Michael Cohen on 'Disloyal' Book, Trump's Scorn for His Base - Rolling Stone
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Michael Cohen Says Sorry. (And That His Ex Boss Is an Asshole)

Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on February 27, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Michael Cohen testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on February 27, 2019.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Michael Cohen is making the rounds, well, as much as one can make the rounds while under house arrest in Manhattan. His book Disloyal is out today and it’s already lurking near Amazon’s Top Ten based on leaks to the Washington Post and Associated Press.

The book details his years as President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, a job that eventually got him disbarred and convicted on eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations, most tied to his payment of hush money to stripper Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet in the days before the 2016 presidential election about her one night stand with Trump back in 2006.

New York politicos long knew Cohen as Trump’s iron fist, handling all matters of unseemly affairs for the orange pumpkin, ranging from keeping his college grades a secret to chiseling contractors at various Trump projects.

The intriguing thing was that Cohen made no secret in reveling in his dirty work, if you caught a glimpse of him on television defending or advocating some Trump scheme, he almost always had a smirk on his face which suggested he was untouchable. But now the smirk is gone. In February of 2019, he sang a new tune to Congress: Cohen regretted ever working for Trump and labeled the president a shit of the worst kind.

“I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is. He is a racist. He is a conman and he is a cheat,” stated Cohen.

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison, but only served a little over a year at FCI Otisville, released in May over Covid-19 concerns. His freedom was temporary; federal officials had him returned to prison and allegedly insisted he would have to serve the rest of his term if he did not sign an agreement preventing him from talking to the media. This would have been difficult since Cohen spent his time in Otisville writing a tell-all about his boss’s dealings from The Apprentice to the White House.

A judge released him, and he’s been biding his time ever since — well biding his time in the sense he has recorded an Anti-Trump political ad and plotted his own book release publicity strategy with his publicist serving more as a conduit than a gate keeper.

Talking to Cohen, what struck me is how definitively and repeatedly he has fallen on his sword, so much it undoubtedly has needed a re-sharpening. Not since Watergate’s John Dean have we seen an American hatchet man so quickly rehabilitated into a position where he is taken seriously so soon after his fall.

Some of it is the Shakespearean sweep of the Long Island born Cohen, with a degree from a middling law school, being starstruck by The Donald and casting his ethics aside. And part of it is ­— like Dean with Richard Nixon­ — that in comparison to his cretin boss who lies like most drink tap water, Michael Cohen comes across a mild and chastened human being. Then again, I come across as Voltaire if contrasted with Tucker Carlson.

I talked with Cohen on Monday night, and he spoke distinctively in New Yorkese, issuing a series of declarative statements. He knew what he wanted to say. Whether you forgive him, is up to you.

How do you think Trump would handle defeat whether it’s by a small margin, or a large margin?
As I stated in my House Oversight committee hearing, I truly fear that there will never be a peaceful transition of power. President Trump will do anything to come out on top. He has the ability to convince himself of falsehoods. Trump can convince himself of anything and live in his own delusion. He will say that the polls were rigged or the ballots were tampered with. He will file a lawsuit or call for a recount. Trump just won’t stop. Unless he wins.

A theme throughout President Trump’s career seems to be that anyone who plays by the rules is a sap or a fool. Is that true?
So, the answer would be 100 percent. I’ve heard him talk like this. Anyone who plays by the rules he deems a sucker. Trump believes that he is above the law. And he actually thinks it’s a positive quality to skirt the law. He thinks that’s how to really get shit done, to be above it all and be able to do whatever you want. And it points to his desire for total power to be above everyone else, and not have to play by the rules that everyone else plays by —simply because he believes that he’s better than that.

Have you heard him talk like that?
In my book, I talked about the story of the alleged bone spurs that caused the 1-Y deferment from Vietnam. Trump has stated to me, that he believes, anybody who went to Vietnam was stupid. He had no interest in going, he wasn’t going, and anyone that went, he deemed to be stupid.

This is the eternal question: Does Putin have leverage over Trump, or is Trump just so fascinated with Putin’s strongman style? And is that interest so strong that Putin doesn’t need to have anything over him?
Exactly. Putin makes his own rules. And that’s true power. Putin has made himself an autocrat who consistently tampers with elections to stay in power. That’s exactly who Trump desires to be and wishes to emulate.

So all the rumors of Putin having a tape or anything like that: You don’t know anything about that?
I can tell you emphatically, the allegations of a pee tape involving Mr. Trump does not exist. I’ve heard about it for years. I searched for it. And if it existed, I would have owned it.

Trump has never been what you would call a great speaker in terms of sticking to a script, but what’s your sense of his mental health?  It seems like there’s more rambling, incoherent syntax than even five years ago. Have you noticed a difference?
I do. He’s degrading and he’s spiraling. Trump can’t handle criticism or not being told exactly what he wants to hear. All of the drama, my book included, is making him unravel, which you see on a daily basis in his psycho tweeting. The fact that he has absolutely no self-control is a testament to where his mind is at. It’s dangerous.

It’s dangerous to have an unstable president who can’t even control his tweeting habits no matter how many times people advise him to do so. And yet, we’re trusting our country and safety into this person’s hands.

Was there any incident, while you were working with him where you witnessed a similar unraveling — whether it was a bankruptcy or Stormy Daniels?
Nothing like this. I’ve seen Trump angry. I’ve seen him completely unhinged. But this is a whole different mental state.

How would Trump speak about his supporters in private? How did he view these people who would come to his rallies and drive hundreds of miles to see him?
He thinks of them as low class. Basically, pawns to be used for his benefit. Trump found his niche in speaking to them. And he’s exploiting it. And I want to be very clear because I’ve said this, again and again and again. Donald Trump cares for no one or anything other than himself. 

You mentioned in the book, there was a day where evangelical ministers came to the office and prayed with them. And he said something along the line: “Can you believe that people believe this?” Why don’t you, in your own words, talk me through what you saw.
He told me that he could not believe that these people believe the bullshit that he was viewing.

What role did Roger Stone play in Trump’s life in the Russia story? I mean separate the legend from the fact in terms of their relationship and Stone’s crime and Trump commuting his sentence.
There really was no relationship. As I stated in my prologue, Donald Trump has no friends. Roger was someone Trump referred to as the dirty trickster, as someone he knew he could use to advance his run for the presidency. This of course included the call; I was present for when Roger advised Trump, that he had spoken to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. And Assange would be releasing a series of damaging emails in a few days that would harm the Clinton campaign.

The commutation of Roger Stone’s sentence really had a two-fold purpose. One was to demonstrate a sense of loyalty to Roger who fought the system tooth and nail, who lied to the committee on behalf of Trump and stayed on message. The second, and more important reason, was it offers to others who might be similarly situated, to stay the course: ‘Look, look what I did for Roger. Stay the course, and I will do that for you.’

Let’s talk about the catch and kill operations where something was suppressed in exchange for some kind of deal, whether it was the Stormy Daniels or other hush payments. Did that go on regularly?
There are too many to count. Everything that I did for Trump kept me up at night because I didn’t want to fail him.

Was it was there one specific one that really bothers you, either then or now?
They all do.

Trump has turned kind of melodramatically pro-life as a politician. I wonder if there’s anything that you witnessed or helped him with that makes that seem even extremely hypocritical?
So, let me be very clear about this: Trump is not pro-life. And over the years, I’ve had dozens of discussions with him regarding this topic. Trump became, or appears to be, pro-life because it is important to his evangelical base. Plain and simple.

Why do you think Trump has been so sketchy about releasing his taxes? Is it a bombshell or just, as people have theorized for years, that he’s worried that people are going to find out he’s worth a lot less than he says he is?
That is certainly one aspect of why he doesn’t want his tax returns released. Second, and more significant, is he knows that this will automatically create an audit to which the Trump Organization and Trump, personally, will owe significant taxes, fines, and penalties.

How do the Trump children get along?
None of the kids liked their siblings’ spousal choice. Each one had nothing positive to say about the future spouses. None of them. And that also includes the father.

Does Donald Trump have any core belief beyond the stage persona? Does he have an ideology?
Trump is nothing more than a glorified performer. He has no core. Trump has two beliefs: winning and exploitation for his own benefit. His stage persona is just another persona he adapts to chameleon his way through life.

Whether it is a disabled reporter or making jokes about ‘Little Marco,’ Trump seems to get great pleasure out of belittling people. Where does that come from? What’s the pathology?
For Trump, making people feel small makes him feel big. There’s nothing he loves more to feel good about himself then when he feels powerful after screwing the little guy. It feeds his ego. This is an utterly ego-driven individual.

There is a theory that Trump employs or appoints people above their station to make them forever in his debt, who are just happy to have a dream of a lifetime job. I wonder if that’s partially how you got seduced? Was it just the intoxication of being that close to vast power and influence?
I didn’t need to work for him. I was financially very secure and semi-retired. I did it despite the fact that he consistently undermined me, bullied me, put me down. He did this to everyone around him. He’s never happy about anyone else’s personal success. Trump requires control over his army of soldiers; his employees will be willing to do his bidding, with no questions asked. I got in over my head. It was really for me more of a power trip. And the deeper that I got into it, the harder it is to stop, sometimes it’s actually easier to keep going on the same track than it is to turn around and get out.

“The Trump Organization is eerily similar to that of a cult, and I was in deep.”

Did your wife or a family member or your father ever say: “Are you sure this is the path you want to go down?”
My wife, my daughter, and my son — from day number one when I started working for Trump — they begged me to quit. They did not want me to continue to work for him. The Trump Organization is eerily similar to that of a cult, and I was in deep.

You’ve mentioned before that he reveled in getting people to accept pennies on the dollar. What was the ugliest example of that that you witnessed?
There are so many stories. I was tasked to do this on virtually a daily basis. One story that gave me consternation is Trump had made a mistake in choosing the quality of paint during the Trump Doral renovation. He elected to go with the cheapest paint that they had. And when the paint did not properly affix to the walls, Trump tasked me to go after the paint supplier and the company. And the end result was I was successful in getting the paint manufacturer to provide 10,000 gallons of their highest quality paint, which cost $30 more per gallon than what he had contracted for. It ultimately caused the distributor to file for bankruptcy.

Trump has shown a passion and ability for lying. It’s like his pastime. Over the weekend, he said he’d called Melania in the U.S. to tell her how disappointed he was that he couldn’t go to the World War I memoria in France in 2018, when it turns out Melania was on the same trip. All these lies are so easily disproved, and he often lies for no reason. What do you think of the pathology?
He’s chronically lying to himself. He believes what he wants to believe, whatever makes him feel good for that moment. And this refers back to him being ego driven. Pathological liars believe their own lies. And they live in their own delusional reality. To Trump, the world is a false projection of what he wants it to be. And he cannot handle anything that doesn’t make him feel good. He’s actually quite weak in that way. Like a spoiled child. He’s a total egomaniac who cannot take or accept criticism. I believe there’s a name for this condition, it is narcissistic sociopathic disorder.

Have you seen specific examples of Trump’s racism?
During my House Oversight appearance, as well as all the closed-door hearings, I stated emphatically, amongst other things, that Donald Trump is a racist. Throughout my tenure at the Trump Organization and by his side, there have been numerous actions and statements made by Mr. Trump, that justifies me calling somebody such a heinous word.

Give me an example.
During The Apprentice Season One, Trump stated to me that he knew Bill Rancic would be the winner of the final test as there was no way he was going to have “a black fag” working for him at the Trump Organization. [Editor’s Note: Kwame Jackson, one of the finalists for that season, is African American. The White House denied Cohen’s new claims over the weekend, noting that president’s former fixer was convicted of lying to Congress.].

And that leads to his obsession with President Obama. What is at the root of the hatred?
Well, he was the father of birtherism. You want to really ask, you know, what was the deep ingrained hatred, where did it stem from?

Answer your question.
He’s black, he’s smarter than him, and he has internal fortitude of strength. These are characteristics that Trump wishes that he had. That’s it.

 

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