Michael Cohen says he was 'active and eager participant' in 'tax fraud' in book
In the 3,700-word foreword from his forthcoming memoir, "Disloyal," Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer and "fixer" of President Donald Trump, describes his life working for his former client in terms of organized crime, comes clean about "screaming threats" on his client's behalf and admits to being an "active and eager participant" in some of the most notorious and salacious episodes involving the future leader of the free world.
This article first appeared in Salon.
"From golden showers in a sex club in Vegas, to tax fraud, to deals with corrupt officials from the former Soviet Union, to catch and kill conspiracies to silence Trump's clandestine lovers, I wasn't just a witness to the president's rise — I was an active and eager participant," Cohen writes in the foreword, dated March 11, 2020, which he says he began penning on legal pads in the early morning hours at the white-collar Otisville Federal Prison located about an hour and a half drive from his former Manhattan high-rise apartment.
Cohen had earlier been furloughed from that prison amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19. However, he was soon remanded, apparently for writing this book. His book's website directly quotes federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein:
The purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory, and it's retaliatory because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book and discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media.
"In 21 years of being a judge and sentencing people and looking at terms and conditions of supervised release, I've never seen such a clause," Hellerstein added. He allowed Cohen to return to house arrest.
While Cohen's multiple felony counts include fraud and perjury, and his own redemption testimony drew further accusations of lying to Congress, he makes clear that doesn't expect credit from readers given this history with the truth.
"As you read my story, you will no doubt ask yourself if you like me, or if you would act as I did, and the answer will frequently be no to both of those questions," he writes.
To wit, the "golden showers" line above alludes to an evening at a Las Vegas strip club called "The Act," which was previously revealed in David Corn and Michael Isikoff's book about the Trump-Russia saga, "Russian Roulette":
The Act was no ordinary nightclub. Since March, it had been the target of undercover surveillance by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and investigators for the club's landlord — the Palazzo, which was owned by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson — after complaints about its obscene performances. The club featured seminude women performing simulated sex acts of bestiality and grotesque sadomasochism — skits that a few months later would prompt a Nevada state judge to issue an injunction barring any more of its "lewd" and "offensive" performances. Among the club's regular acts cited by the judge was one called "Hot for Teacher," in which naked college girls simulate urinating on a professor. In another act, two women disrobe and then "one female stands over the other female and simulates urinating while the other female catches the urine in two wine glasses." (The Act shut down after the judge's ruling. There is no public record of which skits were performed the night Trump was present.)
Of course, a similar lewd scenario appears in former British intelligence official Christopher Steele's series of intel briefs on Russian election interference, in which four sources help Steele assemble a scene now known colloquially as the "pee tape" passage.
Trump, the story goes, was captured on video at the Ritz Carlton Moscow during the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant watching sex workers urinate on a bed that then-President Barack Obama and -First Lady Michelle Obama had slept on not long before, according to what has become known as the "Steele dossier." Russian intelligence reportedly had the tape in its possession, Steele's sources said, and held it over Trump as "kompromat," or blackmail.
However, when Cohen was asked directly about the pee tape in his nationally televised tell-all Congressional testimony, he offered no fireworks.
"I've heard about these tapes for a long time," Cohen said. "I've had many people contact me over the years. I have no reason to believe that that tape exists."
Former special counsel Robert Mueller's team had obtained text messages exchanged between Cohen and Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze about a week before the 2016 election, in which the businessman tells Cohen he's stopped the "flow" of compromising tapes from Russia. Cohen told investigators he had spoken to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts, and Rtskhiladze later told Mueller he heard the tapes were fake.
A few weeks after Cohen's testimony before Congress, Mueller released his final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and an obscure footnote buried in Section II B of Volume II appeared to allude to Cohen's testimony.
Comey's briefing included the Steele reporting's unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 2016, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, "Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there's anything else. Just so you know . . .." (10/30/ 16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen.)
Rtskhiladze said "tapes" referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. (Rtskhiladze 4/4/ 18 302, at 12.) Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. (Cohen 9/12/18 302, at 13.) Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. (Rtskhiladze 5/10/ 18 302, at 7.)
The texts came three days after one of the counts to which Cohen pleaded guilty supposedly occurred: making a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels at the direction of the president in violation of federal elections law in order to conceal their alleged affair. Trump has repeatedly denied these allegations, which are currently being probed by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.
It is unclear if Rtskhiladze provided Mueller with a reason for why he had withheld his inside knowledge of the authenticity of the tapes, and it also remains unclear why Cohen would feel compelled to tell Trump about the tapes if he also doubted their existence.
At one point a millionaire lawyer several times over, Cohen until recently worked with other federal inmates at a sewage treatment facility for $8 a month, a fact which he opens up about in his book's foreword. Most of the foreword is dedicated to convincing the reader that Trump gets people to do what he wants without giving specific orders, a technique which Cohen says is part of Trump's "mob" boss mentality.
"If you want to know how the mob really works, you've got to talk to the bad guys," he writes. "I was one of Trump's bad guys. In his world, I was one hundred percent a made man."
The foreword begins:
The President of the United States wanted me dead.
Or, let me say it the way Donald Trump would: He wouldn't mind if I was dead. That was how Trump talked. Like a mob boss, using language carefully calibrated to convey his desires and demands, while at the same time employing deliberate indirection to insulate himself and avoid actually ordering a hit on his former personal attorney, confidant, consigliere, and, at least in my heart, adopted son.
Cohen goes on to suggest that he knows this because he himself had at one time threatened to kill in Trump's interest:
Driving south from New York City to Washington, DC on I-95 on the cold, gray winter morning of February 24th, 2019, en route to testify against President Trump before both Houses of Congress, I knew he wanted me gone before I could tell the nation what I know about him. Not the billionaire celebrity savior of the country or lying lunatic, not the tabloid tycoon or self-anointed Chosen One, not the avatar @realdonaldtrump of Twitter fame, but the real real Donald Trump—the man very, very, very few people know.
If that sounds overly dramatic, consider the powers Trump possessed and imagine how you might feel if he threatened you personally. Heading south, I wondered if my prospects for survival were also going in that direction. I was acutely aware of the magnitude of Trump's fury aimed directly at my alleged betrayal. I was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses and I kept the speedometer at eighty, avoiding the glances of other drivers. Trump's theory of life, business and politics revolved around threats and the prospect of destruction—financial, electoral, personal, physical—as a weapon. I knew how he worked because I had frequently been the one screaming threats on his behalf as Trump's fixer and designated thug.
The passage calls to mind a high-profile spat between Mueller's office and BuzzFeed News in January 2019 over a report which ultimately played a role in the Senate confirmation hearings over the Trump's nomination of William Barr as his second attorney general.
At the time, BuzzFeed reported that it had obtained documents and information suggesting that Trump had "directed" Cohen to lie to Congress on his behalf, a crime to which Cohen later pleaded guilty.
"President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow," the report claimed, citing "two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter" who said Mueller had supporting evidence.
If true, the report would mean that Trump had, in fact, obstructed justice. (Mueller outlined at least ten instances of possible obstruction by the president in his report, though he did not make a conclusion about their legality.) It had a unique effect on politicians, who began to speak of impeachment in a manner in which they had not yet previously done. The report coincided with the confirmation hearing, where, under questioning from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Barr acknowledged that the event, as described, constituted obstruction.
"In your memo, you talk about the Comey decision, and you talk about obstruction of justice. And you already went over that, which I appreciate," Klobuchar said. "You wrote on page one that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?"
"That — yes," Barr replied. "Or any, well any person who persuades another."
The allegation was so explosive that Mueller's office broke its near-total silence up to that point, issuing a statement denying the report as written:
BuzzFeed's description of specific statements to the Special Counsel's Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen's congressional testimony are not accurate.
When Cohen himself appeared before Congress only a few weeks later, he spoke of that incident much as he describes Trump in his opening lines of the foreword of his book.
"Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That's not how he operates," Cohen said, adding, "he would look me in the eye and tell me there's no business in Russia and then go out and lie to the American people by saying the same thing. In his way, he was telling me to lie."
In a moving passage, Cohen invokes the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who "had the final word, as chair of the Oversight Committee."
"Cummings was the lone politician I encountered in all my travails who took an interest in me as a human being," Cohen writes. "When I reported to serve my sentence, he even took steps to ensure my security in prison. It was a selfless act of kindness for which I will always be grateful."
"I know this has been hard," Cummings said to me and the nation, his words hitting me like a kick in the gut. "I know you've faced a lot. I know that you are worried about your family. But this is a part of your destiny. And hopefully this portion of your destiny will lead to a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America, and a better world. And I mean that from the depths of my heart."
"We are better than this," Cummings concluded. Cohen was in tears.