New York, United States | AFP | 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.
Michael Cohen, once one of Trump’s most trusted lieutenants, completed his acrimonious break with the president on Wednesday.
In dramatic nationally televised testimony before a US House committee, the 52-year-old New Yorker called Trump a “racist,” a “conman” and a “cheat.”
Cohen, who is to report to prison on May 6 to begin serving a three-year sentence for fraud, tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and lying to Congress, expressed regret for his years of devoted service to the real estate tycoon.
“I am ashamed of my weakness and misplaced loyalty — of the things I did for Mr. Trump in an effort to protect and promote him,” Cohen said.
“I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore.”
Since August, Cohen has been the witness Trump fears most in the Russia investigation, one whose testimony has the power to strike at the heart of his increasingly embattled presidency.
After a decade working at Trump’s side, Cohen has been telling law enforcement and Special Counsel Robert Mueller everything he knows about the real estate magnate’s affairs.
Before meeting Trump in New York through real estate dealings, Cohen was an admirer of the brash tycoon, twice reading his book “The Art of the Deal.”
Named vice president of the Trump family business, The Trump Organization, Cohen was the fixer assigned the most delicate tasks his boss needed done.
These included making threats to journalists who asked too many questions about the shady dealings of a man whose empire was built on loud, cocky and grandiose self-promotion.
– Nickname, the pitbull –
“Sitting here today, it seems unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong,” Cohen said Wednesday.
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 dragged him into life-altering legal woes.
“Over the past year or so, I have done some real soul searching,” Cohen told the House committee. “I see now that my ambition and the intoxication of Trump power had much to do with the bad decisions in part that I made.
“I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man,” Cohen said. “I have fixed things, but I am no longer your ‘fixer,’ Mr. Trump.”
After graduating from law school at Western Michigan University, Cohen specialized in representing people 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 great deal of money investing in New York taxi licenses, in a pre-Uber era when their value was high and always climbing.
As Trump’s personal attorney, Cohen arranged for hush money payments before the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had sex with Trump.
– ‘A fool’ –
But it was an FBI raid on his office in April of last year that paved the way for Cohen to start cooperating with the investigation into whether Trump colluded with Russia.
Cohen has met seven times with the special counsel’s office, which is probing whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 presidential vote in his favor.
Cohen said Wednesday he had no “direct evidence” that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia “but I have my suspicions.”
Cohen acknowledged that he lied to Congress about his contacts with Russia about building a Trump Tower in Moscow and said they went on until at least June 2016, far longer than he had previously told lawmakers.
During his testimony on Wednesday, Republican members of the House committee repeatedly sought to undermine Cohen’s credibility, pointing to his felony convictions.
Cohen was asked at one point how he would characterize himself.
“A fool,” he said.