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Opinion writer

As Donald Trump’s personal fixer, Michael Cohen arranged hush money to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels, with whom Trump allegedly had an affair, and quite possibly other women we haven’t heard of. So now, with the feds breathing down his neck, Cohen seems to be asking a new question: Where’s my hush money?

This is what the Wall Street Journal is reporting:

Michael Cohen has hired New York lawyer Guy Petrillo to represent him in a federal investigation into his business dealings, and has told associates he wants President Donald Trump, his former boss, to pay his legal fees, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Cohen has frequently told associates in recent months he is frustrated that the president hasn’t offered to pay his legal fees, which he has said are “bankrupting” him, according to one of the people. He has said he feels that Mr. Trump owes him after his years of loyalty to the former real-estate developer, whom he served for nearly a decade at the Trump Organization.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment, and there has been no indication Mr. Trump is planning to pay for his former longtime lawyer’s legal fees.

Somebody, whether at Cohen’s behest or not, is sending signals that it might be in President Trump’s best interest to pony up. Here’s what CNN is reporting:

“He knows a lot of things about the President and he’s not averse to talking in the right situation,” one of Cohen’s New York friends who is in touch with him told CNN. “If they want information on Trump, he’s willing to give it.”

The president’s reelection campaign was already paying some of Cohen’s legal bills, but that was only for matters related to the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. Though Cohen has lots of ties to Russia and Russians living in the United States, he wasn’t all that involved in the campaign itself, other than to occasionally go on television to defend Trump. The real risk for him comes in the investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York; that’s the one who raided his home and office in April, seizing a huge cache of documents, texts and emails, and that’s the one investigating Cohen’s business affairs — which could lead them to Trump’s business affairs.

We always have to keep in mind what an extraordinary step that was; prosecutors wouldn’t have been able to get the warrant for that raid without being able to show probable cause that Cohen could have committed a crime. Of course, it’s possible that all they’ll find is some trivial wrongdoing or none at all. But it’s hard to imagine they’d be going to all this trouble if they didn’t suspect that Cohen had done something very serious. When the raid happened, The Post reported that the president “stewed all afternoon about the warrant to seize Cohen’s records, at times raising his voice.”

Furthermore, the fact that Cohen is so worried about his legal bills suggests that his financial situation is much more tenuous than it has sometimes appeared. It’s has always been difficult to figure out how wealthy a man Cohen actually is; on one hand, he said that he had to tap into a home equity loan in order to pay Stormy Daniels that $130,000 (for which Trump later reimbursed him), but on the other hand, he has been involved in eight-figure real estate deals. For instance, in 2014 he sold four properties to mysterious buyers concealed behind LLCs for a total of $32 million in cash; Cohen had bought the buildings just a few years before for a total of $11 million.

There’s more. On one hand, Cohen built his wealth partly in the taxi business; he owned more than 30 New York taxi medallions, which at one time were worth more than $1 million each. On the other hand, because of competition from Uber and Lyft, the value of medallions has plummeted, and they’ve recently sold for less than $200,000. Cohen may not even be able to get rid of his at more than fire-sale prices. And yet, in the past few years, Cohen and his father-in-law have lent $26 million to another taxi mogul who was looking to get into the legal marijuana business, at least $6 million of which came from Cohen himself.

It’s all very confusing and contradictory. But it certainly seems like at the moment, Cohen is short on cash. And that can make people desperate.

So would Trump actually decide to foot the bill for Cohen’s defense? There are reasons to think he could go either way. Given what we’ve learned about how Trump treated him (“Donald goes out of his way to treat him like garbage,” said informal Trump adviser Roger Stone), it’s fair to say he thought of Cohen as a vaguely pathetic but frequently useful factotum. But in Trump’s world, loyalty runs one way: from you to him. He doesn’t do people favors out of the goodness of his heart. Furthermore, he sees all these investigations as unfair to him, and the idea that he’d have to give an underling like Cohen hundreds of thousands of dollars would probably irritate him to no end. Today the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman reported that the “Trump family feels like it’s being shaken down.”

Nevertheless, if there’s any legally damaging information to be revealed about Trump’s business dealings, Cohen likely knows as much about it as anyone whose last name isn’t Trump. He could well provide prosecutors with evidence they could use to go after the Trump Organization. If you were the president, wouldn’t that be worth writing a check to forestall?