Michael Cohen, the former lawyer and fixer for President Donald Trump, says he now regrets paying a small technology company to rig online polls in Trump's favor in the lead up to the 2016 election — and then stealing some of the payment money.
As the Wall Street Journal first reported, Cohen hired RedFinch Solutions LLC, a tech firm owned by John Gauger, who is also chief information officer at the evangelical college Liberty University, where president Jerry Falwell Jr. is an outspoken Trump supporter. According to Gauger's account, Cohen paid him to manipulate two online polls in order to have them benefit Trump. Gauger appears to have been unsuccessful in doing this — Trump did not break into the top 100 candidates in a January 2014 CNBC online poll and only ranked fifth in a February 2015 online poll by Drudge Report.
In addition, Cohen wanted Gauger to create a Twitter account called @WomenForCohen that would promote the fixer as a "sex symbol" (the account touts Cohen as "strong, pit bull, sex symbol, no nonsense, business oriented, and ready to make a difference!), and he also asked Gauger to improve internet-search results for himself and his friends. In return, Cohen promised that he would help RedFinch network with executives who visited Trump's hotel and golf-course businesses but failed to deliver on that. He also failed to obtain campaign work for Gauger despite promising to do so; although there were two phone calls between Gauger and campaign officials, he wasn't hired.
According to Gauger, when he visited Trump Tower to collect the $50,000 he was owed by Cohen, the lawyer gave him a blue Walmart bag with between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash as well as a boxing glove that Cohen claimed had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter. Despite underpaying Gauger, however, Cohen still received a $50,000 reimbursement from Trump (paid largely from the president's personal account), prompting Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani to say that "if one thing has been established, it’s that Michael Cohen is completely untrustworthy."
Cohen, by contrast, would only tell the Journal that "all monies paid to Mr. Gauger were by check." He later tweeted that "as for the @WSJ article on poll rigging, what I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of @realDonaldTrump @POTUS. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it."
Cohen's relationship with Trump has been a central part of the larger narrative of scandals that have threatened to derail the latter's presidency. After years as one of Trump's most loyal and trusted associates, Cohen turned on Trump as stories broke that he had helped pay off two women who claimed the future president had engaged in extramarital affairs with them. He was also revealed to have secretly recorded some of his conversations with Trump, while Trump himself has denounced Cohen for "flipping" and argued that any information which comes from the lawyer is inherently untrustworthy.