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The fixer’s secret agenda

The fixer’s secret agenda

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The fixer’s secret agenda


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NEW YORK —At first, Michael Cohen appeared detached as he listened to the group of Republican leaders urge his boss to run for governor.

It was the autumn of 2013, and Donald Trump was already fixated on “the massive factor,” as he referred to working for president. However the Republicans knew they have been getting someplace when Trump signaled to his legal professional that he wished extra talks.

“So Michael,” Trump would say, “you get us a date on the calendar.”

Quickly sufficient, nobody within the billionaire’s coterie was extra enthusiastic than Cohen in regards to the prospect of a Governor Trump. Albany, Cohen believed, was a fantastic alternative not just for his boss but additionally, because it occurred, for himself.

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After the conferences, Cohen would adjourn to his workplace at Trump Tower to plan subsequent steps with Michael Caputo, the Republican strategist plotting Trump’s gubernatorial marketing campaign. However Cohen shocked Caputo by speaking about his personal political aspirations. He informed Caputo he had all the time wished to run for mayor of New York Metropolis, a race he stated he may win if Trump was governor.

At one level, Cohen floated the concept of a Trump-Cohen statewide ticket, an concept Caputo thought of as absurd as Cohen working for mayor. “He stored bringing it up,” Caputo stated. “It went from Michael Cohen keen on working for mayor to, effectively, ‘I’ll run for lieutenant governor beneath Donald Trump.’ I didn’t need to disabuse him of it, as a result of he was our liaison. I felt like, ‘Yeah, okay Michael.’ ”

In his decade on the heart of Trump’s internal circle, Cohen styled himself because the tycoon’s pugnacious man Friday, an indefatigable loyalist who aped his boss’s husky-voiced bluster. In Cohen, Trump discovered a fellow New Yorker who had additionally grown up on the metropolis’s suburban edges, a one-man cheering part who hailed Trump as an infallible “patriarch” worthy of safety “in any respect prices.”

Donald Trump with Michael Cohen in 2006.© Obtained by The Washington Submit/
Donald Trump with Michael Cohen in 2006.

But, even whereas doting on “Mr. Trump,” as he known as his boss, Cohen was squarely centered on his personal ambitions. Trump was Cohen’s ticket to larger wealth, TV appearances and Web page Six, the New York Submit’s every day serving of intel about Manhattan’s jet set. Theirs was a relationship Cohen may boast about to anybody he encountered, together with childhood mates from Lengthy Island, a few of whom stated they didn’t anticipate him to quantity to something extraordinary.

Now, as he prepares to testify earlier than two congressional committees this month and faces a three-year jail sentence starting in March, Cohen finds himself repeatedly denigrated by the person he publicly revered. Trump was Cohen’s potential pathway to prestigious new titles — mayor, congressman, even White Home chief of workers. After Trump’s election, as he waited for a Washington job that by no means got here, Cohen bought himself to companies as a direct line to the brand new president.

“He didn’t care about Trump,” stated Evgeny “Gene” Freidman, who for a time managed Cohen’s 32 beneficial taxi medallions. “Sure, he known as him ‘Mr. Trump.’ However what he cared about was his enterprise card that stated, ‘Private legal professional to Donald Trump.’ ”

Cohen, 52, who declined to be interviewed for this report, pleaded responsible final 12 months to tax evasion, mendacity to Congress and violating marketing campaign finance legal guidelines by making hush-money funds to 2 ladies who threatened to publicize their alleged affairs with Trump.

Michael Cohen leaves federal court in New York in August.© Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg Information
Michael Cohen leaves federal courtroom in New York in August.

Cohen has stated “blind loyalty” drove him to interrupt the legislation and lie on President Trump’s behalf. But, when requested in an ABC Information interview to clarify the roots of his loyalty, he stated, “I have no idea the reply.”

The president’s allies have questioned the authenticity of Cohen’s fealty, as have federal prosecutors, who asserted in courtroom papers that he was pushed by “ambition and greed” and “relished the standing of final fixer.”

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the previous New York mayor and now one of many president’s attorneys, stated Cohen’s declare to loyalty is undermined by his choice to secretly file a telephone name with Trump whereas serving as his lawyer.

“It’s virtually like committing homicide for a lawyer to violate the attorney-client privilege in such a blatant approach,” stated Giuliani, whose personal credibility has been questioned after he made a number of misstatements in protection of the president. “By no means heard of a lawyer doing that. That’s the half I discover most stunning.”

Lengthy earlier than Cohen turned on the president, questions on his trustworthiness had percolated amongst Trump’s advisers. Earlier than the primary assembly in regards to the New York governor’s race, Caputo stated Roger Stone, then Trump’s political adviser, warned him that Cohen was “mercurial — you don’t need to get on his unhealthy aspect. He can’t be trusted.”

Cohen’s speak of working for mayor roiled members of Trump’s internal circle. Sam Nunberg, one other Trump adviser on the time, was angered to study from a Republican operative that Cohen had raised the topic with Ed Cox, chairman of New York’s GOP.

In accordance with Nunberg, Cox was flabbergasted that Cohen had spoken of his personal political aspirations at the beginning of a dialogue meant to be about Trump’s gubernatorial marketing campaign. Cox declined to touch upon what he known as a personal dialog.

The Brooklyn office of Morton Levine, Michael Cohen’s uncle.© Paul Schwartzman/The Washington Submit
The Brooklyn workplace of Morton Levine, Michael Cohen’s uncle.

“Cohen was all the time attempting to make use of Trump to higher himself,” Nunberg stated. “Cohen was about Cohen.”

Uncle Morty

On their senior yearbook pages, Cohen’s classmates at Woodmere Academy, an unique Lengthy Island personal faculty, quoted luminaries similar to Joni Mitchell, Garry Trudeau and Langston Hughes.

Cohen, unsmiling in his portrait, selected a passage by Henry David Thoreau. “I by no means discovered the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” it started. Cohen didn’t credit score the writer.

Cohen grew up in Lawrence, N.Y., surrounded by affluent legal professionals, docs and enterprise executives. His mom, Sondra, was a nurse. His father, Maurice, a surgeon, was born in Poland in 1935 and survived the “gulags of Siberia,” based on a letter he wrote to the choose who sentenced his son.

The parking zone at Woodmere Academy resembled a “foreign-car dealership” as a result of so many college students drove imports, stated Aron Yagoda, a pupil on the time. Cohen’s classmates bear in mind him as a median pupil who was gregarious and labored as a DJ at events.

Classmate Brian Levenstein described Cohen’s clique because the “higher echelon of Woodmere.”

“To be mates with him, you needed to be like him, you needed to costume like him,” he stated.

As a teen, Cohen labored at Camp Stanley, a weight-loss retreat within the Catskill Mountains north of New York Metropolis. Cohen additionally was a lifeguard on the El Caribe Nation Membership in south Brooklyn. The camp and membership have been owned by Cohen’s uncle, Morty Levine.

On a Tuesday afternoon in late January, Levine, 84, sat in a chair within the ready room of the Brooklyn workplace the place he has practiced medication because the 1970s. Ever because the mess together with his nephew began, Levine stated, he has struggled to sleep by means of the evening.

“Individuals take a look at me and ask, ‘Is all the things okay?’ It has taken a toll on all of us,” Levine stated, that means Cohen’s dad and mom, three siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Till Cohen settled into maturity, Levine loomed massive within the lifetime of his nephew, who, in a short textual content to a reporter, described the physician as “extra like a brother than an uncle.”

“I used to be anyone everybody wished to be,” stated Levine, the brother of Cohen’s mom. “I used to be effectively constructed, very good-looking, athletic and intensely sensible. He had somebody to emulate.”

Levine owned inns, eating places, actual property, summer time camps and a fleet of automobiles that included a Bentley, a Lexus and Cadillacs. It was a life-style — wealth, an urge for food for luxurious and a predilection for self-promotion — that Cohen would later discover on a bigger scale in Trump.

“Meet Dr. Morton W. Levine — Your secret weapon in opposition to fats!” boasted an advert that includes the smiling physician that appeared in newspapers and magazines within the early 1980s. The promotion was for a eating regimen method that Levine claimed “labored for over 10,000 of my sufferers.” (He now acknowledges his math might have been pushed extra by salesmanship than reality).

Morton Levine at his office in Brooklyn.© Paul Schwartzman/The Washington Submit
Morton Levine at his workplace in Brooklyn.

“Wherever his Uncle Morty was, that’s the place you’d discover Michael,” stated Chris Sabatino, who labored at Camp Stanley and the El Caribe. He described the teenage Cohen as a “smartass with a twinkle in his eye. The identical man you see on tv. Nothing has modified.”

Through the years, the El Caribe has hosted a cross part of New York life — households from Brooklyn, highschool proms, Democratic and Republican organizations, a panoply of non secular teams, and Italian and Russian mobsters, a few of whom have been additionally Levine’s sufferers.

“I used to be ‘il dottore de tutti de capos,’ ” Levine stated. “I used to be in a neighborhood with a whole lot of Italian households. You deal with the mom, the daddy. They advocate you.”

One affected person, he stated, was Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso, a Lucchese crime-family underboss whose bomb-resistant waterfront mansion the physician briefly owned within the early 1990s. And mob boss John Gotti, Levine stated, hosted an enormous Christmas bash in 1988 on the El Caribe. “Gotti was a fantastic man,” Levine stated. “So was ‘Gaspipe.’ ”

Levine stated he didn’t know whether or not his nephew interacted with mobsters on the El Caribe. However Cohen’s mates say he emulated the gangsters’ model, even into maturity. “He wished he was in ‘Goodfellas,’ ” stated Greg Ehrlich, whose marriage ceremony Cohen attended within the early 2000s. “I’d say: ‘You’re Jewish. Why are you sporting a pinkie ring like a gangster?’ ”

The El Caribe wedding-reception venue and banquet hall in Brooklyn, shown this week.© Timothy Fadek for The Washington Submit/
The El Caribe wedding-reception venue and banquet corridor in Brooklyn, proven this week.

Cohen noticed much less of his uncle after transferring to Washington to attend American College, although Levine stated he helped him begin a foreign-car importing enterprise on the time. After faculty, Cohen enrolled at Thomas M. Cooley Legislation College, which the Nationwide Advisory Council for Legislation College Transparency has ranked as among the many nation’s least selective. A classmate, Greg Crockett, stated Cohen drove a “lovely Jaguar convertible” — a present from his uncle — and helped mates “by means of the worst of occasions by telling a joke.”

“He’d say, ‘What do you name the lawyer with a 2.zero grade-point common?’ ” Crockett stated. “You name them ‘counselor’ as a result of they’re a lawyer. Who cares what their GPA is?”

By the mid-1990s, Cohen was again in New York and engaged to Laura Shusterman, who grew up in Queens, daughter of a rich Ukrainian businessman who in 1993 pleaded responsible to fraud.

In 1994, Cohen’s uncle attended their marriage ceremony on the Pierre Lodge on Fifth Avenue. By then, Levine stated he now not spoke usually together with his nephew, who was working as a personal-injury lawyer and juggling “5 telephones.”

Michael Cohen, center, with incoming Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, left, and former Texas governor Rick Perry at Trump Tower in December 2016.© Albin Lohr-Jones/Bloomberg Information
Michael Cohen, heart, with incoming Trump nationwide safety adviser Michael Flynn, left, and former Texas governor Rick Perry at Trump Tower in December 2016.

“Each time I’d name, he was too busy to speak,” Levine stated. “As soon as he turned concerned with Trump, Trump turned his mentor.”

‘I’ll come at you’

At some point in late 2012, Tom Allon, then an proprietor of Avenue Journal, a shiny chronicle of the ever-fabulous, answered his phone and heard a well-recognized voice, thick and nasal:

“Mr. Trump is basically mad at you.”

Cohen was calling to tell Allon that his boss didn’t admire being excluded from Avenue’s checklist of the 200 most influential New Yorkers. Nor was Trump happy that his spouse, Melania, was not included among the many metropolis’s 25 sexiest ladies.

As Trump’s particular counsel, Cohen had a various portfolio. At some point he was pushing a Trump golf-course deal in California. On one other, he was flying to Iowa on a Trump jet to drift the boss’s identify as a presidential risk. On daily basis was one other alternative to make a public present of his loyalty.

“If anyone does one thing Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do all the things in my energy to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s profit,” Cohen informed ABC Information in 2011. “Should you do one thing mistaken, I’m going to come back at you, seize you by the neck and I’m not going to allow you to go till I’m completed.”

Cohen beloved to indicate off his ties to Trump — even at one in every of his son’s baseball video games, the place he bumped into Melissa Solomon, an elementary faculty classmate.

Cohen informed her that he was working for Trump and that Trump had attended his son’s bar mitzvah. He flipped by means of the pictures on his telephone to indicate her one in every of himself posing with contestants at a Trump magnificence pageant.

“He was very proud,” Solomon stated.

Within the decade earlier than he labored for the tycoon, Cohen constructed his legislation follow and invested in myriad enterprise ventures, together with taxi medallions and, like Trump, legalized playing. He put up $1.5 million to affix a partnership that bought a Florida on line casino boat. It failed.

Cohen dove into New York’s actual property market. He purchased a $1 million rental in Trump World Tower close to the United Nations, the place his dad and mom and in-laws additionally bought flats. 4 years later, he spent $5 million to purchase into Trump Park Avenue, the place Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, owned condos. In 2014, Cohen bought 4 Manhattan buildings for $32 million — 3 times what he had paid a number of years earlier.

However Cohen additionally wished a public platform. In 2003, he ran for the New York Metropolis Council as a Republican, pitching himself as a casino-owning “neighborhood activist.” He misplaced by greater than 40 share factors.

A pamphlet created by Michael Cohen's campaign team when he ran for City Council in New York City in 2003.© Obtained by The Washington Submit/
A pamphlet created by Michael Cohen’s marketing campaign staff when he ran for Metropolis Council in New York Metropolis in 2003.

The subsequent 12 months, he attended a fundraiser for then-Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a Democrat, in Hyannis Port, Mass., on Cape Cod. Cohen posed for a photograph with Kennedy and one other attendee, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, an image he would later exhibit in a tweet: “#tbt being obtained by two nice Individuals.”

“It was a possibility to say he went to the Kennedy compound,” stated Ehrlich, who co-chaired the fundraiser. “And he beloved the Clintons. They have been like rock stars. Michael was all the time a climber. He wished to be the man.”

A few years later, Cohen gloated over new pictures — of himself and Donald Trump, whom he had gotten to know by defending the developer throughout a battle for management of the condominium board at Trump World Tower.

“Try the attachment of me with the ‘Donald,’ ” Cohen wrote in a 2006 e-mail to Gene Freidman, who managed his taxi medallions. The next 12 months, Trump employed Cohen as a $500,000-a-year in-house counsel.

Freidman’s management of tons of of medallions, the permits required to function cabs, earned him the nickname “Taxi King.” He pleaded responsible final 12 months to a decreased cost of tax fraud. Freidman declined to touch upon hypothesis that he cooperated with prosecutors probing Cohen.

Freidman, in an interview over steaks at an Higher East Facet tavern, declined to say what he informed prosecutors about Cohen, whom he described as “one of many sweetest folks you’d ever meet.”

Recounting their years as mates and enterprise associates, he stated Cohen was the picture of a swashbuckling high-roller, driving round Manhattan in a Bentley, frequenting stylish eating places with as a lot as $10,000 in money in his pocket and a permitted pistol strapped to his ankle.

Freidman described Cohen as a person of quirks, similar to obsessively wiping down his silverware at eating places for concern of germs. He recalled Cohen usually referring to himself as an “orphan” due to a distant relationship together with his dad and mom. And Freidman stated Cohen was liable to moments of unrestrained boastfulness, similar to when he tweeted a photograph of his oldest baby in black lingerie and wrote, “So pleased with my Ivy League daughter . . . brains and wonder channeling her internal Edie Sedgwick.”

As soon as, throughout a dinner with Cohen and his spouse, Laura, Freidman stated Cohen bragged that he had pushed apart the physician throughout their son’s beginning and delivered the child himself, a declare that Laura, on the desk that evening, dismissed as unfaithful.

“And he says, ‘Shut up — you weren’t even there,’ ” Freidman stated. “That’s Michael.”

There are, Freidman stated, “two Michaels.” One is very beneficiant to mates, the sort of man who not solely recommends a health care provider or lawyer however who would “schedule the appointment and drive you there.”

Michael Cohen in New York in April, a few days after the FBI raided Cohen’s office, apartment and hotel room.© Yana Paskova/Getty Pictures
Michael Cohen in New York in April, a couple of days after the FBI raided Cohen’s workplace, house and lodge room.

When Freidman’s marriage was breaking apart, he stated, Cohen helped him sublet a $15,000-a-month house that Ivanka Trump and Kushner owned in the identical Park Avenue constructing the place Cohen lived.

The “different Michael,” Freidman stated, would typically scream at folks with such power “it was like he had Tourette’s. . . . He’d put my secretaries and my legal professionals in tears. I’d should apologize to them for him and say he wasn’t actually that approach. He will get in that position, like he’s impersonating robust guys he noticed in a film.”

‘The odd man out’

In September 2017, Michael Caputo was in Miami when he learn an interview with Cohen, who by then was on the heart of the federal investigation into the Trump marketing campaign’s ties to Russia.

“I’m the man who would take a bullet for the president,” Cohen informed Self-importance Honest. “I’d by no means stroll away.”

Caputo confirmed the article to his good friend Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. legal professional in Florida, who recalled replying: “This man goes to be one of many first guys who rolls over and activates President Trump. [Cohen] doth protest an excessive amount of.”

The prospect of Cohen betraying Trump appeared unthinkable throughout the presidential race, when he served as a reliably combative surrogate. Cohen pushed again, for instance, when reporters challenged Trump’s declare that “1000’s” of Muslims had cheered the World Commerce Middle’s collapse.

“Mr. Trump’s reminiscence is unbelievable,” Cohen informed CNN in 2015. “I’ve by no means come throughout a state of affairs the place Mr. Trump has stated one thing that’s not correct.”

However by the following summer time, Giuliani stated, Cohen “appeared just like the odd man out.” Trump’s prime political advisers agreed “that Michael shouldn’t be a part of it.”

“Every one in every of them went to Donald and stated, ‘We’ve received to maintain this man off tv,’ ” Giuliani stated. “Each time he goes on, it seems to be like we now have a gangster working for us.”

On the time, Cohen nonetheless had notions of changing into New York’s mayor, as he informed Allon, the journal proprietor. He additionally made no secret that he hoped to get a White Home appointment.

The president by no means provided him a place.

Nunberg stated Trump’s choice to exclude Cohen helped assure that he would flip in opposition to the president. “Why didn’t he give Michael a silly job on the EOB [Eisenhower Executive Office Building] and let him twiddle his thumbs?” Nunberg requested. “You’re not going to get timeless loyalty for those who’re not loyal your self.”

A view of Jamaica Bay from Brooklyn’s Mill Basin area, near the El Caribe.© Timothy Fadek for The Washington Submit/
A view of Jamaica Bay from Brooklyn’s Mill Basin space, close to the El Caribe.

Final April, the FBI raided Cohen’s workplace, house and lodge room. Three months later, he informed ABC Information that his household had his “first loyalty and all the time will.” Later that month, he launched the recording he had secretly fabricated from Trump discussing hush-money funds.

“What sort of lawyer would tape a shopper?” Trump tweeted from the White Home. “So unhappy!”

‘The brand new Michael’

The afternoon mild fading outdoors his workplace window, Levine thought of his nephew, about “the way in which he was.”

“The outdated Michael, not the brand new Michael,” he stated. “Pleasant. Affordable. Humble. Athletic. Would do anyone a favor. Wasn’t a braggart. That’s the one I bear in mind.”

The physician recalled sitting on the similar desk as Trump on the bar mitzvah of Michael’s son, Jake. Trump posed for pictures and signed autographs. At one level, he picked up Levine’s granddaughter and danced together with her.

It’s a part of the explanation Levine felt good about voting for Trump in 2016.

“He’s a unbelievable particular person; he’s very warmhearted,” Levine stated. “I ought to hate him as a result of he screwed my nephew. In fact he did. However that’s a part of life. I’d nonetheless vote for him.”

His nephew, he stated, “ought to have stated, ‘I do know nothing.’ ”

Throughout city, Cohen ready for his jail time period, which begins March 6. He stays largely secluded however for infrequent sightings, dutifully reported by Web page Six — on the restaurant Le Bilboquet, after pleading responsible; at Elio’s, the place diners gave him a standing ovation.

“One hope I’ve,” he informed ABC in December, “I might be remembered in historical past as serving to to deliver this nation collectively.”

A enterprise government who ate breakfast with him a couple of weeks earlier stated that Cohen’s eyes have been “glazed” and that he appeared “downcast.”

Cohen stated he was preserving two journals, based on the chief, who declined to be named to debate a personal dialog.

One journal was to doc his expertise. The opposite, his desires.

“You’ve gotten a e book in you,” the chief stated.

“Not one e book,” Cohen replied. “Two books.”

paul.schwartzman@washpost.com



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