Washington (AFP) – As Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen earned a reputation as the “fixer” for the Manhattan real estate tycoon and a pit bull defender of his larger-than-life boss.
The brash 51-year-old New Yorker — who once boasted of his office in Trump Tower — is now in a fix of his own, under criminal investigation and accused of seeking to cash in on his access to the president.
His home and office have been raided by the FBI, and Cohen is being lampooned by comedians as a real-life version of the sleazy ambulance-chasing lawyer Saul Goodman on the hit show “Breaking Bad.”
Before becoming Trump’s right-hand man, Cohen — a burly guy with thick salt-and-pepper hair — was, in fact, a personal injury lawyer representing clients injured in auto accidents.
Cohen grew up on Long Island and earned his law degree from Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School, one of the lowest-ranked law schools in the country.
In 1994, Cohen married Laura Shusterman, the daughter of a Soviet emigre who was in the notoriously rough-and-tumble taxi business in the Big Apple.
Cohen also went into the taxi business, buying and selling the medallions which allow a driver to operate a yellow cab.
The coveted medallions were once valued at more than $1 million each, but their value has plummeted with the arrival of ride-hailing services such as Uber.
Cohen’s relations with Trump began with his dabbling in real estate and purchases of apartments in Trump buildings in New York.
Cohen became Trump’s personal lawyer and an executive vice president in the Trump Organization in 2007.
He drew attention during the 2016 presidential election campaign with his pugnacious appearances — punctuated with his heavy New York accent — on television on behalf of Trump.
In one clip which went viral, he repeatedly snapped “Says who?” at a CNN anchor who claimed that opinion polls had Trump losing the election.
– ‘I’m crushing it’ –
Cohen’s more recent notoriety stems from his role in paying $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006.
Since then, it has been revealed that the company Cohen set up for the Stormy Daniels payment, Essential Consultants, also received money — more than $2 million in all — from a Russian oligarch, telecom giant AT&T and drug company Novartis, among others.
The payments were revealed by the man who has become Cohen’s nemesis, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who is seeking to release Daniels from the “hush agreement” she signed with Essential Consultants.
According to The Washington Post, Cohen touted his close ties to Trump to potential clients looking for insight into the new administration and access.
“I’m crushing it,” Cohen reportedly told an associate last year.
According to The New York Times, Cohen went into the lucrative business of peddling influence after being denied a job in the Trump administration.
“He imagined himself as chief of staff,” the Times said.
Instead of a White House job, Cohen now finds himself under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors.
FBI agents seized reams of evidence in last month’s raid on his home and office but the authorities have not yet revealed what crimes he is accused of.
The raid was conducted on a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
True to the TV drama nature of the affair, speculation is rife as to whether Cohen has any incriminating material on Trump and whether he will “flip” on his former boss.
In a tweet last month, Trump described Cohen as “a fine person with a wonderful family.”
“Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories,” Trump said. “Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media.”