Trump’s political fixer comes unstuck

US President Donald Trump is sticking by his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen – even as the allegations of a “cash for access” scandal mount up against him. Jane Lewis reports.

The latest scandal to hit Donald Trump, like many others, centres on his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen – a fellow New Yorker, who once told Vanity Fair: “I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.” Cohen’s firm, Essential Consultants, was used to pay porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 before the US election. It later raked in $2.4m for “strategic advice” from companies that included a Korean defence firm and Columbus Nova – a New York investment firm that effectively serves as a vehicle of Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch.

Now reports suggest that Cohen “solicited $1m” from the Qatari government in late 2016 “for access and insight” into Trump’s administration, says BusinessInsider. The Qataris reportedly said no, but, according to Foreign Policy, Cohen then met with the Qatari economy minister (who doubles as deputy chairman of the $300bn QIA sovereign wealth fund) in April – days before the FBI raided Cohen’s home and office in an ongoing investigation into possible criminal business dealings.

An introduction to The Donald

The alleged meeting is significant because Kushner Companies, the property outfit owned by the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is reportedly close to securing a bail-out from an investment firm with links to Qatar. The “extraordinarily naked quid pro quo” that Cohen offered corporate clients – cash for access – shows that the former “ambulance chaser” is far from the average “garden-variety politico-turned-lobbyist”, says the Financial Times. Cohen cleaned up “simply because he knew Trump”.

Cohen was born in Long Island. His father was a doctor who had escaped the Holocaust. His wealthy uncle’s Brooklyn “social club”, El Caribe, was a known mafia hangout in the 1970s and ’80s, says Heather Digby Parton on Salon – the Russian mob had offices there. In 1992, Cohen began practising personal injury law in New York. But it was his 1994 marriage to Laura Shusterman, daughter of Ukrainian émigré businessman Fima Shusterman, that seems to have kick-started his business career – and provided him with an introduction to Trump.

Fima Shusterman, who was convicted of a money-laundering-related offence in 1993, owned a fleet of taxicabs and had interests in property, says Seth Hettena in Rolling Stone. One former federal investigator says he “may have been a (possibly silent) business partner with Trump, perhaps even used as a conduit for Russian investors in Trump properties”.

Indeed, in 2006, Cohen – reeling from a failed venture in a Miami-based casino boat – was “given the job with the Trump Org as a favour to Shusterman”. Cohen has dismissed this as “fake news”. But, says Christopher Matthews on Dealbreaker, it helps explain why Trump retains “a man who has proven himself to be not the most careful or competent attorney”.

Could the pitbull roll over?

The “Resistance” to Trump hope that Cohen’s tangled Russian connections, and more recent wheeler-dealings, will eventually produce “the smoking gun” that proves collusion between the Russian government and the president’s election campaign. It seems to be “a given” in presidential circles that his personal pitbull “knows where the bodies are buried but is willing to go to jail rather than betray Trump”, says Salon. Yet Cohen is coming under a lot of pressure to co-operate with prosecutors – and some of “those who know him best seem to believe he’ll crack even before he has his fingers printed”.