Michael Cohen is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7, and, oh boy, is that going to be something. In fact, if he really gives a comprehensive account of everything he saw and did while toiling as Donald Trump’s factotum, he could be to the Trump administration what John Dean was to the Nixon administration. Cohen could peel away the layers of deception and denial to expose the rancid corruption boiling underneath.
Today we learn one small yet dramatic story that shows the way he and Trump did business. The Wall Street Journal reports:
In early 2015, a man who runs a small technology company showed up at Trump Tower to collect $50,000 for having helped Michael Cohen, then Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, try to rig online polls in his boss’s favor before the presidential campaign.
In his Trump Organization office, Mr. Cohen surprised the man, John Gauger, by giving him a blue Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash and, randomly, a boxing glove that Mr. Cohen said had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter, Mr. Gauger said.
Mr. Cohen disputed that he handed over a bag of cash. “All monies paid to Mr. Gauger were by check,” he said, offering no further comment on his ties to the consultant.
Mr. Gauger owns RedFinch Solutions LLC and is chief information officer at Liberty University in Virginia, where Jerry Falwell Jr., an evangelical leader and fervent Trump supporter, is president.
If the connection between Cohen and Jerry Falwell Jr. rings a bell, that may be because of the bizarre story that came out last year, in which Falwell and his wife, on a stay at a luxury hotel in Miami, developed a “friendly relationship” with a pool boy. Two years later they began loaning the pool boy (by then, all of 22 years old) funds that would total $1.8 million to start a business. BuzzFeed reported that “Falwell had discussed the [pool boy] case with Cohen prior to his unexpected decision to lend his backing to Trump,” an endorsement Cohen arranged and that was incredibly important to Trump in obtaining evangelical Christian support in 2016.
I leave it to you to fill in the blanks on that one, but the point is that it has become amply clear there were many instances, like the hush-money payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, when Trump needed something a little shady taken care of and Cohen was the person he turned to.
This is important to remember because every time President Trump talks about Cohen, he seeks to put more and more distance between them. Though Cohen was Trump's "personal lawyer" and worked at the Trump Organization for many years, arranging deals with Trump's children and working closely with Trump himself, in an interview last week the president said of Cohen, "I was a client of his. You know, and you're supposed to have lawyer/client privilege, but it doesn't matter because I’m a very honest person, frankly. But he's in trouble on some loans and fraud and taxi cabs and stuff that I know nothing about."
If that were all there was to the story, then Trump would have nothing to worry about. But of course it isn't.
Given what he has said in the past, Trump will probably claim he knew nothing about this payment to the Liberty University IT guy, despite the fact that the Journal reports this:
Mr. Gauger said he never got the rest of what he claimed he was owed. But Mr. Cohen in early 2017 still asked for—and received — a $50,000 reimbursement from Mr. Trump and his company for the work by RedFinch, according to a government document and a person familiar with the matter. The reimbursement — made on the sole basis of a handwritten note from Mr. Cohen and paid largely out of Mr. Trump’s personal account — demonstrates the level of trust the lawyer once had within the Trump Organization, whose officials arranged the repayment.
So handing Michael Cohen tens of thousands of dollars from his personal account to reimburse him for what we might call special projects was plainly something Trump was used to doing. Cohen confirmed the Journal story on Twitter, saying, “what I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of @realDonaldTrump @POTUS. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it.”
This is far from the most shocking thing Cohen ever did for Trump, but it’s a reminder that there are almost certainly numerous deals, arrangements and events in which Cohen was involved that we haven’t even heard of yet. Some of them may be related to the 2016 campaign, but the bulk likely have to do with the Trump Organization, which was not exactly a model of integrity and fair dealing.
Indeed, that is probably just what attracted Cohen to Trump and Trump to Cohen when they first encountered each other: They were both guys intensely interested in money who weren’t above breaking the rules to get it. Cohen had a long history of involvement with people who eventually saw the inside of jail cells, and Trump was, well, Trump. It’s not as though Michael Cohen corrupted him.
People sometimes say that Cohen “knows where the bodies are buried,” but I think that’s only partially true. He was certainly close to Trump, but he was not uniquely knowledgeable about the dirty deeds committed by the Trump Organization and the president himself. If you gave everyone around Trump truth serum, there are probably a couple of other people who could tell you more. At the top of the list is Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, who has worked for Trump for decades. (Weisselberg was given limited immunity to cooperate with prosecutors in the matter of Trump’s hush-money payments to mistresses, but he appears to be keeping the vast majority of his secrets.)
Nevertheless, Cohen was there for long enough, and involved in a wide enough variety of projects, that he almost certainly has enough stories to fill a week of riveting congressional hearings. I always come back to the remark made by the New Yorker’s Adam Davidson, who has reported extensively on the Trump Organization: “I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality.”
Michael Cohen was there when much of it went down. I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.