Now, it’s possible that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former private attorney, could add his take to the burgeoning literary canon of Trump tell-alls.
Cohen said during his congressional testimony this week that he has discussed a possible book deal, “and I have spoken to people who sought me out regarding a movie deal.” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) sounded upset by this, saying, “You want to continue to use your background as a liar, a cheater, a convicted liar to make money.”
But those qualities are exactly what would make any potential Cohen book or movie so compelling.
A Cohen book could earn the disgraced attorney a $1 million deal, said Washington literary agent Howard Yoon.
“This is one of the few things he’s got going for him,” Yoon said, noting that Cohen lost his attorney’s license and is headed to prison.
But the book’s topic is also a potential obstacle to Cohen ever seeing his literary payday.
Cohen’s guilty pleas in federal court last year mean any deal would need to steer clear of laws designed to prevent criminals from profiting off their crimes.
Most states and the federal government have “Son of Sam” laws that limit the ability of people to pocket money from selling their own true-crime tales. New York was the first to pass such a law in 1977, in response to late-1970s serial killer David Berkowitz selling his story to media outlets. His proceeds ended up going to some of his victims.
But Cohen’s crimes were nonviolent — tax evasion, campaign finance violations and lying to both Congress and a financial institution. Many of the laws aimed at proving “crime doesn’t pay” are designed to stop violent criminals from getting paid. Federal law specifically mentions defendants convicted of a crime “resulting in physical harm to an individual.”
“It would appear this statute is not going to apply to him,” said Matthew Mangino, a New Castle, Pa., attorney who has written on “Son of Sam” laws and is a former county district attorney.
Before he got tangled up with FBI raids early last year, Cohen reportedly had a potential deal with Hachette Book Group for a book called “Trump Revolution: From the Tower to the White House, Understanding Donald J. Trump.” Cohen said during his congressional testimony that he was to be paid about $750,000. The deal fell apart.
But a new book deal does not appear to be off the table. The public’s interest in books by the famous and notorious seems boundless.
In 1976, Chuck Colson published his memoir, “Born Again,” just a couple years after the former special counsel to President Richard M. Nixon pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and served seven months in federal prison. Jordan Belfort, who pleaded guilty to fraud and crimes related to stock manipulation, published a memoir and saw his life story become the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Jennifer Ridha wrote the 2015 book “Criminal That I Am” about how she went from attorney to convict for smuggling drugs into prison for one her clients — with whom she had fallen in love.
Cohen’s plea deal with prosecutors doesn’t appear to place limits on selling his story. Some prosecutors have agreed to recommend a more lenient sentence in exchange for criminals signing away rights to their criminal exploits, said New York entertainment attorney Ethan Bordman.
In 2011, the “Barefoot Bandit” forfeited the rights to his story as part of his guilty plea. Colton Harris-Moore pleaded to a crime spree that included stealing small planes and stretched from Washington state to the Bahamas. He was sentenced to 6½ years in prison. And a $1 million rights fee paid by a Hollywood studio was used for victim restitution.
Cohen’s televised appearance before Congress this week seemed to pique the interest of potential book buyers. Cohen hinted that he had more secrets to tell and that he was now a changed man. That could drive demand for turning Cohen into an author.
“Readers love a redemption story,” Yoon said.