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Friday, March 09, 2018

Catching up with Trump's fixer

by digby

I wrote about Michael Cohen for Salon this morning:

If there is one person lurking around the shadows of every Trump scandal, it would be his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, known as the Tom Hagen of the Trump family, only with much less class and dignity than the original consigliere of "Godfather" fame. Back in 2011 ABC News described him as "the man behind Donald Trump's possible 2012 presidential campaign," and asked him about the Hagen reference. He replied:
[I]f 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.
Presumably that does not include putting horse's heads in people's beds, but you never know. He certainly likes to make people believe he would stop at nothing to protect "Mr. Trump."

At the beginning of the campaign CNN's Don Lemon questioned Trump about his declaration that undocumented immigrants were criminals and rapists and Trump responded, "Well, somebody's doing the raping." This prompted Brandy Zadrozny and Tim Mak of the Daily Beast to inquire into claims by Trump's first wife, Ivana, during their divorce that Trump had blamed her for his botched scalp reduction surgery and violently raped her in retaliation. Cohen responded to the reporters by saying that a spouse cannot legally be held liable for rape (which is not true) and threatened them in true "Godfather" style:
I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me? You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up … for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet … you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it.
He seems like a lovely fellow. They wrote the story, obviously. But it is true Trump has lawyers on retainer, led by Cohen, who pretty much run a cover-up machine for him. Much of this operation has to do with women and former employees who might spill the beans on Trump's unsavory peccadilloes, both personal and financial. Trump demands that everyone who works for him sign non-disclosure agreements and we now know, through the Stormy Daniels scandal. that he has his (alleged) mistresses sign them as well. (In Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury," Steve Bannon is quoted as saying that Trump's lawyers paid off hundreds of women.) If any of these people get uppity, it's Cohen who brings out the thumbscrews.

Last month the New York Times reported on Cohen's relationship with Trump pal David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer. Pecker has allegedly observed a “catch and kill” arrangement under which the tabloid buys up scandalous Trump stories and pictures and never publishes them. The evidence suggests there has been quite a bit of this activity over the last few years.

Cohen appears to have made a mistake with the Stormy Daniels scandal, which is surprising since he's had so much practice with this stuff. A little birdie (who wears two shirts, perchance?) tipped off the press that Cohen had created an LLC for the purpose of paying Daniels off less than two weeks before the election. That turned the spotlight back on Trump's "issues" with women and raised the specter of campaign finance violations. Daniels has taken advantage of the attention and is now suing Trump and accusing Cohen of trying to intimidate her into silence, keeping the story in the headlines at least a bit longer.

It's hard to understand why this particular affair would lead Cohen and Trump to pay off Daniels so close to the election. Trump had already been accused of harassment or assault by more than a dozen women -- and was caught on tape bragging about it. Daniels has never claimed she was raped or assaulted. Would an allegation of a consensual affair years earlier, even with a porn star, have made any difference at that point? He denied all those other women's charges during the campaign, of course, calling the accusers liars, just as he has denied the Daniels affair or any knowledge of the payoff. Unfortunately for the president, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders got confused this week and confirmed that he is a party to the non-disclosure agreement with Daniels, so that denial is no longer operative.

There is some speculation that this had less to do with the campaign and more to do with Trump's marriage. Maybe there is a provision in Melania Trump's pre-nuptial agreement about extramarital affairs, for instance, that could cost Trump a bundle if Melania decides she's had enough. Whatever was going on here, it was deemed sufficiently important for Trump's top fixer to intervene.

But Cohen is not just the guy who takes care of Trump's women problems. Remember that earlier this week when Trump's former campaign aide Sam Nunberg had his meltdown on national television while waving around his grand jury subpoena, Cohen's name was on it. He's up to his neck in various strands of the Russia scandal.

Among other things, Cohen has appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, and just this week it was revealed that Republicans on the committee (quite likely Rep. Devin Nunes, its chairman) had contacted Cohen's lawyer with a tip about some confidential testimony that could be helpful to him. Cohen is also mentioned in the Steele dossier as a go-between who secretly met with Russians in Prague during the campaign (which he has denied) and he's an old friend of an FBI informant and convicted felon named Felix Sater, a Russian-born investor who has been involved with Trump and various Russian interests for years. Sater is the one who was working with the Trump Organization on a real estate deal in Moscow during the primaries and reportedly told Cohen, “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.” Shortly after Trump's inauguration, Sater reportedly helped concoct a bizarre secret peace plan for the Ukraine crisis that would allow the new administration to lift sanctions against Russia -- and had Cohen deliver it to then-national security adviser Michael Flynn.

I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Robert Mueller has assigned an entire team just to sort out Cohen's byzantine Russian connections.

I hesitate to even guess what kinds of tasks Cohen has performed for Trump in the business realm over the years. He no longer works directly for the Trump Organization and has never worked for the White House. He is Donald Trump's personal lawyer, and he's working hard at it. Just last week, he secretly filed a restraining order against Stormy Daniels in a last-ditch effort to keep her mouth shut. No horses have gone missing, as far as we know. But the message is clear.