Long before he became Donald Trump’s feared attack dog, or began to visit the White House as the president’s personal attorney, or took a position with the Republican National Committee, or partnered with powerhouse lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs, Michael Cohen backed a different kind of venture: a gambling cruise that stiffed employees and vendors and blew off many of the ensuing lawsuits. In an interview, Cohen said he was a passive investor and didn't manage the business, so bore no responsibility for how it was run.
That was just one story that reporter Anthony Cormier (often teaming up with other reporters) wrote about Trump's consigliere. There was that time a check for $350,000 was deposited into a trust account he managed, to be disbursed to a woman living in South Florida. As the lawyer in charge of the account, Cohen was supposed to ensure that she got the money — doing so is one of the core duties of an attorney. But he didn’t. Why not? And what ultimately happened to all that money? “I don’t recall,” Cohen said in a deposition. The missing $350,000 — which has never been recovered — became the centerpiece of a lawsuit in Miami, where Cohen was accused of civil fraud. After years of litigation, Cohen prevailed, in part because the suit was filed past the statute of limitations. Cohen dismissed the story as “another poor attempt to malign my impeccable reputation."
Then there was that powerful Ukrainian oligarch who has been investigated for money laundering. The FBI has tied three of his employees to the Russian mob. When he and his partner wanted to build an ethanol factory, their company sought help from Cohen to pitch the deal to American investors from Morgan Stanley. The president's attorney said he played only a bit part in the venture and barely knew the oligarch, adding, “Your attempt to concoct a scenario between this individual and me is ludicrous.”
And Cohen vehemently denied one of the key allegations in the dossier published by BuzzFeed News after it was circulating at the highest levels of the US government. The dossier asserts that Cohen traveled to Prague during the 2016 US presidential election for a secret meeting with Kremlin officials. "Profoundly wrong," is how Cohen described the claim, and even showed BuzzFeed News his passport, which has no stamp for the Czech Republic.
Other reporters who contributed to this series include Chris McDaniel, John Templon, and Tanya Kozyreva.