How Michael Cohen Went From Long Island To Trump’s Legal Precipice
Unlike other Jewish New Yorkers prized by President Trump for their impeccable loyalty who received plum administration jobs, longtime personal attorney Michael D. Cohen never got the call to go to Washington. Yet on Monday, Washington came for him, in the form of an FBI raid of the fixer’s workplace and home related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Monday’s raid is the latest shockwave to hit one of Trump’s most loyal allies, who has become embroiled in a dizzying web of federal inquiries: Cohen is being investigated for possible wire fraud, bank fraud and violating campaign finance regulations.
Cohen’s story is a New York one, sketching the rise of a Long Island kid from the streets, where he built a taxi medallion business, to the heights of Manhattan’s glitzy apartment towers — all under the wing of a larger-than-life patron in Trump. Cohen played the role of combination tough consigliere-slash-adoring son.
Along the way, he acquired a shady reputation, acknowledged Pastor Darrell Scott of the New Spirit Revival Center in Ohio, a close friend of Cohen’s who served with him on Trump’s “National Diversity Coalition.” Scott calls Cohen “my brother from another mother” and says the sometimes tough-talking attorney is unfairly villainized by the press.
“CNN just put out like he’s Ray Donovan,” the shady fixer of Showtime fame, Scott said.
“He’s not vicious like that. I mean he’s very loyal and very protective of his boss and his mentor: He looks at President Trump as a father figure. And so he’s loyal to him and protective of him, but he’s actually a great guy. He’s one of my very best friends.”
His detractors came out in force in the wake of the far-reaching raid, tweeting gleefully about hypothetical scenarios in which one of Trump’s nearest and dearest faces a stiff prison sentence or even somehow being backed into flipping on his longtime employer, mentor and role model. Scott sees the relationship differently.
“I know this much: I know the president loves him too. In fact, when I say every — I mean every single time — I see the president, the very first words out of his mouth to me are, ‘You talk to Michael? Have you talked to Michael? How’s Michael?’ Or, ‘I just talked to Michael. Have you talked to him?’” Scott said.
Trump’s love aside, Cohen is not sanguine, he told CNN when a reporter asked if he was worried.
“I would be lying to you if I told that I am not. Do I need this in my life? No. Do I want to be involved in this? No.”
Before he became a central figure in the Trump business empire — and a star in the legal dramas of the Trump presidency — Michael Cohen spent his childhood on Long Island. His mom was a nurse; his father, a surgeon whose family had escaped a World War II Nazi death camp.
He graduated from American University in 1988. From there, he was on to Cooley Law School in Michigan, which legal blog Above the Law calls one of the worst in the country.
Where some see Cohen as naturally pugnacious, his fans say he’s more of a teddy bear type — albeit one with a preference for the fashions of Hermes and Dolce & Gabbana.
“He has always been a good guy. He has a huge heart and has done wonderful things for people,” David Schwartz, an attorney who says he’s known Cohen more than 20 years and has counted him among both his friends and clients, told the Forward. “He goes out of his way to help people always.”
Cohen put his law degree to use but dabbled in other ventures as well.
In 2003, he jumped into a City Council race in Manhattan, running as a Republican in an attempt to oust Democratic incumbent Eva Moskowitz. His official candidate profile gave his occupational background as “Attorney in private practice. Co-owner of Taxi Funding Corp. and a fleet of more than 200 taxis, and CEO of MLA Cruises, Inc., and of the Atlantic Casino.”
Cohen plugged himself to voters as a family man ready to put his chops as a lawyer, taxi fleet owner and “community activist” to work for his district: “I’m not afraid to speak up when something needs to be said,” wrote Cohen, who said the cab business had put him “at the forefront of public safety and transportation issues.”
More than a decade before stumping for Trump, who rode to victory partly on chants of “Build the Wall,” Cohen also enthused that running a cab fleet had allowed him to work “with immigrant communities to help give these new Americans an opportunity to fulfill the American dream through secure and well-paying jobs.”
Cohen ultimately lost to Moskowitz at the end of a campaign in which he used an ad with his rival’s picture on a milk carton to criticize her for missing Council votes. As the Observer later noted, “Moskowitz defended herself from the absenteeism complaint by noting she had just given birth to her son.”
While he moved on from his pursuit of elected office, Cohen’s involvement in the complex, competitive and lucrative world of the taxi business would have a lasting impact: During Monday’s raid, agents came after not only records related to Cohen’s payment to the porn star known as Stormy Daniels, but, per CNN, documentation of his ownership of taxi medallions.
After stints at several law firms, according to ABC News, Cohen became part of the Trump Organization at the invitation of the boss in 2006.
He and his wife, Laura, who hails from Ukraine, have been married for more than two decades and have two children.
Cohen — who had floated the idea of a Trump for President run as last as far back as 2011 — made plenty of appearances as a surrogate during the presidential campaign. He was a cheerleader who never got hoarse, a pugilist never too tired to spar against critics who accused Trump of fomenting or tacitly tolerating antisemitism or xenophobia.
Some of his interactions with the press during the campaign made him, not his boss, the center of attention. Shortly after Trump announced his run in the summer of 2015, Cohen threatened a Daily Beast reporter who was investigating a claim that Trump had sexually assaulted his former wife, Ivana: “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,” Cohen reportedly said, “for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet.”
On the lighter side, Cohen earned himself an enduring tagline — “Says who?” — after challenging a CNN host who asked him about his candidate’s lackluster poll showings.
He did make headlines just days before the inauguration by virtue of his appearance in a notorious dossier that sensationally accused Trump of indulging in fetish play with hookers — allegations Cohen trashed as “fake news,” “absolutely silly” and “ridiculous on so many levels.”
Later in the year, Cohen had made it to Washington — not to pick out furniture for a West Wing office, but to answer questions from members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
He has depicted himself not — as some observers see Trump — as unable to take what he so gleefully dishes out. Rather, he’s leaned toward the idea of being a man whose resolve will never weaken under the harshest assault from the Trump-trolling haters.
“Regardless of the hate directed at me,” he vowed in a November Newsweek interview, “I will never let it interfere or [alter] my support and dedication to the president and the entire first family.”
Scott, who says he prays that Cohen will see victory in his battle, believes his lawyer friend can rest easy in the knowledge that the leader of the free world won’t let all those years of loyalty go unrewarded.
“They have a long, deep relationship, and [Trump] treats him like one of his sons, and Cohen esteems him like he’s a father to him,” he said. “They have a relationship that’s deeper than friendship.”