Cohen was named COO of mixed martial arts promotion company Affliction Entertainment in which Trump held a significant financial stake.
Michael Cohen in 2011
While Cohen was an executive at the organization, he was known as Trump’s “pit bull”. In late 2011, when Trump was publicly speculating about running for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination, Cohen co-founded the website “Should Trump Run?” to draft Trump into entering the race.]
In an interview with ABC News in 2011, Cohen stated, “If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit. If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.”
In 2013, Cohen sent an email to the satirical news website The Onion, demanding that an article The Onion had published that mocked Donald Trump (“When You’re Feeling Low, Just Remember I’ll Be Dead In About 15 or 20 Years”) be removed with an apology, claiming it was defamatory.
In 2015, in response to an inquiry by reporter Tim Mak of The Daily Beast concerning rape allegations (brought up in the 1980s but later recanted) by Ivana Trump about her then-husband Donald Trump, Cohen said, “I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting.”
In January 2016, according to The Washington Post, Cohen sent an e-mail to Dmitry Peskov which was the “most direct outreach documented by a top Trump aide to a similarly senior member of Putin’s government.]
A video of an interview of Cohen by CNN’s Brianna Keilar went viral, in which Cohen said “Says who?” several times in response to Keilar’s statement that Trump was behind in all of the polls. Cohen defended Trump against charges of antisemitism.
In 2016, he was a co-founder, along with Darrell C. Scott, of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump. Peter J. Gleason, a lawyer who filed for protection of documents pertaining to two women with sexual abuse allegations against Eric T. Schneiderman, stated—without offering details or corroborating evidence—that Cohen told him that if Trump had been elected governor of New York in 2013, the latter would have helped bring the accusations to public attention.
In the fall of 2016, adult film actress Stormy Daniels (legal name Stephanie Clifford) was speaking to some reporters and said that she had had a sexual affair with Trump in 2006. In October, Cohen and Daniels’ attorney Keith M. Davidson negotiated a non-disclosure agreement under which she was to be paid $130,000 hush money. Cohen created a Delaware LLC called Essential Consultants and used it to pay the $130,000. The arrangement was reported by The Wall Street Journal in January 2018.
Cohen told The New York Times in February 2018 that he paid the $130,000 to Daniels from his own pocket; he also said that the payment was not a campaign contribution and he was not reimbursed by either the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign. The Washington Post later noted that, by stating that he used his own money to “facilitate” the payment, Cohen was not ruling out the possibility that Trump, as an individual, reimbursed Cohen for the payment. In April 2018, Trump acknowledged for the first time that Cohen has represented him in the Stormy Daniels case, after previously having denied knowledge of the $130,000 payment.
Essential Consultants LLC is a Delaware shell company created by Cohen in October 2016 to facilitate payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels. For many months thereafter, Cohen used the LLC for an array of business activities largely unknown to the public, with at least $4.4 million moving through the LLC between Trump’s election to the presidency and January 2018. In May 2018, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti posted a seven-page report to Twitter detailing what he said were financial transactions involving Essential Consultants and Cohen. Avenatti did not reveal the source of his information, which was later largely confirmed by The New York Times and other publications. The data showed that hundreds of thousands of dollars were given to Cohen, via Essential Consultants, from Fortune 500 firms such as Novartis and AT&T, which had business before the Trump administration. It was also revealed that Essential Consultants had received at least $500,000 from a New York-based investment firm called Columbus Nova, which is linked to a Russian oligarch. The firm’s largest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, a Ukrainian-born Russian oligarch. Vekselberg is a business partner of Soviet-born billionaire and major Republican Party donor, Leonard Blavatnik. A spokesperson for Columbus Nova said that the payment was a consulting fee that had nothing to do with Vekselberg.
The Trump–Russia dossier, published in January 2017, alleges that Cohen met with Russian officials in Prague, Czech Republic, in 2016 with the objective of paying those who had hacked the DNC and to “cover up all traces of the hacking operation”. The dossier contains raw intelligence, and is thought to be a mix of accurate and inaccurate information. Cohen denied the allegations against him, stating that he was in Los Angeles between August 23 and 29, and in New York for the entire month of September. According to a Czech intelligence source, there is no record of him entering Prague by plane, but Respekt magazine and Politico pointed out that he could have theoretically entered by car or train from a neighboring country within the Schengen Area, for example Italy. In the latter case, a record of Cohen entering the Schengen zone from a non-Schengen country should exist, if it occurred. However, on April 13, 2018, the DC Bureau of McClatchy Newspapers reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Cohen did travel to Prague during the late summer of 2016, with two sources having confirmed this secret trip. The evidence is said to show that Cohen entered the Czech Republic from Germany, and since both countries are in the European Union’s Schengen passport area, Cohen would not have needed to receive a passport stamp to enter Czech territory.
The following day, Cohen again denied he has “ever been to Prague”. Cohen also said that he didn’t travel to the European Union in August 2016. McClatchy reported in December 2018 that a mobile phone traced to Cohen had “pinged” cellphone towers around Prague in late summer 2016. McClatchy also reported that during that time an eastern European intelligence agency had intercepted communications between Russians, one of whom mentioned that Cohen was in Prague. However, the Mueller Report states “Cohen had never traveled to Prague and was not concerned about those allegations, which he believed were provably false”: 139
In late January 2017, Cohen met with Ukrainian opposition politician Andrey Artemenko and Felix Sater at the Loews Regency in Manhattan to discuss a plan to lift sanctions against Russia. The proposed plan would require that Russian forces withdraw from eastern Ukraine and that Ukraine hold a referendum on whether Crimea should be “leased” to Russia for 50 or 100 years. Cohen was given a written proposal in a sealed envelope that he delivered to then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn in early February.
On April 3, 2017, Cohen was appointed as one of three national deputy finance chairmen of the Republican National Committee, along with Elliott Broidy and Louis DeJoy. In April 2017, Cohen also formed an alliance with Squire Patton Boggs for legal and lobbying counsel on behalf of Trump.
In May 2017, amidst expanding inquiries into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, two congressional panels asked Cohen to provide information about any communications he had with people connected to the Russian government. He was a subject of the Mueller investigation in 2018. Because of these investigations, Michael Cohen and Donald Trump signed a joint defense agreement allowing their attorneys to share information during the Mueller investigations and joint defense agreements were arranged between Donald Trump and both Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. Cohen retained an attorney with Davidoff Hutcher & Citron who later represented Rudy Giuliani, too.
In May 2018, BBC News falsely reported that Cohen had received a secret payment of between $400,000 and $600,000 from intermediaries for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to arrange a meeting between Poroshenko and Trump, though Cohen was not registered as a foreign agent. Cohen and the Ukrainian president’s office denied the allegations. The BBC ended up having to state the allegation was untrue, apologizing to Poroshenko, deleting the article from its website, paying legal costs, and paying damages to Poroshenko.
In May 2018, Rudy Giuliani announced that Cohen was no longer Trump’s lawyer. In July, seized tapes secretly recorded by Cohen of his conversations with Trump about hush payments to Karen McDougal were disclosed to The New York Times, seemingly contradicting earlier statements by Trump denying knowledge of the payments, and raising questions about campaign-finance ethics. Cohen also asserted that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son Donald Jr., and other Trump campaign officials with Russians who claimed to possess information damaging to the Hillary Clinton campaign, contradicting the President’s repeated insistence that he was not aware of the meeting until long after it had taken place.
In June 2018, Cohen resigned as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. His resignation letter cited the ongoing investigations and also criticized the Trump administration’s policy of separating undocumented families at the border.
he Manhattan District Attorney and the New York Attorney General opened investigations into Trump. The Manhattan DA’s office ultimately decided in 2022 not to pursue charges, in part because the new DA, Alvin Bragg, worried that the case relied too much on Michael Cohen’s testimony.
These were separate from the investigation by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance which, on August 22, 2018, announced it had subpoenaed Cohen in connection with its investigation into whether the Donald J. Trump Foundation had violated New York tax laws. The department also said in October 2018 it would review allegations that Trump had gained hundreds of millions of dollars through tax fraud.