Once a Trump loyalist, now a Trump foe.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress about the Russia investigation.
Trump spoke with Cohen more extensively about the proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow than Cohen previously told Congress, Cohen admitted in federal court Thursday. Cohen had previously stated talks about the Moscow project had ended in January 2016 just prior to the Iowa caucuses.
“I’m the guy who protects the president and the family. I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the President,” Cohen told Vanity Fair in an interview published two weeks after Cohen lied to Congress. Cohen said in court Thursday he lied “out of loyalty” to Trump.
Reacting to the news, Trump bashed his former attorney, telling reporters that Cohen is a “weak person and not a very smart person.”
“Michael Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me,” he said.
The tough words from Trump are the latest in a feud between the President and his former fixer.
Cohen, 52, worked for Trump for nearly a decade as Trump’s legal counsel and an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, which he joined in 2007.
Cohen’s tasks in the organization ranged from running a Trump-backed mixed martial arts company to real estate branding deals. At one point, he even arranged an engine repair for Trump’s plane.
Before he met Trump, Cohen had been a New York attorney. He first came to Trump’s attention after buying apartments in Trump’s developments and lobbying for Trump in a dispute with other residents, impressing Trump with his win.
“They say I’m Mr. Trump’s pitbull, that I’m his right-hand man. I’ve been called many different things around (The Trump Organization). What I am is a loyal employee. I like the man. A lot,” Cohen said in 2011.
The relationship was more than an attorney-client relationship, according to David Schwartz, Cohen’s attorney and friend since the 1990s.
“It was something much deeper, almost father and son kind of kind of thing,” Schwartz told CNN.
Whatever relationship the two had ended this year when Cohen ran into legal troubles stemming from his past dealings for Trump.
In April, the FBI raided Cohen’s New York office, hotel room, and residence and seized information including documents related to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.
Cohen admitted in February he opened a limited liability company in 2016 to pay Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about the alleged affair, confirming a Wall Street Journal report in January that said as much. Trump and the White House have denied Daniels’ allegations of an affair with Trump.
The Justice Department revealed a few days after the raid that Cohen has been “under criminal investigation” in New York for some time because of his business dealings.
In the following months, Cohen’s allegiance to Trump began to falter amid the investigation and subsequent isolation from the President’s inner circle.
“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first,” Cohen told ABC News, the first sign he was willing to cooperate with prosecutors.
Cohen pleaded guilty in a Manhattan federal court to eight criminal counts in August, including tax evasion, making false statements to a bank and campaign finance violations.
He also implicated the President when he admitted that “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office” he kept information that could have harmed Trump from becoming public during the 2016 election – referring to Trump and the $130,000 payment to Daniels.
In his initial reveal of the payment, Cohen had claimed in February that Trump had no knowledge of the payment and did not reimburse him for the payment. In May, Trump’s attorney in the Russia probe, Rudy Giuliani contradicted Cohen’s statement. Giuliani told Fox News that Trump paid Cohen back but insisted that Trump was unaware at the time of the payment’s specifics and that it was not a campaign finance violation.
Trump himself originally denied knowing about the payment. After Guiliani confirmed that the President reimbursed Cohen, he shifted his story and denied in a tweet that any campaign money was used to reimburse Cohen and said that he was paid via retainer.
CNN reported last month that the President directed Cohen in a February phone call to seek a restraining order against Daniels over concerns that she was contemplating a media interview, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
And in July, Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis gave CNN a recording of Cohen and Trump in which the two could be heard discussing how to buy the rights to a Playboy model’s story about an alleged affair Trump had with her years earlier. Trump has also denied that allegation.
Now, Cohen has made a public and private showing of distancing himself from his former boss. Before the midterm elections, Cohen said he switched his party registration to from Republican back to Democrat, and even encouraged voters to head to the polls and vote against the President and the Republican Party. “Listen, here’s my recommendation. Grab your family, grab your friends, grab your neighbors, and get to the poll, because if not, you are going to have another two or another six years of this craziness,” Cohen told CNN in a brief interview outside of his Manhattan home. “So, make sure you vote. All right?”
CNN’s MJ Lee, Kara Scannell, Pamela Brown, Erica Orden, Brian Rokus and Gloria Borger contributed to this report.