michael cohen

Every Embarrassing Story Michael Cohen Tried to Squash

Michael Cohen exits U.S. federal court on April 16, 2018. Photo: EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney, is set to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday and Thursday. In his testimony, which will be streaming on the committee’s website beginning at 10 a.m., the lawyer — who will report to prison in May — plans to reveal a whole lot about how his ex-boss’s business operations worked, and reportedly plans to provide evidence that Trump has engaged in criminal conduct since becoming president.

But ahead of the potential blockbuster testimony, there are already almost a dozen incidents in which Cohen allegedly covered up negative Trump-related press using deals, lawsuits, or threats. Here are all the scandals that became public anyway, and what they reveal about the tactics of President Trump’s former “family fix-it guy.”

Beauty Contestant Claims Pageant Is Rigged

The Story: A day after competing in the 2012 Miss USA pageant, Miss Pennsylvania Sheena Monnin resigned her title, claiming in a Facebook post that the competition was rigged. She wrote:

I witnessed another contestant who said she saw the list of the Top 5 (contestants) BEFORE THE SHOW EVER STARTED proceed to call out in order who the Top 5 were before they were announced on stage…After it was indeed the Top 5 I knew the show must be rigged; I decided at that moment to distance myself from an organization who did not allow fair play and whose morals did not match my own.

Cohen’s Role: Cohen called into TMZ and said Monnin had 24 hours to retract her claim, or she would be hit with a defamation suit seeking “massive damages.” In accordance with the terms of the contract she signed with the Miss USA Organization, Trump’s attorneys submitted a claim for arbitration without notifying Monnin. By the time she realized what was happening (she later settled a malpractice claim against her attorney) it was too late to defend herself, and she was hit with a $5 million defamation penalty. She reportedly negotiated that down to $1 million, and the judgement was satisfied in 2014.

Her father, Philip Monnin, told the Daily Beast that he had two phone calls with Cohen in 2013, in which the attorney engaged in “bullying tactics and intimidation.”

“He threw a fit on the phone,” Philip Monnin said of the second call. “He basically said if I went along with my daughter I was an idiot. And said that she should apologize and if she didn’t want to, then ‘Game on,’ and he slammed the phone down. And that was the end of the conversation.”

Don Jr.’s Alleged Affair With Aubrey O’Day

The Story: Donald Trump Jr., who was a judge on Celebrity Apprentice, reportedly had an affair with singer/contestant Aubrey O’Day. News of the affair broke in March 2018 when Trump Jr.’s wife filed for divorce.

Cohen’s Role: Us Weekly was ready to expose the story in 2013, but Cohen reportedly killed it by threatening the tabloid’s reporters. As the Wall Street Journal reported:

The magazine, then owned by Wenner Media, had what staffers believed to be a solid source on the alleged affair by the younger Mr. Trump and called the Trump Organization for comment, according to the people involved in the matter. They received a call back from Mr. Cohen, who threatened legal action and became so irate that they muted the call while he spoke, one of these people said.

“We were all on speakerphone and huddled around the phone,” this person said. “He was just one of these New York characters where he was just like swearing at us and totally over-the-top threatening.”

The magazine reportedly decided the story wasn’t worth a legal fight, especially because it had a good relationship with the Trump family on Apprentice-related stories.

Ivana Trump’s Rape Allegation

The Story: In July 2015, the Daily Beast reported that Trump’s first wife Ivana accused him of raping her in a deposition taken during their ’90s divorce case. When Ivana’s description of the incident was about to be revealed in the 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, Trump and his lawyers had a statement inserted into the book in which Ivana said her words should not be interpreted “in a literal or criminal sense.”

Cohen’s Role: Cohen tried to prevent the Daily Beast from running the story, first by arguing, falsely, that marital rape is legal, and then by threatening a lawsuit.

“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen told a reporter. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”

Trump has yet to file a lawsuit against the Daily Beast.

Photo of Trump With Topless Woman

The Story: Jeremy Frommer, a hedge-fund manager turned entrepreneur, purchased the estate of Penthouse founder Bob Guccione in 2012. During the 2016 campaign Frommer recalled seeing photos of Trump autographing a woman’s bare breasts, and decided to contact Trump’s office about the images.

Cohen’s Role: Frommer said he was put in touch with Cohen, and during their initial phone call he threatened to take him down:

His foul mouthed rampage began immediately. He said he would sue me if we published the pictures, and mumbled about numerous other threats for several minutes before I was put on the phone with him. He continued to rage but eventually said the pictures were already “out there” and they weren’t a big deal.

Frommer told the New York Times that when David J. Pecker, Trump’s friend and chairman of the tabloid publisher American Media Inc., came up during the call, Cohen began to calm down. They agreed that Frommer would take the photos to Pecker, and began discussing potential business deals between their three companies, such as a Trump interview that would run in Pecker’s tabloid’s and Frommer’s Jerrick Media.

An American Media Inc. executive told the Times that negotiations between Frommer and AMI were initially meant to set up a “catch and kill,” meaning Pecker’s company would purchase the photos then kill the story to protect Trump. Despite further intervention from Cohen, the negotiations fell apart, and Frommer wound up posting the photos online himself.

Doorman’s Tale of Trump’s Love Child

The Story: Dino Sajudin, a former doorman of a Trump building, offered the National Enquirer a tip: Back in the ’80s, Trump may have fathered a child out of wedlock with a former employee. The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow reported last year that the alleged daughter denies the story, and the magazine “has uncovered no evidence that Trump fathered the child.”

Cohen’s Role: Enquirer reporters pursued the story for several weeks in late 2015, and Sajudin passed a polygraph test. A week later he signed an agreement with the magazine: He would be paid $30,000 for the exclusive rights to his story, and would face a $1 million penalty if he shopped the information to another publication. Four longtime Enquirer staffers told the AP that they were then ordered to stop pursuing the story.

Cohen told the AP he discussed the story with the Enquirer when its reporters were looking into it, but said he was working as Trump’s spokesperson and knew nothing about the payment. Sources told The New Yorker that they believe his involvement went deeper:

Two of the former A.M.I. employees said they believed that Cohen was in close contact with A.M.I. executives while the company’s reporters were looking into Sajudin’s story, as Cohen had been during other investigations related to Trump. “Cohen was kept up to date on a regular basis,” one source said.

Trump’s Alleged Affair With Karen McDougal

The Story: Former Playboy model Karen McDougal claims she had a ten-month affair with Trump from 2006 to 2007. During that time Trump’s wife Melania was pregnant with their son Barron. McDougal says Trump initially offered her money for sex, but she declined and they were together “many dozens of times.”

Cohen’s Role: In August 2016, American Media Inc. paid McDougal $150,000 for the exclusive rights to her story about her affair with Trump, then never ran it. Part of the agreement involved McDougal penning fitness columns and posing for AMI publications, but that went largely unfulfilled. The publisher claims it didn’t publish McDougal’s story because it wasn’t credible, denying that it was another “catch and kill.”

AMI said it contacted Cohen in an attempt to corroborate McDougal’s allegations, but the New York Times reported that he was in communication with McDougal’s attorney, Keith Davidson, during negotiations with the publisher:

Soon after Ms. McDougal signed the confidential agreement on Aug. 5, 2016, Mr. Davidson emailed Mr. Cohen, “Michael, please give me a call at your convenience.” Mr. Davidson followed up by explaining to Mr. Cohen over the phone that the McDougal transaction had been completed, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Mr. Cohen said, “I don’t recall those communications.”

In July 2018, the New York Times reported that two months prior to the 2016 election, Michael Cohen had recorded a conversation between him and Trump involving payment to McDougal. On July 25, Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis leaked the recording to CNN, where listeners could hear Trump asking if the “one-fifty” still needed to be paid to McDougal, which Cohen then confirmed. The next month, when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws, he admitted paying $150,000 “at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”

The Access Hollywood Tape

The Story: On October 7, 2016, the Washington Post published the infamous footage of Trump bragging about sexual assault to Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush, saying, “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Cohen’s Role: The nature of Cohen’s involvement is still unknown, but the New York Times reported that the FBI agents who raided Cohen’s office and hotel in April 2018 were seeking information related to the Access Hollywood tape, raising questions about whether he was involved in efforts to keep the tape from being released, or dealing with the fallout.

Trump’s Alleged Affair With Stormy Daniels

The Story: Porn actress Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, claims that she had sex with Trump during a July 2006 golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, shortly after Melania gave birth to Barron. Daniels has vividly described her night with Trump, which she says included spanking him with a magazine featuring him and his adult children on the cover.

Daniels says Trump told her he wanted to put her on Celebrity Apprentice, and they stayed in touch through 2010. She claims they only had one other in-person meeting, in which Trump watched Shark Week for hours and told her he couldn’t put her on the show.

Cohen’s Role: Daniels shared her story with a sister publication of In Touch magazine in May 2011, and was paid $15,000. On a recent 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper reported that “two former employees of the magazine told us the story never ran because after the magazine called Mr. Trump seeking comment, his attorney Michael Cohen threatened to sue.”

Daniels claims that a man threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot several weeks later, telling her “Leave Trump alone. Forget the story,” and remarking in front of her infant daughter, “It’d be a shame if something happened to her mom.”

Following the publication of the Access Hollywood tape, Daniels began shopping her story to several publications. She said Cohen reached out and offered to pay her $130,000 not to talk about her relationship with Trump, and she agreed.

Daniels and Cohen signed the nondisclosure agreement days before the October 2016 election. Cohen created the Delaware company Essential Consultants LLC to make the payment to Daniels. He claims he paid Daniels out of his own pocket, and said through his lawyer that he negotiated the deal without Trump’s knowledge.

Daniels claims that after the Wall Street Journal revealed the hush agreement’s existence in January 2018, Cohen pressured her into releasing false statements denying the affair.

In August 2018, when Cohen pleaded to guilty to eight charges — including one count of making an excessive campaign contribution, which was the payment to Daniels — he implicated Trump in the act, though the document only referred to him as “a candidate for federal office.” Still, Daniels said she felt “vindicated” by the guilty plea. In a sentencing memo filed in December 2018, prosecutors were a little more clear about motive, stating that Cohen “acted in coordination and at the direction of” his employer when he paid off Daniels.

Republican Fundraiser Impregnates Playboy Model

The Story: Elliott Broidy, a deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, negotiated a deal in late 2017 to pay Playboy model Shera Bechard $1.6 million after she became pregnant during their affair and terminated the pregnancy. After the Wall Street Journal broke the story in April 2018, Broidy resigned from his position at the RNC and said in a statement: “At the end of our relationship, this woman shared with me that she was pregnant. She alone decided that she did not want to continue with the pregnancy and I offered to help her financially during this difficult period.”

Cohen’s Role: Cohen negotiated the deal prohibiting Bechard from discussing her relationship with Broidy, and arranged for her to be paid $1.6 million in quarterly installments over the next two years. The nondisclosure agreement is very similar to the deal Cohen struck with Stormy Daniels. Per the Journal:

The Broidy agreement uses the same pseudonyms for Mr. Broidy and Ms. Bechard — David Dennison and Peggy Peterson — as the earlier agreement used for Mr. Trump and Ms. Clifford, respectively, the person familiar with the matter said. Both agreements had separate side letters that listed the real names of the parties, this person said.

In the Broidy agreement, Mr. Cohen, who represented Mr. Broidy, is referred to as Dennis Donohue; Mr. Davidson, the Los Angeles lawyer who represented Ms. Bechard, is referred to as Paul Patterson, according to the person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Davidson also represented Ms. Clifford in her deal with Mr. Cohen less than two weeks before the 2016 election. He negotiated a $150,000 payment in August 2016 for Karen McDougal, another former Playboy model, from American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, for the rights to her story of an affair with Mr. Trump.

Bechard was represented by L.A.-based attorney Keith Davidson, who also represented Daniels in the deal she struck with Cohen, and negotiated American Media Inc.’s payment to McDougal. The Journal said Cohen charged Broidy $250,000 for negotiating the deal, and he paid the first installment of $62,500 to Essential Consultants LLC — the Delaware company Cohen first set up to pay Daniels. After the LLC’s purpose was revealed earlier this year, Broidy paid the rest of the fees, totaling $187,500, directly to Cohen.

Every Embarrassing Story Michael Cohen Tried to Squash