bright,” Cohen told CNN’s Jake Tapper. The “best [negotiator] in the history of this world,” Cohen told Chris Cuomo. In January 2013, when CNN reported that Trump was considering buying the New York Times. Cohen weighed in: “Mr. Trump is so smart and so rich that if he wants it, he will get it. ….There is nothing he can’t buy.” (One could argue that Cohen, in making this boast, had the presidency in mind as well.)
For those close to him, Cohen told The Jewish Chronicle’s Sandy Rashty, “Mr. Trump” is “… more than our boss. He is our patriarch.”
Cohen was at the ready during this campaign with public defenses of anything Trump might say or do. The boss’s wild gesticulation as he mimicked New York Times reporter Serge Kovalski’s physical disability: “Mr. Trump donates millions and millions of dollars, each and every year in order to combat disabilities.”
Trump’s evidence-free claim that thousands of Muslims celebrated in Jersey City on 9/11 when the Twin Towers came down: “I can tell you that Mr. Trump’s memory is fantastic, and I’ve never [witnessed] a situation where Mr. Trump has said something that is not accurate.” To bolster Trump’s charge, during an exchange with Jake Tapper, Cohen added that he has heard that the cheers were coming not only from Jersey City, but also from Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
Oh, and Trump’s comments about Mexicans—rapists, drug dealers, etc.—his boss “never made any derogatory or disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants.”
Not only that, he “has a great relationship with Latinos.”
If elected president, Trump, would “go down in history as the Great Unifier,” Cohen told The Jewish Chronicle’s Sandy Rashty,
Another candidate for his party’s nomination might fire an underling who made, for example, the rape remark. Cohen kept his job. In 2011 The Forward’s Josh Nathan-Kazis quoted Cohen as explaining Trump’s indecision about running for president and his shifting views on abortion: “People change their positions all the time, the way they change their wives.”
Michael Cohen at Home
◆ Cohen, married and the father of two—see below–is the son of a Holocaust survivor. Raised on Long Island and educated in a Yeshiva there, he calls himself an “agnostic Jew.”
Last month, he tweeted to his 218,000 twitter followers a photo of his “Ivy League” daughter Samantha wearing black stockings and a lacy bra. “So proud…brains and beauty…”
“Jealous?” Cohen responded when one twitter user suggested that the photo was pornographic. (The Washington Post report on that incident is here.)
Like Trump, A Democrat for Many Years
◆ Like two of Trump’s children, Cohen was a registered democrat and so couldn’t vote for the boss in New York’s GOP primary. (He registered as a republican last March and joined the RNC’s finance leadership team.)
His democratic roots run deep—once an intern for Massachusetts democratic Rep. Joe Moakley, he also volunteered for Michael Dukakis’s presidential run in 1988, and voted for Obama in 2008. He now calls that vote a mistake, explaining, in true Trumpian terms, that he quickly grew disillusioned. Under Obama, he told ABC News, America has become a “third-world nation.”
Cohen has himself given a whirl to elective politics. In 2003 he ran for a New York City Council seat, losing badly to Success Academy founder/charter school maven Eva Moskovitz. In 2009, he lasted only a few weeks in a run for a New York state senate seat.
Cohen owns several apartments in Trump buildings and mixes with, in Cohen’s words in an ABC interview, “super high net worth people.” He favors Dolce & Gabbana suits and, as mentioned, Hermes ties. (Apparently the loyalty to Trump goes far, but not so far as to wear Trump’s made-in-China ties.)
After severing ties with Trump’s company, Cohen, in typically hyperbolic terms, told the Washington Post, “This is a very unusual president, because there’s never been a president of the United States worth $10 billion, with 600 or 700 corporations that have national and international relations.”
Cohen’s Loyalty to Trump Runs Deep, and His Role Should Continue to Grow
◆ As Cohen’s behavior becomes more outlandish—why mention Trump’s hundreds of business ties when he has promised to leave them in the hands of his sons?– his stature in Trump world will likely continue to grow.
Should be both entertaining and alarming to watch.
Carol Felsenthal is much-published author. Besides a long list of magazine credits, she has written a number of acclaimed biographies:
- Citizen Newhouse: Portrait of a Media Merchant,
- Power, Privilege, and the Post: The Katharine Graham Story,
- Princess Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, and
- Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House, a look at Bill Clinton’s post presidency
She is also a contributing writer for Chicago Magazine and the political blogger for their website, Chicagomag.com.
She has taught biographical writing at the University of Chicago and written profiles of everyone from Ann Landers to Michelle Obama.