Here's the long WSJ piece published today.
At the Trump Organization, the future president appreciated lawyer’s loyalty but doubted his professional abilities and judgment; a big pay cut
Donald Trump summoned senior aides to his 26th floor office at Trump Tower around 2009 for an unpleasant task: persuade Michael Cohen —a top lawyer at his company—to resign, according to one of the aides.
Mr. Trump’s frustration had reached a breaking point, the aide said. Mr. Cohen wasn’t getting things done and Mr. Trump didn’t believe he was a good fit at the Trump Organization, even though he liked him and didn’t want to fire him. “What’s he doing here?” Mr. Trump demanded.
The message was relayed to Mr. Cohen. Visibly upset, Mr. Cohen pushed back. “I will try to prove myself,” Mr. Cohen replied, a person familiar with the matter said.
Mr. Trump eventually dropped the issue, but not before dealing another blow to Mr. Cohen by way of a big pay cut, slashing his annual income of more than $400,000 roughly in half, according to another person familiar with the matter.
The episodes, never previously reported, cast in new light the decade-long relationship between now-President Trump and Mr. Cohen. The lawyer found his niche as a fixer of some of Mr. Trump’s thornier problems, including playing the heavy with potential deal partners, and helping the real-estate developer write some of his meaner tweets.
At the same time, Mr. Trump throughout held Mr. Cohen at arm’s length. Interviews with two dozen friends and acquaintances of the two men and others familiar with their relationship suggest Mr. Trump appreciated the unswerving loyalty. But he also came to doubt Mr. Cohen’s professional abilities and judgment.
From this improbable relationship comes an extraordinary test of how far Mr. Cohen’s loyalty will stretch, and whether Mr. Trump’s treatment of Mr. Cohen over the years will come back to bite him, jeopardizing them both in the process.
Federal authorities seized millions of files from Mr. Cohen during an April raid. They’re investigating potential campaign-finance violations and bank fraud surrounding, among other deals, Mr. Cohen’s October 2016 payment to Stephanie Clifford, the former adult-film star called Stormy Daniels, to keep her from discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.
Some allies of Mr. Trump have expressed concerns that Mr. Cohen, who is shopping for a new legal team, will cooperate with investigators—a decision that one person close to Mr. Cohen said he hadn’t yet made. The outcome is likely to determine how the final chapter of the 12-year-long relationship between the two men is written.
Mr. Cohen didn’t respond to a detailed request for comment, except to write back: “Your entire set of facts, as put forth below, lack any accuracy and demonstrate you are just another member of the fake news propaganda machine.”
The White House didn’t reply to requests for comment.
The Trump-Cohen relationship began with real estate. Mr. Cohen bought an apartment in Trump World Tower, a 72-floor skyscraper near the United Nations, for a little more than $1 million in 2001, public property filings show. It was his first purchase in one of the glitzy Trump buildings and one of many by Mr. Cohen and relatives. His wife’s parents bought four other units at the same building.
Three years later, Mr. Cohen met Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Trump’s eldest son, as he sought to buy into the mogul’s newest building, Trump Park Avenue.
Messrs. Cohen and Trump Jr. hashed out the details at Geisha, a restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, said Greg Ehrlich, a friend at the time. Mr. Cohen agreed to buy and combine multiple units for just under $5 million. He and his wife closed on the apartment at 502 Park Avenue on Feb. 3, 2005. Donald Trump Jr. didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Cohen’s relationship with the elder Trump blossomed the next year, as he rallied to the developer’s side in a dispute with a condo board at Trump World Tower.
The row was over an assessment on condo owners that amounted to tens of thousands of dollars per unit. In 2003, the building’s board, then controlled by Mr. Trump, agreed to raise condo fees to pay the developer $30 million. The sum was compensation for legal fees and other expenses Mr. Trump incurred in two lawsuits against the city, including one that won the building a $94 million tax abatement.
Other condo owners bristled at the hefty fees, a former owner recalled. They gained a foothold on the board and moved to review and potentially undo the assessment.
Mr. Trump sued the owners reviewing the assessment, accusing them of squandering condo resources. He recruited Mr. Cohen and others on his side to run for the seven-member condo board, culminating in a March 2006 vote in a packed church basement next door, current and former owners recalled.
Mr. Trump jabbed at his opponents, including board member Stephen Wolf, who had been chief executive of US Airways Group Inc. before the airline filed for bankruptcy. “What does he know? He ran his airline into the ground,” Mr. Trump said from the podium with Mr. Wolf nearby, according to several attendees. Mr. Wolf declined to comment.
Mr. Cohen, who sat with Mr. Trump at the meeting, stood to make a speech in support of quashing the board’s uprising, current and former owners said. “What are we doing as a group? What are we trying to accomplish?” Mr. Cohen asked, recalled Keith Kantrowitz, who attended and still lives there.
Mr. Trump’s slate of candidates, including Mr. Cohen, won seats on the board and preserved the assessment. Mr. Trump dismissed his lawsuit against the board members, requiring two of them to resign as a condition of a confidential settlement, a person familiar with the deal said.
Mr. Cohen and his wife by then had spent about $6.8 million to buy units in three Trump buildings. In February 2007, Mr. Cohen publicly promoted Mr. Trump, telling a New York Post reporter that “Trump properties are solid investments” for him and his relatives. Mr. Trump repaid the compliment.
“Michael Cohen has a great insight into the real-estate market,” he said. “He has invested in my buildings because he likes to make money—and he does.”
Three months later, Mr. Cohen went to work at the Trump Organization, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Top executives were told that Mr. Cohen, as an involved investor in his buildings, would be Mr. Trump’s “eyes and ears” and represent his interests to condo owners, a person familiar with the matter said. He was given an office and an executive vice president title, but the precise nature of his job wasn’t clear to others in the organization, including other lawyers.
Almost immediately, Mr. Trump tapped Mr. Cohen as his point man to buy an unfinished golf course development called Running Horse in Fresno, Calif., that was enmeshed in bankruptcy proceedings.
Lawyers for the developer who controlled the project recalled Mr. Cohen trying to coax them into a deal on unfavorable terms. “I would have guessed he had been Trump’s consigliere for 30 years,” said Harry Pascuzzi, one of the lawyers.
When his entreaties didn’t work, Mr. Pascuzzi said, Mr. Cohen told him Mr. Trump wanted to offer him a job as West Coast counsel. Mr. Pascuzzi, wanting to avoid a potential conflict of interest, told Mr. Cohen he’d accept the offer after the negotiations. “No, it’s got to be right now,” he said Mr. Cohen replied, withdrawing the offer.
Mr. Cohen aggressively promoted Mr. Trump’s message with radio appearances in Fresno and visited the area with Mr. Trump. They told the media, local politicians and residents that they could turn Fresno around, while threatening to walk away and vilifying the developer and his lawyers for refusing their offers.
“No one in the world other than Mr. Trump could make this project a success,” Mr. Cohen said publicly.
He was “a little heavy handed,” said Riley Walter, a bankruptcy lawyer who worked with the developer. “It’s not the way we do [deals] here in the Central Valley of California. You don’t have to use veiled threats.”
At one meeting, Mr. Pascuzzi said, Mr. Cohen participated by speakerphone from New York when he and Mr. Trump’s California lawyers decided to break off the negotiations for a day.
Mr. Cohen blew up. “He wanted it done right then and have us concede everything we were disputing,” Mr. Pascuzzi recalled. The lawyers ignored him and walked out of the room while Mr. Cohen ranted on the speakerphone.
They eventually struck an agreement, but Mr. Trump backed out, saying the local redevelopment zone wasn’t big enough to make the deal worthwhile, Mr. Pascuzzi said.
Back at the Trump Organization, Mr. Cohen appeared “star-struck” around Mr. Trump, so intent on pleasing him that colleagues questioned his judgment, some of them said. He was secretive about the work he was doing, they said, keeping others in the legal department in the dark about his projects and, unlike most of his colleagues, locking the door to his office at Trump Tower.
Some colleagues were puzzled by Mr. Cohen’s unending—and largely unrequited—affection for Mr. Trump. Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump’s 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal,” was the only one he had ever read twice.
He helped negotiate several high-profile Trump deals, including a 2008 branding pact between Mr. Trump and Affliction Entertainment, a clothing line that branched into fight promotion. Thomas Atencio, Affliction’s former vice president, recalled having lunch with Mr. Cohen, who acted as Mr. Trump’s lawyer, a few times during the negotiations.
It didn’t take long for Mr. Trump to grow skeptical of Mr. Cohen’s legal skills, people close to the company said. He doled out projects he had previously assigned to Mr. Cohen to others, the people said.
Mr. Trump routinely asked other lawyers to review documents Mr. Cohen drafted. “Why does someone else have to look at my work?” a former colleague said Mr. Cohen asked.
For a while, Mr. Cohen seemed on track to lead several Trump projects in the former Soviet Union. One brought in $1 million in the beginning stages of a licensing deal. But the effort later petered out.
He frequently battled Mr. Trump’s enemies. He killed a magazine story in mid-2011 about an alleged sexual encounter between Mr. Trump and Ms. Clifford, by threatening to sue Bauer Publishing. A few months later, after Ms. Clifford’s agent leaked the story to a gossip website, Bauer published a story anyway.
Not realizing the magazine had already gone to press, Mr. Cohen warned Bauer’s general counsel again in an email that unless he removed the “unsubstantiated” story, Mr. Trump “shall avail himself of every available remedy,” warning: “Guide yourself accordingly.” Mr. Trump didn’t sue.
One of Mr. Cohen’s roles was to tell outside lawyers Mr. Trump wasn’t going to pay them the amount they were seeking for billed services, according to several people who worked at the Trump Organization or were outside counsel for the company.
In 2011, he interceded after a Virginia lawyer, David Hopper, refused a request from Eric Trump, one of Mr. Trump’s sons, to reduce fees he was charging the Trump Organization by 70% for representation in a case involving a Trump family winery.
Mr. Hopper’s firm had said it would withdraw from the case, according to legal filings.
Later, Mr. Hopper got a call from Mr. Cohen, whom he’d never heard from before, a person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Cohen, friendly at first, asked the firm not to withdraw while still accepting the lower fees, according to a legal filing by Mr. Hopper. When Mr. Hopper refused, Mr. Cohen warned him that the firm should expect very bad publicity unless it reconsidered, according to the filing.
The Trump Organization denied in court filings Mr. Cohen had said this. Later that day, then-Trump General Counsel Jason Greenblatt told Virginia Lawyers’ Weekly that Mr. Hopper’s work was “shoddy” and at times had to be redone. Mr. Hopper sued his onetime client in federal court alleging defamation and breach of contract. The parties settled, drafting a statement that the Trump Organization “appreciated” Mr. Hopper’s services.
Other days, Mr. Cohen spent time in Mr. Trump’s office helping his boss compose nasty tweets about talk show host Rosie O’Donnell, with whom Mr. Trump was engaged in a Twitter war, Mr. Cohen later told a colleague. Mr. Trump’s tweets included calling Ms. O’Donnell “an ass” and “a true loser.”
Mr. Cohen later told a colleague those were his “glory days” because he felt particularly close to Mr. Trump.
Mr. Cohen has credited himself as an originator of Mr. Trump’s run for president. In an interview last year, he said he had shown Mr. Trump a magazine article in October 2010 referencing a poll about the idea of a Trump presidency.
Mr. Cohen and several New York lobbyists set up a website, ShouldTrumpRun.com. He visited Iowa a few months later to explore a campaign.
The effort seemed to help reinvigorate Mr. Cohen’s standing with his boss. “He found his sweet spot again,” said one former associate. In early 2011, Mr. Trump tweeted: “The people at shouldtrumprun.com have got it right!”
Mr. Trump didn’t run, but the seeds were sown for the announcement of his candidacy in June 2015. Mr. Cohen didn’t officially join the campaign.
Instead, he stayed in his job, launching another failed attempt at a Trump-branded overseas tower, in Moscow. That deal later came under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and in congressional committees examining whether Trump associates colluded with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 campaign. Mr. Trump has denied collusion, and Moscow has denied election meddling.
Mr. Cohen got Mr. Trump’s signature on a nonbinding letter of intent in October 2015, going outside the chain of command in the legal department, according to a former colleague of Mr. Cohen.
The deal fell through, despite Mr. Cohen’s last-ditch effort in January 2016 to salvage it with an email to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, according to documents submitted to Congress. Mr. Cohen said he didn’t recall receiving a response, and the Kremlin spokesman said he didn’t show the email to Mr. Putin.
As the 2016 presidential campaign heated up, Mr. Cohen acted as a surrogate for Mr. Trump on television and handled problems, including making a $130,000 hush payment to Ms. Clifford the month before the election after she and her manager had again shopped the story of an alleged affair with Mr. Trump to news outlets.
Two months after Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Cohen announced he was leaving the Trump Organization to serve as the president’s personal attorney.
Last fall, Mr. Cohen sold his Trump World Tower apartment, netting a $2 million profit. He remained on the condo board for a time and ran for re-election this month. But questions arose about his eligibility for the position, given that he no longer owned an apartment there. A Trump Organization spokeswoman said Mr. Cohen recently resigned.