Michael Cohen, Trump's loyal fixer turned tell-all accuser

New York, NY, USAUpdated: Dec 13, 2018, 10:53 AM IST

Michael Cohen. Photograph:(Reuters)

Story highlights

Named vice president of the Trump family business, The Trump Organisation, Cohen was the fixer assigned the most delicate tasks the president needed done.

He was the personal lawyer to Donald Trump and the epitome of loyalty - a man who said he would "take a bullet" for his boss.

But since August, Michael Cohen has been the witness Trump fears most in the Russia investigation, one whose testimony has the power to strike at the heart of Trump's increasingly embattled presidency.

The 52-year-old New Yorker has gone from being one of Trump's most trusted lieutenants over the course of 12 years to telling authorities everything he knows about the former real estate magnate's business affairs.

On Wednesday, Cohen was sentenced for campaign finance law violations and tax and bank fraud offenses.

Until now, this attorney and businessman who met Trump through real estate dealings was as close to Trump as you can get.

Cohen admired Trump the brash tycoon and twice read his book "The Art of the Deal." He was fiercely faithful to Trump as the latter moved toward a life in politics and he is said to have fancied, in vain, the job of White House chief counsel - the President's official lawyer.

Named vice president of the Trump family business, The Trump Organisation, Cohen was the fixer assigned the most delicate tasks the president needed done.

These included making nasty threats to journalists who asked too many questions about the shady dealings of a man whose empire was built on pillars of loud, cocky and grandiose self-promotion.

Nickname, the pitbull

"If somebody does something Mr Trump doesn't like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr Trump's benefit," Cohen told ABC News in 2011. "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."

This devotion would earn Cohen - the son of a nurse and a Polish-born doctor who survived the Holocaust - the nickname of Trump's pitbull. And ultimately it has also dragged him into life-altering legal woes.

US media say Cohen's first taste of lawyering prepared him for shady dealings.

After graduating from law school at Western Michigan University, he specialised in helping people who were hurt in accidents - an ambulance chaser in slang.

For instance, he once defended a woman accused of trying to defraud an insurance company by seeking damages from a fictitious road accident.

Along with his Ukrainian-born wife, Cohen later made a boatload investing in New York taxi licenses, in a pre-Uber era when their value was high and always climbing.

As Trump's fixer, Cohen arranged for Trump to pay hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playmate Karen McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had sex with Trump, right before the 2016 election.

Damaging admissions

But it was an FBI raid on his office in April of this year that paved the way for Cohen to start cooperating with authorities investigation whether Trump colluded with Russia.

Four months later, Cohen acknowledged paying a total of $280,000 to those two women in exchange for their silence. He confessed to violating campaign finance laws that bar individual contributions of more than $2,700 to a politician's campaign.

For the first time, and very importantly, he said he had acted at the president's request in an effort to keep those women from harming Trump's chances of winning the election by triggering a scandal on the eve of the vote.

Cohen thus became a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the vote in his favor and whether the president has tried to obstruct justice by blocking the probe into his relationship with the Russians.

Last month Cohen acknowledged that he lied to Congress about his contacts with Russia about building a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Cohen said these contacts went on until June 2016, far longer than he had previously told lawmakers.

Cohen also said he had been approached in late 2015 by a Russian proposing "political" cooperation with team Trump -- an admission that fueled suspicions of collusion.

Cohen's admissions have people talking about possible impeachment of Trump or criminal charges against him if he does not win re-election in 2020. It is generally thought that a sitting US president cannot be indicted.

Cohen's defenders depict him as a fall guy, but for now he is the only one who is about to go to prison.

New York prosecutors want to see Cohen sentenced to what they call a substantial term of four to five years in prison.

Cohen is hoping that his cooperation with authorities investigating Trump will land him a more lenient punishment.

Cohen's goal now is to get his widely expected prison time over and done with and "begin his life virtually anew, including developing new means to support his family," as his lawyer puts it.