Thursday 17 January 2019

Ex-Trump fixer portrayed as greedy and an opportunist

Michael Cohen is set for sentencing this week

ARM-TWISTING: Michael Cohen and Donald Trump on the campaign trail in September 2016. Photo: Reuters
ARM-TWISTING: Michael Cohen and Donald Trump on the campaign trail in September 2016. Photo: Reuters

Jim Mustian

US President Donald Trump yesterday renewed his call to end a probe into Russian election meddling, describing the investigation as a "witch hunt" a day after US prosecutors detailed a previously unknown attempt by a Russian to help his 2016 presidential election campaign.

"Time for the Witch Hunt to END!" Trump said in a message on Twitter. His tweet also quoted TV host Geraldo Rivera, a Trump friend, dismissing any claim of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as "collusion illusion".

It was the president's second tweet of the day about Special Counsel Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia. Russia denies meddling allegations.

"After two years and millions of pages of documents (and a cost of over $30m) no collusion!" Trump tweeted earlier yesterday.

He repeated that contention later as he left the White House for the annual Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, saying, "We're very happy with what we are reading, because there was no collusion whatsoever."

US prosecutors, however, did not address in several federal court filings on Friday the question of whether they have found collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Moreover, Mueller said in one filing that Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, had provided his office with "useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact" with Trump's property company during the 2016 campaign.

Democrats and other Trump critics fear that newly appointed acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist, could fire Mueller or undermine the investigation by cutting off its funding. Prominent Republicans in Congress insist that there is no danger of interference.

Trump said on Friday that he would nominate former US attorney general William Barr to America's top law enforcement job. But with the current session of Congress set to end soon, Barr may have to wait until well into 2019 to be confirmed by the Senate.

In his court filing on Friday, Mueller said Cohen told them he was approached in November 2015 by an unnamed Russian claiming to be a "trusted person in the Russian Federation". The filing said the contact occurred during discussions about a possible hotel bearing Trump's name in Moscow.

Cohen is to be sentenced next week for campaign finance violations, financial crimes and lying to Congress about Trump's business dealings in Russia. Prosecutors are seeking a substantial prison sentence.

Trump's current lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, also took aim at Cohen in a tweet yesterday, saying that federal prosecutors in New York are seeking a jail sentence for Cohen "because as we have said he's still lying."

Mueller said the Russian national who approached Cohen offered "synergy on a government level" with the Trump campaign in pushing for a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding that Cohen said he did not follow up.

Mueller said that the discussions about a potential Trump hotel in Moscow were relevant to his investigation, because they occurred "at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the US presidential election."

Cohen was a workaday attorney specialising in negligence and malpractice with a $75,000 salary in 2007 who caught Trump's eye when he successfully fought the board of directors at a building where he lived when they sought to remove Trump's name from it, prosecutors said. Soon afterward, he was hired at the Trump Organisation as a special counsel to Trump, earning $500,000 annually.

Reporters came to know him as an arm-twisting advocate for Trump. "If somebody does something Mr Trump doesn't like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr Trump's benefit," Cohen once told ABC News. "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."

Prosecutors, in their sentencing papers, cited one snarling exchange with a Daily Beast reporter.

"I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we're in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don't have. And I will come after your boss and everybody else that you know," Cohen said.

On the side, Cohen invested in New York City's taxi industry and in real estate and made high-interest loans to people in the cab business. He has pleaded guilty to failing to report $4m in income to the IRS from those businesses.

During the presidential campaign, Cohen worked with executives at the company that owns the National Enquirer to pay the former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, and the adult film actress Stormy Daniels not to talk to reporters about alleged sexual encounters with Trump, who says the affairs never happened. Cohen told prosecutors Trump directed him to make the payments.

After Trump's election, Cohen left the Trump Organisation and tried to cash in on his connections. Big companies hired him to offer "insight and access" to the administration. Those companies included AT&T, which paid Cohen $50,000 a month and the pharma giant Novartis, which paid Cohen $1.2m.

Prosecutors didn't charge Cohen with doing anything criminal in connection with those deals, but they singled out the work as "hollow", saying he did minimal work.

After federal authorities raided his office earlier this year, Cohen's loyalty to Trump faded. He told ABC News that his family and country came first.

©Associated Press

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