Donald Trump has been losing friends fast since he called Mexican immigrants “rapists” at his campaign kickoff in June: Television networks, a department store and a mattress company have all “fired” the bronze-haired developer.
Amid the defections, though, one Trump buddy is standing by his man: Trump confidante Michael Cohen has been nearly as visible as Trump himself in recent days, defending his boss before increasingly frustrated CNN talking heads.
On July 11, Cohen told CNN weekend host Michael Smerconish that Trump “has a great relationship with Latinos.” On July 12, Cohen asked CNN “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter, “Why does it matter?” when Stelter pressed him on Trump’s claim to have drawn a crowd of 20,000 to a venue in Phoenix that holds only 4,000. And on July 13, Cohen insisted to a deeply annoyed CNN weekday morning host Chris Cuomo that Trump “never made any derogatory or disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants.”
Cohen, who is Jewish, has been Trump’s most loyal ally for nearly a decade, standing up for the real estate mogul in the media and filing lawsuits when Trump perceives he’s been wronged. A 2011 ABC News profile reported that within The Trump Organization he’s called the boss’s “pit bull.”
“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,” Cohen, now 48, told the TV network.
To wit: When New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a fraud suit against Trump’s for-profit college in 2013, Cohen threatened Trump’s vengeance: “The damage to the attorney general is going to be very significant,” Cohen told The New Yorker. “So significant that he will possibly have to resign.” (Schneiderman has not resigned. The case is ongoing.)
And in February 2011, when Trump was mulling a 2012 presidential run, Cohen twisted himself in knots to defend Trump’s newfound to abortion, telling National Journal, “People change their positions all the time, the way they change their wives.” (Trump has changed his, twice.)
Cohen, who did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story, has been tied to Trump since at least February 2007, when the New York Post reported that he had been snapping up apartments at Trump’s properties like a hoarder at a flea market. He owned two at the time, was buying two more, and had talked his parents and his wife’s parents into buying another four between them.
“Michael Cohen has a great insight into the real estate market,” Trump told the Post at the time. “In short, he’s a very smart person.”
Cohen was a partner at the law firm Phillips Nizer at the time of the Post story, but he joined The Trump Organization three months later as an executive vice president and as Trump’s special counsel, according to Cohen’s LinkedIn page. No word on whether he’s bought more Trump apartments since then.
Cohen himself is something of a cipher. We know from the 2011 ABC profile that he grew up on Long Island and that his father is a Holocaust survivor. A Democrat, Cohen voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and volunteered for former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign in 1988. (Cohen told ABC in 2011 that over time he grew disappointed with Obama.) He favors Dolce & Gabbana and Hermes, and once went sailing off Cape Cod with Ted Kennedy.
The real estate newspaper The Real Deal reported in February that Cohen had made a New York real estate play of his own, buying a $58 million rental apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side from Israeli-born developer Ofer Yardeni.
Beyond those spare, if colorful, details, Cohen’s entire public profile is entangled in the Trump galaxy. He’s a member of the board of the Eric Trump Foundation, a children’s health charity named for Donald Trump’s 31-year-old son. He was chief operations officer of Affliction, a mixed martial arts promotion partially owned by Trump. And in 2011, during Trump’s last flirtation with presidential politics, it was Cohen who led the charge.
Along with Stewart Rahr, the 68-year-old Jewish drug distribution billionaire who calls himself “Stewie Rah Rah Number One King of All Fun,” Cohen created a website in early 2011 called “Should Trump Run?” and visited Iowa in a private jet with Trump’s name on the side to discuss a potential Trump candidacy. A Ron Paul backer charged that Cohen and Trump were breaking campaign finance laws by taking the trip without filing disclosures with the Federal Elections Commission. (The FEC eventually found that no law had been broken, as Trump never actually became a candidate.)
This time around, Cohen has fully embraced his attack dog role within the Trump apparatus. During the contentious morning interview with Chris Cuomo, Cohen was relentless in defending his boss.
“You’re making the same problem [Trump] is, which is odd, because you’re here to kind of clean it up for him,” Cuomo said. “He shouldn’t have said they’re rapists, they’re this, they’re drug dealers, and some are good people. He shouldn’t have said it. True or false?”
“No, I disagree,” Cohen said, speaking in a voice that sounds like Trump’s, but with the volume turned down from 11 to around 7. “I really believe that Mr. Trump was making his voice heard.”
As Cuomo grew increasingly frustrated, Cohen refused to back off. “It was wrong, and you haven’t admitted that yet,” Cuomo said.
“And I will not,” Cohen said as the interview ended.
This story "Meet Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's Jewish Wingman" was written by Josh Nathan-Kazis.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.