Donald Trump's longtime lawyer and personal fixer, Michael Cohen, alleges in a new book that Mr Trump made “overt and covert attempts to get Russia to interfere in the 2016 election” and that the future commander in chief was also well aware of Mr Cohen's hush-money payoff to adult-film star Stormy Daniels during that campaign.
In the book, Disloyal: A Memoir, which was obtained by The Washington Post ahead of its Tuesday publication date, Mr Cohen lays out an alarming portrait of the constellation of characters orbiting around Mr Trump, likening the arrangement to the mafia and calling himself “one of Mr Trump's bad guys”. He describes the president, meanwhile, as “a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man”.
The memoir also describes episodes of Mr Trump's alleged racism and his “hatred and contempt” of his predecessor, Barack Obama, the nation's only African American president.
Mr Cohen acknowledges his own challenges as a credible narrator throughout the 432-page book, which is subtitled “The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump”. He describes himself as Mr Trump's “designated thug” and discusses his felony convictions for lying to Congress and violating campaign laws in service to Mr Trump. Mr Cohen, who now advocates Mr Trump's defeat in November, is still serving a three-year federal prison sentence for those crimes and for personal financial offences.
On Russia, Mr Cohen writes that the cause behind Mr Trump's admiration of Vladimir Putin is simpler than many of his critics assume. Above all, he writes, Mr Trump loves money - and he wrongly identified Mr Putin as “the richest man in the world by a multiple”.
Mr Trump loved Mr Putin, Mr Cohen wrote, because the Russian leader had the ability “to take over an entire nation and run it like it was his personal company - like the Trump Organisation, in fact”.
Mr Cohen also reveals new alleged details about the convoluted effort behind a National Enquirer report smearing senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Mr Cohen says that Mr Trump signed off on the baseless report to damage Mr Cruz, one of his rivals in the 2016 Republican primary.
“It's not real, right?” Mr Trump allegedly asked after being shown a photograph, which the magazine would claim depicted Mr Cruz's father with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before Oswald killed President John F Kennedy in 1963.
“Looks real to me!” Mr Cohen responded, according to the book, prompting Mr Trump to laugh as he demanded that the story be run on the tabloid's front page.
“To say it would be a low blow would be an insult to low blows; can you think of another politician, ever, who would stoop this low?” Mr Cohen writes.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany attacked Mr Cohen's credibility in a statement on Saturday: “Michael Cohen is a disgraced felon and disbarred lawyer, who lied to Congress. He has lost all credibility, and it's unsurprising to see his latest attempt to profit off of lies.”
According to Mr Cohen, Mr Trump's sycophantic praise of the Russian leader during the 2016 campaign began as a way to suck up and ensure access to the oligarch's money after he lost the election. But he claims Mr Trump came to understand that Mr Putin's hatred of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, dating to her support for the 2011 protest movement in Russia, could also help Trump amass more power in the United States.
“What appeared to be collusion was really a confluence of shared interests in harming Hillary Clinton in any way possible, up to and including interfering in the American election - a subject that caused Mr Trump precisely zero unease,” Mr Cohen writes.
Mr Cohen's book, however, does not reveal much in the way of new details surrounding the investigations by former special counsel Robert Mueller III and others into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
A senior White House official dismissed Mr Cohen's commentary on Russia as baseless, arguing that numerous investigations found “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Mr Cohen asserts that another reason that Mr Trump consistently praised Mr Putin was to fulfil his long-held desire to slap his name on a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow.
Mr Cohen says the Trump Tower plans called for a 120-story building in Red Square, including 30 floors devoted to a five-star hotel with an Ivanka Trump-branded spa and Trump restaurants, and 230 high-end condominiums for Russian oligarchs and leaders.
The plan, Mr Cohen adds, was to give the penthouse apartment to the Russian president for free, in part “as a way to suck up to Putin”.
“The whole idea of patriotism and treason became irrelevant in his mind,” Mr Cohen writes. “Trump was using the campaign to make money for himself: of course he was.”
Mr Trump would later publicly insist that he had no business dealings with Russia. But Mr Cohen writes extensively of his own efforts beginning in the fall of 2015 - several months after Mr Trump had declared his candidacy - to make the Moscow project a reality.
The project fell to Cohen, he writes, because Mr Trump's children all disliked Felix Sater, the colourful Russian American developer who served as the Trump Organisation's liaison with Russians interested in the project.
Nevertheless, Mr Cohen says the whole family was aware of the project, even as candidate Trump publicly said he had no ties to Russia. Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, who is now a senior White House adviser, even selected the proposed tower's high-end finishes, Mr Cohen writes.
Ivanka and her lawyers have previously described her involvement in the Russia project as minimal, noting that she never visited the prospective site.
Mr Cohen also describes in detail the partnership between Mr Trump and David Pecker, the chief executive of National Enquirer parent company American Media and a longtime Trump friend, which included Mr Pecker allegedly sharing the Cruz attack with Mr Trump ahead of publication.
While many of Mr Trump's critics would obsess over the possibility of Russian interference, Mr Cohen writes, it was a purposeful “disinformation campaign” run by American citizens such as Pecker that was “by far the more insidious and dangerous development of the last cycle - and the most threatening for 2020”.
Mr Cohen notes that the grocery-store tabloid targeted each of Mr Trump's 2016 primary opponents in turn. He includes a document in the book, for instance, purporting to lay out the magazine's plan to take down senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
The National Enquirer came through for Mr Trump again later in 2016, agreeing to pay former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, who claimed she had an affair with Mr Trump, for her life story and then never running the story. Mr Trump agreed to repay Mr Pecker for the $150,00 (£112,871) fee but never did, Mr Cohen writes.
In the case of Ms Daniels, Mr Cohen writes that after Mr Trump agreed to pay her $130,000 (£97,821) for her silence, he strategised with Trump Organisation chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg on how she could be paid without attracting notice.
Mr Weisselberg suggested finding a Trump friend to put up the money, in the guise of paying for a membership to a Trump golf course or the club Mar-a-Lago, according to the book. When Mr Cohen countered that perhaps Mr Weisselberg should lay out the money himself, “Weisselberg went white as a sheet - like he'd seen a ghost,” he writes.
Ultimately, Mr Cohen made the hush payment himself, taking out a personal home equity loan to come up with the cash, all the while assuming Mr Trump would probably fail to repay him as agreed.
“Stuck with the tab for Trump's sex romp in a hotel room in Utah a decade ago,” Mr Cohen writes. “This was the job I loved?”
Ultimately, however, Mr Trump did repay Cohen - agreeing to reimburse him in $35,000 (£26,336) monthly instalments after he had entered the White House as president, hiding the payments as fees for legal services and naming Mr Cohen his personal attorney. Mr Cohen asserts that Mr Trump would get a tax break and legal services along with the money - meaning he would actually come out financially ahead for paying off the adult-film star.
The Trump Organisation did not immediately respond for comment on Saturday.
In 2018, Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Moscow project, as well as to violating campaign finance laws by paying Ms Daniels to remain silent. Mr Cohen told the court that he had been directed to make the payment to Ms Daniels - and later reimbursed for the money - by Mr Trump. He also pleaded guilty to tax evasion and lying to a financial institution, crimes that were unrelated to his work for Mr Trump.
He was sentenced to three years in prison, which he had been serving at a federal facility in Otisville, NY, until he was allowed to leave prison and serve his sentence at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Before he entered prison, he delivered dramatic public testimony to Congress, in which he apologised for his past lies and called Mr Trump a “racist”, “a con man” and “a cheat”. Republicans mocked his self-professed turn to honesty, noting that he had previously defended Mr Trump with similar gusto.
Beyond Russia's role in the 2016 elections and the Daniels payment, Mr Cohen seeds the rest of his book with snippets of gossip from his time in Mr Trump's orbit - some of it new, some of it well-known and much of it familiar.
He describes Mr Trump insulting and dismissing some of his children, including Donald Trump Jr, his eldest son, and Tiffany, his youngest daughter.
Mr Cohen writes that during the 2016 campaign, Trump was dismissive of minorities, describing them as “not my people”. “I will never get the Hispanic vote,” Mr Cohen recounts Trump claiming. “Like the blacks, they're too stupid to vote for Trump.”
Mr Cohen describes Mr Trump's obsessive hatred of Mr Obama, including claiming that the only reason the former president got into Columbia University and Harvard Law School was because of “f—-ing affirmative action”. He also recounts Mr Trump's “low opinion of all black folks” claiming that Mr Trump once said while ranting about Obama: “Tell me one country run by a black person that isn't a s—-hole. They are all complete f—-ing toilets.”
After Nelson Mandela died in 2013, Mr Trump said he did not think Mandela “was a real leader - not the kind he respected,” Mr Cohen writes.
Instead, Mr Cohen writes that Mr Trump praised the country's apartheid-era white rule, saying: “Mandela f—-ed the whole country up. Now it's a s—-hole. F—- Mandela. He was no leader.”
Mr Cohen writes that before winning the presidency, Mr Trump held a meeting at Trump Tower with prominent evangelical leaders, where they laid their hands on him in prayer. Afterwards, Mr Trump allegedly said: “Can you believe that bulls—t? Can you believe people believe that bulls—t?”
“The cosmic joke was that Trump convinced a vast swathe of working-class white folks in the Midwest that he cared about their well-being,” Mr Cohen writes. “The truth was that he couldn't care less.”
Mr Cohen also depicts Mr Trump as being crude toward women, including inadvertently commenting on Mr Cohen's then-15-year-old daughter as she finished up a tennis lesson: “Look at that piece of a—,” Mr Trump said, according to Mr Cohen. “I would love some of that.”
Mr Cohen details a tawdry 2013 visit to a Las Vegas club, the Act, with Mr Trump and Aras and Emin Agalarov - a Russian father-and-son oligarch duo. Mr Cohen asserts that the group watched a debauched strip show that included one performer who simulated urinating on another performer, who pretended to drink it.
Mr Trump's reaction to the show, Mr Cohen writes, was “disbelief and delight”.
Mr Cohen's book ends with something of a plea - though one that requires the reader to trust Mr Cohen's account of his time in the Trump orbit.
“You now have all the information you need to decide for yourself in November,” Mr Cohen concludes.
The Washington Post
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