Michael Cohen, Trump’s loyal fixer turned tell-all accuser

Michael Cohen, former personal attorney to US President Donald Trump, exits federal court, in New York City (File/AFP)
Updated 12 December 2018

Michael Cohen, Trump’s loyal fixer turned tell-all accuser

  • Last month Cohen acknowledged that he lied to Congress about his contacts with Russia about building a Trump Tower in Moscow
  • Cohen is hoping that his cooperation with authorities investigating Trump will land him a more lenient punishment

NEW YORK, USA: He was the personal lawyer to Donald Trump and the epitome of loyalty — a man who said he would “take a bullet” for his boss.
But since August, Michael Cohen has been the witness Trump fears most in the Russia investigation, one whose testimony has the power to strike at the heart of Trump’s increasingly embattled presidency.
The 52-year-old New Yorker has gone from being one of Trump’s most trusted lieutenants over the course of 12 years to telling authorities everything he knows about the former real estate magnate’s business affairs.
On Wednesday, Cohen will be sentenced for campaign finance law violations and tax and bank fraud offenses.
Until now, this attorney and businessman who met Trump through real estate dealings was as close to Trump as you can get.
Cohen admired Trump the brash tycoon and twice read his book “The Art of the Deal.” He was fiercely faithful to Trump as the latter moved toward a life in politics and he is said to have fancied, in vain, the job of White House chief counsel — the president’s official lawyer.
Named vice president of the Trump family business, The Trump Organization, Cohen was the fixer assigned the most delicate tasks the president needed done.
These included making nasty threats to journalists who asked too many questions about the shady dealings of a man whose empire was built on pillars of loud, cocky and grandiose self-promotion.
“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 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.”
This devotion would earn Cohen — the son of a nurse and a Polish-born doctor who survived the Holocaust — the nickname of Trump’s pitbull. And ultimately it has also dragged him into life-altering legal woes.
US media say Cohen’s first taste of lawyering prepared him for shady dealings.
After graduating from law school at Western Michigan University, he specialized in helping people who were hurt in accidents — an ambulance chaser in slang.
For instance, he once defended a woman accused of trying to defraud an insurance company by seeking damages from a fictitious road accident.
Along with his Ukrainian-born wife, Cohen later made a boatload investing in New York taxi licenses, in a pre-Uber era when their value was high and always climbing.
As Trump’s fixer, Cohen arranged for Trump to pay hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playmate Karen McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had sex with Trump, right before the 2016 election.
But it was an FBI raid on his office in April of this year that paved the way for Cohen to start cooperating with authorities investigation whether Trump colluded with Russia.
Four months later, Cohen acknowledged paying a total of $280,000 to those two women in exchange for their silence. He confessed to violating campaign finance laws that bar individual contributions of more than $2,700 to a politician’s campaign.
For the first time, and very importantly, he said he had acted at the president’s request in an effort to keep those women from harming Trump’s chances of winning the election by triggering a scandal on the eve of the vote.
Cohen thus became a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the vote in his favor and whether the president has tried to obstruct justice by blocking the probe into his relationship with the Russians.
Last month Cohen acknowledged that he lied to Congress about his contacts with Russia about building a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Cohen said these contacts went on until June 2016, far longer than he had previously told lawmakers.
Cohen also said he had been approached in late 2015 by a Russian proposing “political” cooperation with team Trump — an admission that fueled suspicions of collusion.
Cohen’s admissions have people talking about possible impeachment of Trump or criminal charges against him if he does not win re-election in 2020. It is generally thought that a sitting US president cannot be indicted.
Cohen’s defenders depict him as a fall guy, but for now he is the only one who is about to go to prison.
New York prosecutors want to see Cohen sentenced to what they call a substantial term of four to five years in prison.
Cohen is hoping that his cooperation with authorities investigating Trump will land him a more lenient punishment.
Cohen’s goal now is to get his widely expected prison time over and done with and “begin his life virtually anew, including developing new means to support his family,” as his lawyer puts it.


South Korean justice minister resigns during finance probe

Updated 14 October 2019

South Korean justice minister resigns during finance probe

  • Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on President Moon Jae-in
  • The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho for too long

SEOUL: South Korea’s justice minister resigned Monday, citing the political burden of an investigation into alleged financial crimes and academic favors surrounding his family, a scandal that has rocked Seoul’s liberal government and spurred huge protests.

Cho Kuk has denied wrongdoing. But the law professor who for years cultivated an anti-elitist reformist image said he couldn’t remain a government minister while ignoring the pain his family was enduring.

Huge crowds of Cho’s supporters and critics have marched in South Korea’s capital in recent weeks, demonstrating how the months-long saga over Cho has deepened the country’s political divide.

Cho said in a statement he was offering to resign to reduce the burden on President Moon Jae-in, whose office later said he accepted Cho’s offer.

Cho’s resignation came as state prosecutors continued a criminal investigation into his university professor wife, brother and other relatives over allegations of dubious financial investments, fraud and fake credentials for his daughter that may have helped her enter a top university in Seoul and a medical school in Busan.

“I concluded that I should no longer burden the president and the government with issues surrounding my family,” Cho said in an emailed statement. “I think the time has come that the completion of efforts to reform the prosecution would only be possible if I step down from my position.”

Moon’s liberal Minjoo Party and Cho’s supporters, who occupied streets in front of a Seoul prosecutors office for the fourth-straight weekend Saturday, have claimed the investigation is aimed at intimating Cho, who has pushed for reforms that include curbing the power of prosecutors.

South Korea’s main opposition party called Cho’s resignation offer “too late” and criticized Moon for causing turmoil with a divisive appointment.

In a meeting with senior aides, Moon said he was “very sorry for consequentially creating a lot of conflict between the people” over his hand-picked choice but also praised Cho’s “passion for prosecutorial reform and willingness to calmly withstand various difficulties to get it done.”

Moon had stood firmly by Cho, whom he appointed a month ago despite parliamentary resistance. But the controversy dented the popularity of Moon and his ruling liberal party in recent polls, an alarming development for the liberals ahead of parliamentary elections in April.

The conservative Liberty Korea Party criticized Moon for sticking with Cho for too long. “Is President Moon Jae-in listening to people’s voices only after his and his ruling party’s approval ratings face the danger of a nosedive?” the conservative Liberty Korea Party said in a statement.

In South Korea, prosecutors have exclusive authority to indict and seek warrants for criminal suspects and exercise control over police investigative activities. They can also directly initiate criminal investigations even when there’s no complaint.

Critics say such powers are excessive and have prompted past conservative governments to use the prosecution as a political tool to suppress opponents and carry out vendettas.

The controversy over Cho has struck a nerve in a country facing widening inequality and brutally competitive school environments and has tarnished the image of Moon, who vowed to restore faith in fairness and justice after replacing President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached and jailed for corruption.

Recent polls indicate Moon’s popularity has sank to the lowest levels since he took office. In a survey of some 1,000 South Koreans released last Friday by Gallup Korea, 51% of the respondents negatively rated Moon’s performance in state affairs, compared to 43% who said he was doing a good job. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.