Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, once told Vanity Fair: "I’m the guy who stops the leaks. I’m the guy who protects the president and the family. I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president."
During a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci confirmed that Cohen is as loyal as the day is long, telling Katy Tur there was no chance Cohen would turn state's evidence against the president because he "is a very loyal person." Scaramucci didn't even pretend to believe that Cohen would have nothing to offer prosecutors. It seems to be a given that he knows where bodies are buried, but is willing to go to jail rather than betray Trump. That arguably says more about the latter than the former.
I wrote recently that I think this passionate belief in Cohen's loyalty may be wishful thinking on Trump's part. Apparently I'm not the only one. According to a Wednesday article in the Wall Street Journal, Trump's former attorney Jay Goldberg has issued exactly the same warning:
One of President Donald Trump’s longtime legal advisers said he warned the president in a phone call Friday that Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and close friend, would turn against the president and cooperate with federal prosecutors if faced with criminal charges.
Mr. Trump made the call seeking advice from Jay Goldberg, who represented Mr. Trump in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mr. Goldberg said he cautioned the president not to trust Mr. Cohen. On a scale of 100 to 1, where 100 is fully protecting the president, Mr. Cohen “isn’t even a 1,” he said he told Mr. Trump. ... “Michael will never stand up [for you]” if charged by the government, Mr. Goldberg said he cautioned the president. ...
[H]e stressed to the president that Mr. Cohen could even agree to wear a wire and try to record conversations with Mr. Trump. “You have to be alert,” Mr. Goldberg said he told the president. “I don’t care what Michael says.”
Goldberg has some experience dealing with people like Michael Cohen --- he has represented such criminal luminaries as Matty “The Horse” Ianniello, Joe “Scarface” Agone and Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo. He sounded quite sure of his assessment that Cohen's alleged loyalty would not hold.
Even setting aside Cohen's foolish antics last week -- hanging around on the street outside the New York courtroom, smoking cigars with his buddies -- Trump knows what he has with this guy. Recall that Cohen has threatened media organizations with charming comments like: “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?” We know that Cohen is credibly accused of being the man who put together hush agreements with women whom Trump wanted to ensure never spoke publicly about their affairs with him. Dubious conduct is in his job description.
Nonetheless, Cohen is not exactly a made man. According to this report by ProPublica and WNYC, before he joined up with Trump in the mid-2000s Cohen was involved in a series of scams, including insurance and IRS fraud, for which he always avoided indictment while others were jailed or fined.
Many of his associates in these businesses came from the former Soviet Union and had connections to Russian organized crime. Cohen married a Ukrainian immigrant whose father had pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy to defraud the IRS in a taxi medallion fraud case. Cohen himself has made millions in the New York taxi business, which is reportedly one of the areas the FBI cited in its search warrant.
Cohen first hooked up with Trump by buying a number of apartments in Trump buildings, which led to Trump hiring him saw as an executive vice president of the Trump Organization. Cohen has been a part of the Trumpian inner circle ever since, whose main job, as he has said, is "protecting the family."
We learned a few months ago that Cohen had been working with another Russian-born investor, the infamous Felix Sater, on a Trump Tower Moscow deal during the presidential campaign. Sater reportedly boasted to Cohen about his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming that they could "engineer" the election for Trump. Nobody knows exactly what he meant by that; Cohen has said that Sater was just using "colorful language" and it added up to nothing. But Cohen's relationship with Sater is likely a central aspect of this whole tangled history.
Sater himself is an extremely complicated figure, a man who was himself involved in stock fraud and spent time in prison for badly injuring a man in a bar fight. He has been associated with both the New York Mafia and the Russian mob and has also allegedly been both an FBI informant and a CIA asset. He has known Michael Cohen since they were kids in Brooklyn. (Sater was born in Russia but apparently moved to New York as a child.)
According to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, Cohen's father and uncle were both doctors, but the uncle also owned a "social club" in Brooklyn called El Caribe that was a known Mafia hangout in the 1970s and '80s. The Russian mob, then run by a legendary godfather named Evsei Agron then by his successor, Marat Balagula, (who was suspected of killing Agron) had offices in El Caribe and pretty much ran their nefarious business out of it for some years. Sater's dad, Marshall reports, was "a reputed capo in the Mogilevich organized crime syndicate."
So Cohen has been associated with mobsters and con men his whole life, which probably explains the widespread assumption that he would adhere to the pledge of omertà, the mafia code of silence. That code isn't what it used to be. In 2001, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano finally turned on Gambino crime boss John Gotti and sent him to prison. Do you know who made the deal with Gravano? It was an assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Department of Justice. His name was Robert Mueller.
Michael Cohen may be mobbed up, but he's no Sammy the Bull. Those who know him best seem to believe he'll crack even before he has his fingers printed.