Michael Cohen: N.Y. fraud case will "financially destroy" Trump — and may put him in prison

Trump's longtime lawyer and "fixer" on his quest for "Revenge" against "the most dangerous person in America"

Published October 8, 2022 12:00PM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Michael Cohen, the longtime personal attorney and "fixer" for Donald Trump, who went to prison for helping Trump pay hush money to porn actress Stormy Daniels, is after "Revenge." Indeed, that's the title of his second book, which is out next week. As I discussed with Cohen on "Salon Talks" this week, that revenge does not stop with Trump. Cohen's takes on the corruption of the Justice Department under Trump and his experiences being investigated for lots of stuff he didn't do (as well as what he did). According to Cohen, the FBI spent time and resources "running around the country ensuring that I was not where the Steele dossier" claimed he was, and looking into "11 allegations raised against me, all of which are false."

It's apparent in speaking to Cohen why he was such an effective lawyer and fixer for Trump. The guy is a pitbull — animated, loud, smart and damn persuasive. For starters, he says the media gets it wrong when they say he went to jail "in part" because of his role in paying hush money to Daniels before the 2016 election to keep her quiet about a past alleged affair with Trump. "I didn't go to prison in part because of the hush money with Stormy Daniels," Cohen said. "That's the reason why I went, plain and simple."

But as Cohen laid out, he fully expected to be thrown under the bus by Trump, and believes Trump will do the same to Rudy Giuliani — whom Cohen describes as an "idiot" — as well as former chief of staff Mark Meadows and even members of his own family. "What's he capable of? Anything and everything in order to protect himself, plain and simple," Cohen said.

Cohen believes, however, that the recent civil suit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James against Trump and his family members may ultimately lead to Trump going to in prison — and Cohen is undeniably gleeful that he played a role in kicking off that investigation. Even as Cohen insisted that his pursuit of "revenge is not that myopic in terms of just holding Donald Trump" accountable, I also got the sense that no one in America would be happier to see the former president perp-walked than his former lawyer. Watch or read my conversation with Michael Cohen below.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

When the New York attorney general announced the massive civil lawsuit for fraud against Donald Trump, three of his adult kids and various others, she said, "I will remind everyone this investigation only started after Michael Cohen, the former lawyer, testified before Congress and shed light on Donald Trump's misconduct." Remind people about what you said before Congress that sparked this investigation?

That was a nine-hour absolute ... I don't even know what to call it. It was a circus. You had the Democrats asking me questions about Donald Trump — Jamie Raskin, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, so many of the Democrats wanted to know things about Donald Trump, which I answered. Whereas the Republicans, as I stated openly, not one of them asked me a single question about Trump, which was the purpose of having me there.

Trump said, "The FBI raided one of my attorneys." Whoa, whoa! All of a sudden, this orange-crusted buffoon has forgotten my name. Seriously?

I said, "I know what you are all doing because I was part of the group that created this playbook." Right? They received in advance words that they wanted each and every one of the Republicans to use: liar, tax cheat, criminal, soon-to-be felon. These are all the words that Trump, the RNC and so on had forwarded to them in advance. Therefore, it was going to be each one of them spending five minutes denigrating me to the American people because it falls in line with the Trump Putin-esque playbook, which is to denigrate the other person, repeat the lie over and over and over again until the lie becomes the truth.

That's really what my book "Revenge" is about. It's uncovering the truth and showing that the true liar, which I believe we all know, the true dumpster fire that was formally sitting in the Oval Office, is Donald Trump and his acolytes and inner circle.

In your book you write, "Over the years, Trump screwed people over, manipulated them, and used them, and I helped him do it." When the FBI went through your office, Donald Trump was defending you. Did you think at that time he was going to stick with you?

No. That was actually one of the turning points, when I realized that he was not going to stand by me. When they approached him, meaning the media, and he was sitting at a table with his arms crossed and so on like this, and they said to him, "The FBI just raided ..." He was like, "It's disgusting, right? The FBI raided one of my attorneys." And so on, and when I ... Whoa, whoa, one of your attorneys? Now, all of a sudden, this orange-crusted buffoon has forgotten my name. Seriously?

That's when I realized that this guy is all about himself. And where I thought that I occupied a position whereby I would never be thrown under the bus by him, that's when I realized, no. This guy's all about himself and all about using somebody else to exonerate himself from his own culpability.

Rudy Giuliani has seen the same things you did and he's still sucking up to Donald Trump. John Eastman has taken the Fifth, and I don't think he's going to cooperate with anyone. Is there any doubt that Donald Trump throws those two guys under the bus to help himself, if that's what it comes down to?

Rudy is an idiot. I mean, there's just no way to describe it. Rudy Collude-y Giuliani. First of all, the guy thought he was going to get paid a quarter of a million dollars a day by the RNC. Obviously this whole BS about Trump and Rudy going back for years and being friends.

First of all, it's not true. I was there for over a decade, and Rudy was never considered a friend nor had he really ever been to the Trump office up on [the 26th floor of Trump Tower]. So I'm not really sure about this newfound friendship. But in some weird way, Rudy actually thought he was going to get paid, which just goes to show you how stupid he is. And then on top of that, he's out there defending the narcissistic sociopath in chief, thinking that Donald is going to protect him.

But let's not forget what Rudy also once said. "Donald won't throw me in the ..." He goes, "I have an insurance card." You may remember that. Well, was that another lie too, to try to prompt Trump to pay him and do the right thing by him?

We've seen that Trump doesn't care about anyone or anything other than himself, that Trump weaponized the Justice Department to go against his critics. So the second that Rudy became a semi-critic, that was the end of him. You don't see him anymore. You don't hear from him anymore. Right now he's dealing with his own personal issues. No money, having to pay his ex-wife Judy a quarter of a million dollars or go to jail. I'm sure he's out there hitting the phones and pounding the pavement to borrow money. This is what happens to everyone.

I said it to Mark Meadows, and I said it to Jim Jordan and to all the Republicans at that House Oversight Committee hearing, not to mention the six other hearings that you're not aware of that I did in the SCIF [secure room] behind closed doors. What happened to me can and will happen to you if you put your faith, your confidence and your trust behind a man that doesn't understand the word loyalty.

The title of your book speaks to the idea of how Donald Trump weaponized the Justice Department. Some people might think, well, that's because the DOJ under Trump went after you. But you talk about how it played on pre-existing weaknesses within the Department, and then later you were punished when you were trying to write a book.

Well, the weaponization of the Justice Department did not start with the unconstitutional remand of me back to Otisville [state prison] when they lured me down to 500 Pearl Street [the Manhattan federal courthouse]. You'll read about it in the book. One of the reasons that I wrote "Revenge," and of course the title is like my first book, "Disloyal," in that you're not really sure where the revenge is, who the revengee is, who the revenger is. The revenge is really the American people taking revenge on the Justice Department in order to fix it.

What we have seen with me is that regardless of who you are, regardless of whether you think you're part of this protected political class, when you fall within the ire of someone like Donald Trump — a guy who doesn't want to be president but wants to be a dictator, an autocrat, a fascist monarch — this is what will happen to you and everybody else if we don't fix the system.

My issues with the DOJ didn't start with the unconstitutional remand. It started with the entire investigation. And I begin the book by talking about the fake Steele dossier. Now, as I write in the book, I don't care about any of the other allegations in this ridiculous document by this wannabe 007, right? He's not. If this is the best that England has to offer, it's no wonder they rely on the United States as often as they do for intelligence, because this guy's a freaking idiot. What you end up having is the FBI running around the country ensuring that I was not where the Steele dossier said I was and 11 allegations raised against me, all of which are false. I've never been to Prague. I never paid $10 million to get Paul Manafort out of trouble. I wouldn't pay $3 to get Manafort out of trouble.

[The Steele dossier is] this ridiculous document by this wannabe 007. ...  If this is the best England has to offer, it's no wonder they rely on the United States for intelligence, because this guy's a freaking idiot.

It goes on and on: I have a dacha in Sochi directly next door to Putin. My father-in-law is a real estate developer in Moscow, the biggest. My father-in-law's never been to Moscow. In fact, he's not Russian. He's Ukrainian, or the former Soviet Union when they were there. He's never to have returned in over 50 years. The whole thing is pure BS. But what happened? Media fell for it. Why? Because this is Donald Trump's true superpower. He is a master manipulator of the media. He understands people's inner desires to raise their own prestige, their own notoriety. And that's where the Department of Justice showed its first true colors. The unconstitutional remand, making me the first political prisoner in my own country because I wouldn't waive my First Amendment right. That's the subject of the lawsuit that I now have filed.

According to reporting in the Washington Post, Donald Trump personally helped pack up documents in January and then wanted his lawyers to tell the National Archives, "Hey, that's everything." Meanwhile, he had hundreds of pages of documents marked "classified." What do you think? I mean, you know Donald Trump. Why was he holding back these classified documents?

You may remember many years ago, Mattel made the mistake of making the Trump Monopoly game and sent it to Donald. And he was very proud of it. It had his various different assets and so on, most of which have gone bankrupt. But that's not part of the game. He's only interested in one thing, the get out of jail free card. And that's exactly what he saw in those documents. "You want to play with me? Really? I was the former president of the United States. I have documents that are so damaging to this country's national security. Go ahead, indict me, try to throw me in prison. See what happens." What happens is he turns over all this classified information, not as if he hasn't already done it, but he turns all his classified information over to our adversaries, right? "You want to play that game? No problem!"

What is Donald Trump capable of? Even now, he's traveling the nation, embracing QAnon, continuing to spew election lies, trying to radicalize people.

Anything and everything in order to protect himself, plain and simple. As they would say, drop the mic on that one. Plain and simple. He doesn't care about this country. He doesn't care about democracy. He doesn't care about QAnon. He doesn't care about the independents. He doesn't care about Republicans or Democrats. He cares about one thing and only one thing and that's Donald J. Trump.

Supposedly he was going to fire his daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, by tweet. That seems so petty, as opposed to throwing them under the bus if it was about criminal charges. Is there some truth to the idea that maybe he was going to fire Ivanka by tweet?

There was no way in the world that he was going to allow Jared Kushner, this sort of weasel, to take the credit for what Trump believes belongs to him and only him.

On more than one occasion. It wasn't just Ivanka. It was Jared as well. Many times it was because of Jared that he wanted to. One of the things that drove Trump nuts is if anybody else gets any positive press. When they had Jared on the front of Time Magazine as the guy who was the reason for Trump becoming president, that sent Trump into an apoplectic fit. There was no way in the world that he was going to allow Jared, this sort of weasel, to take the credit for what Trump believes belongs to him and him only. That was one of the very first fights. Then there were a few other that had to do with policy that went wrong. With Trump, if you make a mistake, your ass is on the line. And he has no qualms about firing anyone, including his own children or son-in-law.

You went to jail in part for helping Donald Trump with the hush money payments. There's no doubt about it. We all know it. You talked about it when you were pleading guilty. What happened with that investigation? Everyone wants to know. Why didn't the Southern District of New York then go after "Individual 1," under whose direction and for whose benefit you did that? 

I was also paid back for the money, which he took, by the way, as a tax deduction. I didn't know that you could end up getting your pecker pulled by a porn star and take that as a deduction. Let me tell you, if I had accountants like that, I would never have had the tax issues that I had. One of the things that "Revenge" points out — and I've been fighting to get this truth out there since the very beginning — I didn't go to prison in part because of the hush money with Stormy Daniels. That's the reason why I went, plain and simple. I never committed tax evasion. I never lied or misrepresented myself to a bank.

In fact, I also was forced to plead guilty to the hush money payment of Karen McDougal, the $150,000 payment, which if you Google it yourself now, with the drip-drip-drip of new information that's coming out, David Pecker acknowledged that was his deal. He paid it. I just looked over the agreement after their document was already done to ensure that Trump was protected, at Trump's request. But when I talk about this in "Revenge," I don't talk about it from the standpoint of, oh, Michael Cohen is saying. I'm talking from the standpoint of judges. We have statements by them. By prosecutors, other defense attorneys. We have, you name it, Congress members. I ended up going [to prison] because of the NDA to Stormy Daniels.

The prosecutors went ahead on a Friday night at 5:30, and that was the first time that I ever heard from them. They gave me 48 hours through my lawyer. I wasn't even allowed to be there. "You have 48 hours until Monday to plead guilty or we're filing an 80-page indictment that's going to include your wife and we're perp-walking both of you out of your condo." Now, I don't know about anybody else, but when you get confronted with something like this — I want everyone just to think for a second. If you've ever gotten pulled over by a police officer, and your head is sort of like — it's a menagerie. You feel almost like you got punched in the temple in a fight. You're not sure really where you are. Now put that with the Department of Justice, the Southern District of New York, aka the "Sovereign District" of New York that plays by its own rules. It mirrors what went on during the days of the Untouchables with Al Capone.

They threatened my wife. What was I going to do? I'm going to put her in jeopardy of being perp-walked, fingerprinted, indicted and go through all this? She had no knowledge of any of this. They were making her as a co-conspirator to the hush money payment. Many people who were with me in Otisville who didn't do what I did — which is to protect your wife and your family at all costs — they fought it and their wives ended up at [the women's prison] Danbury. And these people don't care. When they have a high-profile case like this one, which is possibly the highest-profile case in the century, they have to win. You know why? So that they can go to [major law firms like] Guggenheim Partners, McDermott Will & Emery. They can go to Paul White, Lowenstein Sandler, and all these other million-dollar defense jobs that not one of them are competent to have.

Look, what is it like for you? You went to jail for Donald Trump. You're making that clear. You helped him and he's walking free and being celebrated by the right. It's not like he's in hiding. He's spewing the same lies that gave us Jan. 6, and bluntly inciting more violence. Honestly, I don't think he's about politics. I think he's building an army right now. That's my gut feeling.

And you're not wrong, Dean, because this is what every dictator has done to take control. The first thing that you do is you stifle people's First Amendment rights. You create a state-run media. We see that in Russia going on right now. And then what do you do? You empower the army to take control. Now, he doesn't have the U.S. Army, but he's building a paramilitary army that we saw on Jan. 6. QAnon supporters, these gun-toting maniacs willing to do anything in furtherance of their führer. That's what Trump is doing. He failed in my case of me, thanks to Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein and my lawyer at the time, Donya Perry. He failed. But that's just a test run. So was Jan. 6. For Trump, it's a test run which is what makes him the most dangerous person in America, not just to our democracy, but to the freedoms that we all have enjoyed.

I believe that the beginning to [Trump's] end started with that incredible statement by [New York Attorney General] Tish James. That case will financially destroy him. 

They threatened to perp-walk you and your wife out. Do you see a day where Donald Trump is charged and we see him perp-walked?

I do. I believe that the beginning to his end started with that incredible statement by Tish James. Right now, that case will financially destroy him. Now, a lot of people make the mistake and they say that she's seeking $250 million. That's not accurate. What she said was, "There is a baseline of $250 million." That's because they don't have the full amount. They just don't. In fact, when I was charged with tax evasion from the Southern District of New York, they left that number blank because they didn't even know what I tax evaded or what it really was, was a tax omission.

The story is so intertwined in terms of the accountant, the bank, all these people who lied, including [Trump Organization CFO] Allen Weisselberg. Google that too. Allen Weisselberg lied to the Southern District of New York in my case in order to get immunity. The biggest problem is with Trump, he doesn't care about the future of the country and he will continue to grift off all these supporters until they stop giving him money.

I do believe, going back to Tish James, that's going to be the impetus because she's already referred it to the DOJ, which is now under Merrick Garland, who I'm not thrilled with, by the way, under any circumstance. I believe he's operating so slowly, the exact opposite of Bill Barr, that people are getting Trump fatigue, right? Where we're just so tired of it. Indict him or stop this nonsense. But she also referred it to the IRS. And Donald Trump has committed tax evasion, bank fraud, wire fraud, misrepresentation. He will not be able to get past that, and that is criminal.

In tandem to the AG's case is the [Manhattan] district attorney's case. Now everybody's angry at Alvin Bragg, nobody more so than me. Mark Pomerantz, Carey Dunne, the two lawyers that worked on the case for over two years. I provided 15 sessions of information, documentation and so on. They worked in tandem with each other. And there is the case against the Trump Organization. You may remember that Allen Weisselberg said that he will not testify against Donald. That's OK, you're going to testify against the Trump Organization, which is the same thing as testifying against Donald, because it's his autonomous company. He controls every single aspect. Every lever of the Trump Organization is controlled by Donald J. Trump. Therefore, we'll call it ipso facto, he'll be guilty.

Is your "revenge" that Donald Trump is held accountable and brought to justice for his crimes?

So the revenge is not that myopic in terms of just Donald Trump. It is so much more than Donald Trump. Donald Trump was, we'll call it, the denominator. But you have so many numerators in this case that need to be overhauled, need to be fixed. Like Judge Rakoff said, "In a plea deal, you can't have the judge that's sitting on the case uninvolved." You need a third party or someone involved, which they're not. They work every day with the same prosecutors. Deals are cut in the bathroom. You need an independent judge when it comes to plea deals. Otherwise, you're going to see innocent people go to prison. 

By Dean Obeidallah

Dean Obeidallah hosts the daily national SiriusXM radio program, "The Dean Obeidallah Show" on the network's progressive political channel. He is also a columnist for The Daily Beast and contributor to Opinion. He co-directed the comedy documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" and is co-creator of the annual New York Arab American Comedy Festival. Follow him on Twitter @DeanObeidallah and Facebook @DeanofRadio

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