Michael Dean Cohen (born August 25, 1966) is an American attorney who worked as a lawyer for Donald Trump from 2006 until the termination of his employment in May 2018, a month after a federal investigation began. The investigation led to him pleading guilty on August 21, 2018, to eight counts of campaign finance violations, tax fraud, and bank fraud. In his statement before the court, Cohen said he violated campaign finance laws "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office," meaning Trump, "for the principal purpose of influencing the election" for president in 2016. Cohen served as a vice-president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Trump, and previously served as co-president of Trump Entertainment and was a board member of the Eric Trump Foundation, a children's health charity. From 2017 to 2018, Cohen was deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Cohen grew up in the town of Lawrence on Long Island. His mother was a nurse, and his father, who survived the Holocaust, was a surgeon. Cohen is Jewish. He attended Lawrence Woodmere Academy and received his BA from American University in 1988 and his JD from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 1991. Cohen married Ukraine-born Laura Shusterman in 1994. Laura Shusterman's father, Fima Shusterman, left Ukraine for New York in 1975. He has a daughter who was attending the University of Pennsylvania as of May 2017. His uncle is a family practitioner who gave medical aid to members of the Lucchese crime family. Before joining the Trump Organization, Cohen had purchased several homes in Trump's buildings. A 2017 New York Times article reported that Cohen is known for having "a penchant for luxury"; he was married at The Pierre, drove a Porsche while attending college, and once owned a Bentley. Cohen began practicing personal injury law in New York in 1992, working for Melvyn Estrin in Manhattan. As of 2003, Cohen was an attorney in private practice and CEO of MLA Cruises, Inc., and of the Atlantic Casino.
In 2006, Cohen was a partner at the law firm Phillips, Nizer, Benjamin, Krim & Ballon. He practiced Law at the firm for about a year before joining The Trump Organization. In 2003, when Cohen was a candidate for New York City Council, he provided a biography to the New York City Campaign Finance Board for inclusion in its voters' guide, listing him as co-owner of Taxi Funding Corp. and a fleet of New York City taxicabs numbering over 200. At the time, Cohen was business partners in the taxi business with "taxi king" Simon Garber. As of 2017, Cohen was estimated to own at least 34 taxi medallions through 17 limited liability companies (LLCs). Until April 2017, another "taxi king", disbarred attorney and convicted felon Gene Friedman, managed the medallions still held by Cohen; this arrangement ended after the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission decided not to renew Freidman's licenses. Between April and June 2017, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance filed seven tax warrants against Cohen and his wife for $37,434 in unpaid taxi taxes due to the MTA.
Cohen has been involved in real estate ventures in Manhattan, including buying and selling four apartment buildings between 2011 and 2014. The total purchase price of the four buildings was $11 million and the total sales price was $32 million. Cohen sold the four properties at above their assessed values, in all-cash transactions, to LLCs owned by persons whose identities are not public. After this was reported by McClatchy DC in October 2017, Cohen said that all four properties were purchased by an American-owned "New York real estate family fund" that paid cash for the properties in order to obtain a tax deferred (Section 1031) exchange, but did not specifically identify the buyer. In 2015, Cohen purchased an Upper East Side apartment building for $58 million. Cohen volunteered for the 1988 presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis, was an intern for Congressman Joe Moakley, and voted for Barack Obama in 2008, though he later became disappointed with Obama. In 2003, he unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for the New York City Council from the Fourth Council District (a Manhattan district). Cohen received 4,205 votes, and was defeated by Democratic candidate Eva S. Moskowitz, who received 13,745 votes. In 2010, Cohen briefly campaigned for a seat in the New York State Senate. He was a registered Democrat until he officially registered as a Republican on March 9, 2017.
Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2006. Trump hired him in part because he was already a fan of Trump's, having read Trump's Art of the Deal twice, bought several Trump properties, and convinced his own parents and in-laws, as well as a business partner to buy condominiums in Trump World Tower. Cohen aided Trump in his struggle with the condominium board at the Trump World Tower, which led to Trump obtaining control of the board. Cohen became a close confidant to Trump, maintaining an office near Trump at Trump Tower. Cohen was named COO of Mixed martial arts promotion company, Affliction Entertainment, in which Trump held a significant financial stake. While an executive at the organization, Cohen was known as Trump's "pit bull." In late 2011, when Trump was publicly speculating about running for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination, Cohen co-founded the website "Should Trump Run?" to draft Trump into entering the race. In an interview with ABC News in 2011, Cohen stated, "If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn't like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump's benefit. 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." In 2013, Cohen sent an email to the satirical news website The Onion, demanding that an article The Onion had published which mocked Donald Trump ("When You're Feeling Low, Just Remember I'll Be Dead In About 15 Or 20 Years") be removed with an apology, claiming it was defamatory.
In 2015, in response to an inquiry by reporter Tim Mak of The Daily Beast concerning rape allegations (later recanted) by Ivana Trump about her then-husband Donald Trump, Cohen said, "I'm warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I'm going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting." A video of an interview of Cohen by CNN's Brianna Keilar went viral, in which Cohen said "Says who?" several times in response to Keilar's statement that Trump was behind in all of the polls. Cohen defended Trump against charges of antisemitism. In 2016, he was a co-founder, along with Darrell C. Scott, of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump. Peter J. Gleason, a lawyer who filed for protection of documents pertaining to two women with sexual abuse allegations against Eric T. Schneiderman, stated - without offering details or corroborating evidence - that Cohen told him that if Trump would be elected governor of New York in 2013, the latter would help bring the accusations to public attention. The Trump–Russia dossier, published in January 2017, alleges that Cohen met with Russian officials in Prague, Czech Republic in 2016, with the objective of paying those who had hacked the DNC and to "cover up all traces of the hacking operation". The dossier contains raw intelligence, and is widely thought to be a mix of accurate and inaccurate information. Cohen has denied the allegations against him, stating that he was in Los Angeles between August 23 and 29, and in New York for the entire month of September. According to a Czech intelligence source, there is no record of him entering Prague by plane, but Respekt magazine and Politico pointed out that he could have theoretically entered by car or train from a neighboring country within the Schengen Area, for example Italy. In the latter case, a record of Cohen entering the Schengen zone from a non-Schengen country should exist, if it occurred.
However, on April 13, 2018, the DC Bureau of McClatchy Newspapers reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Cohen did travel to Prague during the late-summer of 2016, with two sources having confirmed this secret trip. The evidence is said to show that Cohen entered the Czech Republic from Germany, and since both countries are in European Union's Schengen passport area, Cohen would not have received a passport stamp to enter Czech territory. The following day, Cohen again denied he has "ever been to Prague". Cohen also said that he didn't travel to the European Union in August 2016. In late January 2017, Cohen met with Ukrainian opposition politician Andrey Artemenko and Felix Sater at the Loews Regency in Manhattan to discuss a plan to lift sanctions against Russia. The proposed plan would require that Russian forces withdraw from eastern Ukraine and that Ukraine hold a referendum on whether Crimea should be "leased" to Russia for 50 or 100 years. Cohen was given a written proposal in a sealed envelope that he delivered to then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn in early February. On April 3, 2017, Cohen was appointed a national deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. In April 2017, Cohen also formed an alliance with Squire Patton Boggs for legal and lobbying counsel on behalf of Trump. In May 2017, amidst expanding inquiries into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, two congressional panels asked Cohen to provide information about any communications he had with people connected to the Russian government. He was also a subject of the Mueller investigation in 2018.
In May 2018, the BBC reported that Cohen had received a secret payment of between $400,000 and $600,000 from intermediaries for Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to arrange a meeting between Poroshenko and Trump, though Cohen was not registered as a foreign agent. Cohen and the Ukrainian president's office denied the allegations. In May 2018, Rudy Giuliani announced that Cohen was no longer Trump's lawyer. In July, seized tapes secretly recorded by Cohen of his conversations with Trump about hush payments to Karen McDougal were disclosed to the New York Times, seemingly contradicting earlier statements by Trump denying knowledge of the payments, and raising questions about campaign finance ethics. Cohen also asserted that then Candidate Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, Donald Jr. and other Trump campaign officials with Russians who claimed to possess information damaging to the Hillary Clinton campaign, contradicting the President's repeated denials that he was aware of the meeting until long after it had taken place. In June 2018, Cohen resigned as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. His resignation letter cited the ongoing investigations and also criticized the Trump administration's policy of separating undocumented families at the border.
In the fall of 2016, adult film actress Stephanie Clifford (better known by her stage name Stormy Daniels) was speaking to some reporters about her allegation that she had had a sexual affair with Trump in 2006. In October, Cohen and her attorney, Keith M. Davidson, negotiated a non-disclosure agreement under which she was to be paid $130,000 for her silence. Cohen created a Delaware limited liability company called Essential Consultants and used it to pay the $130,000. The arrangement was publicly revealed by the Wall Street Journal in January 2018. Cohen told The New York Times in February 2018, that the $130,000 was paid to Daniels from his own pocket, that it was not a campaign contribution, and that he was not reimbursed for making it by either the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign. The Washington Post later noted that, by stating that he used his own money to "facilitate" the payment, Cohen was not ruling out the possibility that Trump, as an individual, reimbursed Cohen for the payment. In April 2018, Trump acknowledged for the first time that Cohen has represented him in the Stormy Daniels case, after previously having denied knowledge of the $130,000 payment. On March 5, the Wall Street Journal cited anonymous sources recounting Cohen as saying he missed two deadlines to pay Daniels because Cohen "couldn't reach Mr. Trump in the hectic final days of the presidential campaign", and that after Trump's election, Cohen had complained that he had not been reimbursed for the payment. Cohen described this report as "fake news".
On March 9, NBC News reported that Cohen had used his Trump Organization email to negotiate with Daniels regarding her nondisclosure agreement, and that Cohen had used the same Trump Organization email to arrange for a transfer for funds which would eventually lead to Daniels' payment. In response, Cohen acknowledged that he had transferred funds from his home equity line of credit to the LLC and from the LLC to Daniels' attorney. In a March 25, 2018, interview with 60 Minutes, Daniels said that she and Trump had sex once, and that later she had been threatened in front of her infant daughter, and felt pressured to later sign a nondisclosure agreement. On March 26, David Schwarz, a lawyer for Cohen, told ABC's Good Morning America that Daniels was lying in the 60 Minutes interview. Cohen's lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter claiming Daniels' statements constituted "libel per se and intentional infliction of emotional distress" to Cohen. Cohen initiated a private arbitration case against Daniels in February 2018, based on an October 2016 non-disclosure agreement signed by Daniels in October 2016, in exchange for $130,000. Cohen obtained an order from an arbitrator barring Daniels from publicly discussing her alleged relationship with Trump. Daniels subsequently brought a lawsuit in federal court against Trump and Cohen, arguing that the non-disclosure agreement is legally invalid because Trump never signed it, Cohen responded by seeking to compel arbitration, which would avoid public proceedings. In April 2018, Cohen filed a declaration in the court saying that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself in the Daniels lawsuit.
On May 18, lawyers for Cohen filed an objection for Daniel's lawyer Michael Avenatti being allowed to represent her in a case involving Cohen, claiming it, the objection, was based on the violations of ethical rules, and local court rules, amongst other issues. After Cohen's August 2018 conviction, Trump stated that the payment to Daniels came from him personally and not from the campaign during a Fox & Friends interview. In 2016, Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, claimed that she and Trump had an affair from 2006 until 2007, a claim that Trump has since denied. The National Enquirer paid McDougal $150,000 for her story, but never published it, in a practice known as catch-and-kill. On September 30, 2016, Cohen created Resolution Consultants LLC, a Delaware shell company, to purchase the rights to McDougal's story from the National Enquirer, though the rights to the story were ultimately never purchased. Cohen had been known to record conversations and phone calls with other people. According to his lawyer Lanny Davis, "Michael Cohen had the habit of using his phone to record conversations instead of taking notes". Altogether the prosecutors have been given more than one hundred audio recordings from the material seized from Cohen in the April raid, after the Trump team withdrew their claims of privilege for those items; reportedly only one of them features a substantive conversation with Trump. The existence of that tape was revealed on July 20 and the actual recording was released on July 25.
On July 20, it was revealed that Cohen secretly recorded a conversation with Trump discussing a potential hush payment to the publisher of National Enquirer. The recording had been classified as a privileged attorney-client communication by the Special Master reviewing the Cohen material, but Trump's attorneys waived that claim, meaning that prosecutors can have it and use it. The conversation in that tape occurred in September 2016, two months before the election and weeks after the Enquirer paid McDougal the $150,000. In the conversation, Trump and Cohen discuss whether to buy the rights to her story from the Enquirer, and Trump appears to approve the idea. Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, initially claimed that the tape shows Trump saying "make sure it's done correctly, and make sure it's done by check". Giuliani also noted that no payment was ultimately made, and asserted that Trump's team waived privilege and allowed the recording to be revealed because it shows no violation of law. The recording appears to contradict Hope Hicks, then Trump’s spokeswoman, who said when the story of the Enquirer payment came out a few days before the election that the Trump campaign had "no knowledge of any of this".
On July 25, Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis released the actual recording to CNN, which played it on the air on the Cuomo Prime Time program. On it, Trump can be heard concluding a telephone conversation with an unidentified person and then discussing several items of business with Cohen. Cohen mentions that he needs to "open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David," interpreted as meaning David Pecker, the head of American Media which publishes the National Enquirer. Later when they discuss financing, Trump is heard saying something about "pay with cash", to which Cohen responds "no, no, no", but the tape is unclear and it is disputed what is said next; the word "check" can be heard. A transcript provided by Trump's attorneys has Trump saying "Don't pay with cash ... check." The tape cuts off abruptly at that point. A lawyer for the Trump Organization said that any reference to "cash" would not have meant "green currency", but a one-time payment ("cash") vs. extended payments ("financing"), in either case accompanied by documents.  According to Aaron Blake at The Washington Post, "the tape provides the first evidence that Trump spoke with Cohen about purchasing the rights to women's stories -- apparently to silence them -- before the 2016 election." He also notes that Cohen speaks in "somewhat coded language", which Trump understands, suggesting that he is already familiar with the issue.
Despite the taped conversation, on August 23, in a Fox News interview Trump states that he was not aware of the hush-money payments until "later on": “Later on I knew. Later on. What he did –and they weren’t taken out of the campaign finance, that’s the big thing." He added: “In fact, my first question when I heard about it was, did they come out of the campaign, because that could be a little dicey. And they didn’t come out of the campaign and that’s big. But they weren’t…that’s not even a campaign violation.” According to U.S. election rules, any payments intended to influence an election vote must be reported. In April 2018, The Wall Street Journal reported that Shera Bechard, a former Playboy Playmate, had an affair with married Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, got pregnant by him, had an abortion, and was to be paid $1.6 million in so-called "hush money" to stay quiet. Broidy is a Republican fundraiser and deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee. In a 2018 court proceeding, Cohen said he had given legal advice to only three clients in 2017: Donald Trump, Sean Hannity, and Elliott Broidy. In late 2017, Cohen arranged the $1.6 million payment by Broidy to Bechard as part of a nondisclosure agreement requiring Bechard to keep silent about the matter. Cohen was Broidy's attorney and Keith M. Davidson represented Bechard. Davidson had previously been the attorney for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. The Bechard nondisclosure agreement used the same pseudonyms - David Dennison for the man and Peggy Peterson for the woman - as in the Daniels agreement. The payments were to be made in installments.
On July 6, 2018, Bechard filed a lawsuit against Broidy, Davidson, and Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti, claiming the three had breached the agreement in relation to the cessation of the settlement payments. Essential Consultants LLC is a Delaware shell company created by Cohen in October 2016, to facilitate payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels. For many months thereafter, Cohen used the LLC for an array of business activities largely unknown to the public, with at least $4.4 million moving through the LLC between Trump's election to the presidency and January 2018. In May 2018, Stormy Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti posted a seven-page report to Twitter detailing what he said were financial transactions involving Essential Consultants and Cohen. Avenatti did not reveal the source of his information, which was later largely confirmed by the New York Times and other publications. The data showed that hundreds of thousands of dollars were given to Cohen, via Essential Consultants, from Fortune 500 firms such as Novartis and AT&T, which had business before the Trump administration. It was also revealed that Essential Consultants had received at least $500,000 from a New York-based investment firm called Columbus Nova which is linked to a Russian oligarch. The firm's largest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, a Ukrainian-born Russian oligarch. Vekselberg is a business partner of Soviet-born billionaire and major Republican Party donor, Leonard Blavatnik. A spokesperson for Columbus Nova said that the payment was a consulting fee that had nothing to do with Vekselberg.
Questions were raised about many of the payments, such as four totaling $200,000 that AT&T paid to the LLC between October 2017 and January 2018, while at the same time the proposed merger between the company and Time Warner was pending before the Justice Department. AT&T claimed that the money was paid to the LLC and other firms that were used to provide insights into understanding the new administration, and that the LLC did no legal or lobbying work for AT&T. On May 11, 2018, the CEO of AT&T stated that in early 2017 it was approached by Cohen to provide "his opinion on the new President and his administration". Cohen was paid $600,000 ($50,000 per month) over the year, which its CEO described as "a big mistake". Novartis was also approached by Cohen and was offered similar services. Novartis, a Switzerland–based pharmaceutical giant paid the LLC nearly $1.2 million in separate payments. Novartis released a statement May 9, 2018, that it hired the LLC to help the company understand the "health care policy" of the new administration, but it actually did not receive benefit for its investment. The statement continued that Novartis made a decision to not engage Essential Consultants further, but it could not terminate the contract for "cause", raising concerns on why the company did not pursue reimbursement. Korea Aerospace Industries paid $150,000, ostensibly for advice on "cost accounting standards".
Franklin L. Haney agreed to pay Cohen $10 million if he successfully lobbied for the United States Department of Energy to finance the Bellefonte Nuclear Generating Station, or a reduced fee if the funding targets were only partially met. As of April 2018, Cohen was under federal criminal investigation by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Possible charges reportedly included bank fraud, wire fraud and violations of campaign finance law. On April 9, 2018, the FBI raided Cohen's office at the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs, as well as his home and his hotel room in the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City, pursuant to a federal search warrant. The warrant was obtained by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, whose public corruption unit was conducting an investigation. Seeking the warrant required high-level approval from the Department of Justice. The Interim U.S. Attorney, Geoffrey Berman, was recused. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray – both of whom are Trump appointees – had supervisory roles. The FBI obtained the warrant after a referral from Robert Mueller's Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, although underlying reasons for the raid were not revealed. Following the raid, Squire Patton Boggs law firm ended its formal working relationship with Cohen.
Agents seized emails, tax records, business records, and other matter related to several topics, including payments made by Cohen to Stormy Daniels, and records related to Trump's Access Hollywood controversy. Recordings of phone conversations Cohen made were also obtained. According to Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti and civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom, some of the recordings may have included participants located in California, which would make the recordings illegal, as California is a "two party consent" state. Since Cohen is an attorney, the search included the seizure of materials normally protected by attorney-client privilege, which is subject to a crime-fraud exception if a crime is suspected. Some legal scholars opined that Trump's denial that he had knowledge of the Daniels payment, combined with denials by Cohen and his lawyer David Schwartz, meant both sides had effectively said that matter did not involve attorney-client communications. Cohen and his lawyers argued that all of the thousands of items seized during the FBI raid should be protected by attorney-client privilege and thus withheld from the prosecutors. The judge presiding over Mr. Cohen's case in Manhattan, Judge Kimba M. Wood, appointed a special master, former federal judge Barbara S. Jones, to review all of the seized materials for attorney-client privilege. She found that only 14 of the 639 paper documents were privileged, and out of the 291,770 electronic files seized, only 148 files were withheld from the prosecution. The search warrant itself has been sealed, making it unavailable to the public. The FBI also sought documents pertaining to Cohen's ownership of taxi medallions. Cohen's taxi fleet is operated by Gene Freidman, who is facing legal trouble for alleged tax evasion.
A few days after the raid, McClatchy reported that the Mueller investigation was in possession of evidence that Cohen traveled to Prague in August or September 2016. If true, the report bolsters similar claims in 3 of 17 reports from the Trump–Russia dossier. According to McClatchy's confidential sources, Cohen traveled to Prague via Germany, a passage which would not have required use of a passport due to both countries being within the Schengen Area. In reaction, Cohen denied having ever been to Prague, as he had done in his January 2017 denial following the dossier's release. Mother Jones reported that Cohen had told them "I was in Prague for one afternoon 14 years ago", contradicting later statements that he had never visited. On May 3, 2018, NBC erroneously reported that Cohen's phone lines had been wiretapped for weeks before his office, home and hotel room were raided and that at least one call between the White House and one of the phone lines associated with Cohen was intercepted. Later that day, NBC corrected the story to indicate that Cohen's phone calls had been monitored by pen register, which logs the origins and destinations of calls but not the contents. The Wall Street Journal reported on July 26, 2018, that longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg had been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury regarding the Cohen investigation. In August 2018, it was reported that investigators were in the final stages of their investigation. Cohen officially surrendered to the FBI on August 21, 2018. That afternoon, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges: five counts of tax evasion, one count of making false statements to a financial institution, one count of willfully causing an unlawful corporate contribution, and one count of making an excessive campaign contribution at the request of a candidate for the "principal purpose of influencing [the] election." The plea deal did not include any agreement to cooperate with investigators. The agreement did include jail time. His sentencing is scheduled for December 12, 2018. The judge said he can be released on $500,000 bail after surrendering his passport and any firearms he owns.
After Cohen's conviction his personal lawyer, Lanny Davis, stated that Cohen was ready to "tell everything about Donald Trump that he knows". Davis alluded to Cohen's knowledge which could be used against Trump, and hinted that Cohen had knowledge of whether Trump knew in advance about the computer hacking that was detrimental to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, as well as knowledge of the meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016. He later added that he believed Cohen would agree to testify before Congress, even without immunity. Responding to speculation that President Trump might issue a pardon for Cohen, lawyer Davis said on NPR, "I know that Mr. Cohen would never accept a pardon from a man that he considers to be both corrupt and a dangerous person in the oval office. And [Cohen] has flatly authorized me to say under no circumstances would he accept a pardon from Mr. Trump." In his interview to Sky News, Davis said the turning point for his client's attitude toward Trump was the Helsinki summit in July 2018, which caused him to doubt Trump's loyalty to the U.S. The New York Times reported on August 22, 2018, that Cohen court documents revealed that two senior Trump Organization executives were also involved in the hush money payments, and that Cohen “coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls” about the payments. ABC News reported on September 20, 2018, that Cohen had multiple interviews with Mueller's investigators since his guilty plea, and has been cooperating with New York State investigators regarding the Trump Organization and Trump Foundation. On August 22, 2018, it was announced that the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance had issued a subpoena to Cohen in connection with their investigation into whether the Donald J. Trump Foundation had violated New York tax laws. This investigation is separate from the New York Attorney General's lawsuit alleging that the foundation and its directors violated state and federal laws about the operation of charities.