Top 3 Takeaways from Wild WSJ Story on the Downfall of Trump’s ‘Fixers’

In a lengthy piece Friday on the “Fall of Donald Trump’s Fixers,” the Wall Street Journal focused on the infamous Roy Cohn, American Media Inc. (AMI) CEO David Pecker, and, of course, Michael Cohen. There were quite a few nuggets about all three of these men and the role they played in propelling President Trump to new heights.

The Journal story, a note at the bottom of the piece says, was adapted from a forthcoming book, The Fixers: The Bottom-Feeders, Crooked Lawyers, Gossipmongers, and Porn Stars Who Created the 45th President.

Roy Cohn “Shaped” Trump’s “Views of Media and Celebrity”

Roy Cohn’s name has come up before during the Trump presidency.

As Law&Crime reported before, in one passage of Robert Mueller’s Russia report, Trump asked former White House Counsel Don McGahn why he told Mueller about a directive to have the special counsel removed. McGahn said that he couldn’t hide behind attorney-client privilege in this case. “What about these notes?” Trump responded. “Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.”

McGahn said that a “real lawyer” takes notes and Trump said great lawyers like Roy Cohn never took notes. “I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes,” Trump said.

According to the Journal, there’s a reason that Cohn left a lasting impression on the 45th president. Cohn was credited for shaping Trump’s views on media and celebrity. Quite an anecdote revealed Cohn even came up in conversation at Mar-a-Lago after Trump won the 2016 election:

Cohn defined the role of fixer for Mr. Trump, but after Cohn became sick with AIDS in the 1980s, Mr. Trump distanced himself, steering business elsewhere. Weeks after he won the presidency in 2016, Mr. Trump told friends at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort, that after hosting the dying Cohn for dinner there, “I had to spend a fortune to fumigate all the dishes and silverware.”

Mr. Trump’s views of media and celebrity were shaped by Cohn and his successors, the men he relied on to project a particular version of himself—one that often bore little resemblance to reality.

Harvard Law Professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz once described Cohn this way: “Roy Cohn was the quintessential fixer. It wasn’t what he knew; it was who he knew. He knew everybody. He knew every judge; he knew every justice. He knew everybody who had any influence on the judiciary, and you hired him to get access.”

Cohn was a Mafia lawyer, a lawyer for Joseph McCarthy, and a lawyer for Trump who was eventually “disbarred in 1986 by a five-judge panel in New York for misappropriating client funds, compelling a client to change his will (and name him a beneficiary), and lying on his bar application.” Cohn has also been dubbed “McCarthy’s henchman” and a Trump mentor.

It was suggested that David Pecker was instrumental in propagating the Barack Obama “birther” conspiracy theory that Trump embraced.

We know that Pecker, the CEO of the parent company of the National Enquirer, was involved in the catching and killing of Karen McDougal’s story of an affair with Trump before the 2016 election. Pecker received immunity in exchange for information that he provided to federal prosecutors about Cohen, Trump, and efforts to make the McDougal and Stormy Daniels stories disappear:

[Pecker] shared details about payments Mr. Cohen arranged in an effort to silence two women…including Mr. Trump’s knowledge of the deals.

And Pecker was referenced in the criminal information outlining various crimes committed–and admitted to–by Cohen. In the charging documents–the criminal information referenced above–Pecker was referred to as “Chairman-1” while The Enquirer and its parent company were referred to as “Magazine-1” and “Corporation-1,” respectively.

Much virtual ink has been spilled on the practice called “catch and kill,” in which a publication buys a damaging story just to bury it. It seems the Manhattan DA’s office is interested in knowing more about the execution of this practice. McDougal was paid $150,000 for her story about a relationship she said she had with Trump from 2006 to 2007. The deal gave AMI the rights to the story, which they chose to sit on, effectively keeping the allegations under wraps. The deal also included an arrangement for McDougal to publish columns in AMI’s publications, which she claimed they did not fulfill.

Indeed, Pecker and Trump’s relationship goes back to the ’90s. The Journal shed a little light on what that relationship entailed in those days:

In 1997, while running Hachette Magazines Inc., Mr. Pecker hatched a deal to publish a custom magazine called Trump Style. “Trump Style? That’s like the oxymoron of the century,” Hachette executive Nick Matarazzo said when Mr. Pecker told him of it. When advertisers didn’t bite, Mr. Pecker became enraged.

But Pecker’s influence would stretch into the 2010s, when his Globe and Star tabloid publications reportedly helped plant the seeds of the Obama “birther” conspiracy theory that Trump, without apologizing, later acknowledged was false. Per WSJ:

When American Media was based near Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Pecker would hang around if Mr. Trump was in town so that he could hitch a ride back to New York on the mogul’s jet. Mr. Pecker’s National Enquirer breathlessly promoted Mr. Trump’s 2011 exploratory presidential bid, and his Globe and Star propelled the “birther” conspiracy theory that Mr. Trump used to attack President Barack Obama and raise his own political profile.

Back in 2009, Trump and Cohen’s professional relationship was on the rocks to such a degree that he attempted to get Cohen to resign. But Cohen stayed on and stayed loyal, even to the point of helping Trump lie to First Lady Melania Trump about his knowledge of the Stormy Daniels hush payment.

Michael Cohen is still serving out a three-year prison sentence in Otisville, New York, after pleading guilty to eight distinct counts as a part of an agreement with prosecutors–including five charges of tax evasion, one charge of bank fraud and two federal campaign finance violations. The campaign finance violations were related to the Daniels and McDougal payments that Cohen says he made at Trump’s direction.

In the early days of the Stormy Daniels fallout, the Journal says, Donald Trump, Melania Trump and Cohen were on a phone call. During that call, Trump shifted all of the blame for the $130,000 payment on Cohen, and Cohen “picked up on the cue”:

After the Daniels agreement became public, Mr. Trump called Mr. Cohen—with Melania Trump on the line. “Michael, did you really pay $130,000 to Stormy Daniels?” Mr. Trump asked. “Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

Mr. Cohen, who later said that he had consulted extensively with Mr. Trump about the payment, picked up the cue. Mr. Cohen said he’d planned to tell him after the election but had thought it safer to keep Mr. Trump out of it. He assumed the first lady saw through the lie.

In another amusing anecdote, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife expressed during the 2016 Trump campaign that they had taken a liking to Cohen — much to Trump’s surprise:

Mr. Trump kept Mr. Cohen around but didn’t seem to respect him. When Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the evangelical leader, told Mr. Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign that he and his wife really liked Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump responded, Really? Really?

[Image via Yana Paskova/Getty Images]

Matt Naham is managing editor of Law&Crime. He formerly worked as news editor and weekend editor at Rare.

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