Thursday ReadsPosted: April 19, 2018
As usual, there’s a massive amount of news this morning. To provide a bit of distraction, I’m illustrating this post with one of my favorite things in Boston: Back Bay doors.
There are stories about various Trump advisers who are involved in scandal or at odds with the “president.” Yesterday voter suppression advocate Kris Kobach was found in contempt of court by a federal judge. It looks like EPA chief Scott Pruitt may soon be buried by his multiple scandals. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has angered Senators with his refusal to brief them on his contacts with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Will that affect the committee vote on his appointment as Secretary of State? Nikki Haley is standing up to Trump, but can he fire here when there are rumors she could run against him in 2020? Finally, Ronan Farrow has a piece about Rex Tillerson’s “last days and chaotic tenure as Secretary of State.”
And in the wake of the raid on Trump attorney Michael Cohen, various lawsuits are being dropped. Former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougall was freed yesterday from her contract with The National Enquirer and can now talk publicly about her relationship with Trump. In addition, Michael Cohen has dropped his libel suits against Fusion GPS and Buzzfeed. Will Trump and Cohen give up their fights with Stormy Daniels soon as well? They have to be living in fear that discovery in these civil cases could reveal embarrassing information related to the FBI searches of Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room.
The biggest story of course is Michael Cohen, his likely criminal indictment, and the danger he poses for Trump.
You probably heard about that Wall Street Journal story (behind paywall) about a former Trump lawyer, Jay Goldberg, warning him about Cohen. Not behind paywalls:
Gloria Borger at CNN: Former Trump lawyer says he warned the President that Cohen could turn against him.
Jay Goldberg, a longtime lawyer for Donald Trump — who negotiated Trump’s divorces from Ivana Trump and Marla Maples decades ago — says he received a call from the President last Friday seeking advice and warned the President to be careful about his longtime friend Michael Cohen, who he predicted could end up cooperating with prosecutors.
‘Anybody who is facing 30 years never stands up,” Goldberg says he told the President. “Without exception, a person facing a prison term cooperates.”Goldberg also added that in addition to cooperation, the person “may also wear a wire.”Goldberg was adamant that anyone facing a long prison term “will testify because they need the government’s affection,” he said. “That way, the government can say they have testified in a truthful manner.”Goldberg said the President had no response.
Gloat over more details at CNN.
Politico: Trump allies worry Cohen will flip.
Two sources close to the president said people in Trump’s inner circle have in recent days been actively discussing the possibility that Michael Cohen — long seen as one of Trump’s most loyal personal allies — might flip if he faces serious charges as a result of his work on behalf of Trump.
“That’s what they’ll threaten him with: life imprisonment,” said Alan Dershowitz, the liberal lawyer and frequent Trump defender who met with the president and his staff over two days at the White House last week. “They’re going to threaten him with a long prison term and try to turn him into a canary that sings.” [….]
Since the raid, the president and his advisers have been singularly focused on the risk of a potential federal prosecution of Cohen, which they view as a much bigger existential threat to the presidency than former FBI Director James Comey, whose book “A Higher Loyalty” has dominated headlines and even Trump’s Twitter feed even before its Tuesday release.
Trump has regularly ranted to friends and advisers about the investigation into Cohen, according to two other people familiar with the conversations. He believes strongly that the FBI raid has pushed the boundaries of attorney-client privilege, telling friends that he and his associates are being unfairly targeted.
“He’s not happy about it,” said one White House official.
Well isn’t that just too bad.
In a conversation with Trump last Friday, Jay Goldberg, one of Trump’s lawyers, warned the president, “Michael will never stand up [for you]” if charged by the government, according to TheWall Street Journal. But why would Trump have anything to worry about, unless … Trump committed a crime that Cohen knows about?
In an interview with the Journal, Goldberg elucidated his concerns about Cohen’s loyalty and the devastating impact it would have if he cooperated with the government. “The mob was broken by Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano caving in out of the prospect of a jail sentence,” Goldberg explained.
Again, this makes a lot of sense as a legal defense strategy for a businessman who has probably done a lot of illegal stuff. But as a public-relations strategy, isn’t Trump’s lawyer supposed to say he believes Cohen is innocent, and would be shocked to learn if he did something wrong, because of course Trump has never engaged in any illegal behavior and would never tolerate it among his employees? He’s probably not supposed to casually liken the president of the United States to the boss of a criminal syndicate.
At this point, I think just about everyone knows that Trump’s business was a crime syndicate and he’s busy using our government to rake in more profits for his crime family.
Trump, Inc.: The Company Michael Cohen Kept.
If you’ve seen video or images of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney, they’ve probably been set in locations that exude power and importance: Cohen berating a CNN anchor in a TV studio, for example, or striding across the sleek marbled interior of Trump Tower, or more recently, smoking cigars in front of Cohen’s temporary residence, the Loews Regency Hotel on Manhattan’s Park Avenue.
But to understand how Michael Cohen arrived in those precincts, you need to venture across New York City’s East River. There, in a Queens warehouse district in the shadows of an elevated No. 7 subway line, is a taxi garage that used to house his law practice. The office area in the front is painted a garish taxi-cab-yellow, with posters of hockey players on the wall and a framed photo of the late Hasidic rabbi, Menachem Schneerson. Cohen practiced law there and invested in the once-lucrative medallions that grant New York cabs the right to operate.
Or you could drive 45 minutes deep into Brooklyn, near where Gravesend turns into Brighton Beach. There, in a desolate stretch near a shuttered podiatrist’s office, you’d find a medical office. According to previously unexamined records, Cohen incorporated a business there in 2002 that was involved in large quantities of medical claims. Separately, he represented more than 100 plaintiffs who claimed they were injured in auto collisions.
At the same time, in Brooklyn and Long Island, New York prosecutors were investigating what Fortune magazine called possibly “the largest organized insurance-fraud ring in U.S. history.” That fraud resulted in hundreds of criminal prosecutions for staging car accidents to collect insurance payments. Cohen was not implicated in the fraud.
A distinctive pattern emerged early in Cohen’s career, according to an examination by WNYC and ProPublica for the Trump, Inc. podcast: Many of the people who crossed paths with Cohen when he worked in Queens and Brooklyn were disciplined, disbarred, accused or convicted of crimes.
It appears that Cohen was Trump’s liason to the Russian mafia and to sleazy deals involving Russian and Ukrainian mobsters. Read all about it at the link.
At Rolling Stone, Seth Hettena offers an excerpt from his upcoming book Trump / Russia, A Definitive History: A Brief History of Michael Cohen’s Criminal Ties.
Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2006, and eventually became Trump’s personal lawyer, a role once occupied by Roy Cohn, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s heavy-lidded hatchet man during the Red Scare who advised Trump in the 1980s. Michael Cohen’s bare-knuckled tactics earned him the nickname of “Tom,” a reference to Tom Hagen, the consigliore to Mafia Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. He grew up on Long Island, the son of a physician who survived the Holocaust in Poland, and like Tom Hagen spent a childhood around organized crime, specifically the Russian Mafiya. Cohen’s uncle, Morton Levine, was a wealthy Brooklyn doctor who owned the El Caribe Country Club, a Brooklyn catering hall and event space that was a well-known hangout for Russian gangsters. Cohen and his siblings all had ownership stakes in the club, which rented for years to the first Mafiya boss of Brighton Beach, Evsei Agron, along with his successors, Marat Balagula and Boris Nayfeld. (Cohen’s uncle said his nephew gave up his stake in the club after Trump’s election.)
I spoke to two former federal investigators who told me Cohen was introduced to Donald Trump by his father-in-law, Fima Shusterman, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ukraine who arrived in the U.S. in 1975. Shusterman was in the garment business and owned a fleet of taxicabs with his partners, Shalva Botier and Edward Zubok – all three men were convicted of a money-laundering related offense in 1993. “Fima may have been a (possibly silent) business partner with Trump, perhaps even used as a conduit for Russian investors in Trump properties and other ventures,” a former federal investigator told me. “Cohen, who married into the family, was given the job with the Trump Org as a favor to Shusterman.” (“Untrue,” Cohen told me. “Your source is creating fake news.”)
Shusterman, who owned at least four New York taxi companies, also set his son-in-law up in the yellow cab business. Cohen once ran 260 yellow cabs with his Ukrainian-born partner, the “taxi king” Simon V. Garber, until their partnership ended acrimoniously in 2012. Glenn Simpson, the private investigator who was independently hired to examine Trump’s Russia connections during the real estate mogul’s presidential run, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Cohen “had a lot of connections to the former Soviet Union, and that he seemed to have associations with organized crime figures in New York and Florida – Russian organized crime figures,” including Garber.
Read the rest at Rolling Stone.
If you don’t want to read long exposes, you can check out Josh Marshall’s coverage of Cohen at Talking Points Memo. Marshall has been researching Cohen for a long time too. Here’s his latest: More on the Michael Cohen Money Trail. Marshall provides links to his previous posts on Cohen.
So . . . what stories are you following today?