WASHINGTON — His modus operandi is to deal with problems through payoffs, threats or lawsuits, and he demands absolute loyalty from underlings, who constantly lie for him.
Michael Cohen on Wednesday painted a picture of the sometimes-intoxicating but ultimately shaming decade he spent working as a lawyer for Donald Trump, whom he likened to a “mobster.”
Trump is “a conman” and “a cheat” who “ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great,” Cohen said in stunning congressional testimony.
“He had no desire or intention to lead this nation — only to market himself and to build his wealth and power.”
Cohen recounted his time as Trump’s personal lawyer and right-hand man at the real estate tycoon’s Trump Organization — saying that, now that he has been sentenced to three years in prison for crimes in part related to that work, he is “ashamed” of it.
“Being around Mr Trump was intoxicating when you were in his presence,” he said.
“You felt like you were involved in something greater than yourself, that you were somehow changing the world. I wound up touting the Trump narrative for over a decade.”
But “everybody’s job at the Trump Organization is to protect Mr Trump.”
“Every day, most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something, and that became the norm.”
‘Catch and kill’
One of his jobs, he said, was “catch and kill”: to pay off the National Enquirer tabloid to stifle stories that would be unflattering to Trump.
That also extended to arranging hush payments to silence women who Cohen said had affairs with Trump.
If that did not work, Cohen said, he would threaten lawsuits. During his time as Trump’s fixer, he said he may have issued 500 such threats to ward off problems, business disputes and media reports.
Cohen recalled that, as Trump began his run for the White House, he ordered him to threaten Trump’s former high school and universities with lawsuits if they released any of the future president’s school records and scores.
Trump was brashly proud of his deceits, Cohen said.
In 2008, even while he was slashing the pay of Trump Organization employees, the future president told Cohen he had received a $10 million tax refund, and called the government “stupid” for giving back money to “someone like him.”
Cohen said that Trump, who regularly praises and promotes the US military, was likewise proud to have avoided being sent to fight in the Vietnam War by claiming he had bone spurs on his feet.
“You think I’m stupid? I wasn’t going to Vietnam,” Trump said, according to Cohen.
And Trump “reveled” in his practice of stiffing small suppliers and contractors to save money, Cohen noted.