Flashback: How Michael Cohen Acted as Donald Trump’s “Fixer”

November 29, 2018

Updated Dec. 12, 2018: Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison by a federal judge on Dec. 12, after having pleaded guilty in August to multiple crimes, including “willful tax evasion” and “illegal campaign contributions.” The previous week’s sentencing memo from federal prosecutors in New York said that Cohen had “acted in coordination with and at the direction of” an unnamed individual who is clearly identifiable as Donald Trump, in connection with payments during the 2016 campaign meant to prevent two women from publicly alleging affairs with the individual.

Updated Dec. 7, 2018: Special counsel Robert Mueller on Dec. 7 filed a sentencing memo that outlined the degree to which Cohen has cooperated with the special counsel’s probe, including by giving information about Russian nationals’ attempts to connect to the Trump campaign. On the same day, in a separate case in New York, federal prosecutors recommended that Cohen serve “substantial” prison time after he pleaded guilty in August to multiple crimes, including “willful tax evasion” and “illegal campaign contributions.”

In a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty on Nov. 29 to making false statements to Congress about a prospective Trump Organization project in Moscow “out of loyalty,” he said, to the president. Cohen said in court that he had tried to give the false impression that all efforts regarding the Moscow project had ended in early 2016, when in fact they had lasted through June of that year.

After news of the plea deal broke, Trump called Cohen “a liar” and “a weak person,” saying that “what he’s trying to do is get a reduced sentence.” The president has consistently denied any collusion with Russia.

In the October 2018 documentary Trump’s Showdown, FRONTLINE went inside the evolution of the president’s battle with the special counsel, the FBI and the Department of Justice, as Mueller’s investigation involving Russia and the 2016 election expanded to focus on some of those in Trump’s orbit.

Though he is now cooperating with Mueller, the false statements Cohen made were far from his first attempt to protect Trump. As part of the documentary, FRONTLINE examined Cohen’s former role as Trump’s “fixer” — he liked to brag that he was willing to take a bullet for his boss — and how Cohen worked to protect Trump’s image.

“I think that [Trump] looked at Michael as somebody who would be his day-to-day Roy Cohn,” former Trump political adviser Sam Nunberg told FRONTLINE, referring to the McCarthy era lawyer who had served as Trump’s mentor. “Michael in a lot of ways was very good. Michael also … was able to close a lot of problems down.”

In the above clip from Trump’s Showdown, revisit how Cohen once worked to shield Trump from bad press — and how Trump reacted when federal agents ultimately raided the lawyer’s office earlier this year.

For more, watch Trump’s Showdown in full online.

This story has been updated.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



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