Washington (AFP) – Donald Trump’s pit bull. His fixer. His consigliere.
Michael Cohen, the scrappy New York attorney whose office was raided by the FBI Monday, is a lot more than the US president’s private lawyer.
Outside of Trump’s family, Cohen is perhaps the person closest to the real estate tycoon, making the seizure of his business and personal documents from two New York locations by federal agents a direct threat against the US leader.
Trump was outraged by the raid, in which agents apparently took documents normally protected by attorney-client privilege. Some reportedly involved Cohen’s payment of $130,000 to a porn movie actress to keep her alleged affair with Trump a secret.
“It’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch-hunt,” Trump said late Monday.
The raid underscored Cohen’s importance to Trump. For more than a decade, as executive vice president and special counsel at the Trump Organization, Cohen has been Trump’s key business partner, top aide, and protector.
“If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit,” Cohen told ABC News in an interview in 2011.
“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.”
– Helped launch Trump’s political career –
New York-born Cohen, 51, first connected with Trump when he bought a unit in a Trump condominium building in 2001. Over the years, while working in a law firm, he and his family bought more Trump-built units.
Michael Cohen “is a very smart person,” Trump told the New York Post in 2007. “He has invested in my buildings because he likes to make money — and he does.”
Around that time Cohen joined the Trump Organization. By 2010, when Trump was mulling his first serious run for president, it was Cohen who set up a website “Should Trump Run?” to gauge public support and made contacts in the Republican Party.
“I’ve been admiring Donald Trump since I was in high school,” he told ABC.
He prides himself on his loyalty to Trump, aggressively protecting his reputation.
“I’m the guy who protects the president and the family. I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president,” he told Vanity Fair.
In 2015, The Daily Beast reported, Cohen threatened a lawsuit and more over a coming story saying Trump’s previous wife Ivana once accused her husband of raping her.
“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,” Cohen told the reporters.
– Real estate, porn actress –
Cohen’s role in Trump Organization real estate deals involving Russians, and his handling of the case involving porn star Stormy Daniels are what have made him a focus of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who is probing links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Cohen was interviewed for hours behind closed doors by two Congressional committees on the Russia links last year, where he vehemently denied Trump or himself having any contacts with Russians during the election or knowledge of any collusion.
The Daniels case puts both Trump and Cohen in the prosecutor’s harsh spotlight. Daniels alleges that she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and that just before the 2016 election Cohen secretly paid her $130,000 to sign a non-disclosure contract.
The contract said she would have to pay $1 million for each time she disclosed anything about her relationship with now-President Trump.
According to media reports, Mueller is investigating Cohen for possible bank and wire fraud and campaign finance law violations, which could arise from the payment.
Trump last week denied any knowledge of the payment. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” about it, he told reporters.