WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael D. Cohen has been described as his fixer, his pit bull, and his Secretary of Loyalty, but long before Cohen entered Trump’s inner circle, he was a kid from Lawrence, admiring the headline-grabbing New York City real estate mogul from afar.
“It’s very, very surreal,” Cohen told ABC News in a 2011 interview about his role as Trump’s key legal adviser. “I’ve been admiring Donald Trump since I was in high school.”
Cohen, 51, is now at the center of a federal probe into his actions on behalf of Trump during the 2016 presidential election. FBI agents raided Cohen’s Manhattan office, apartment and hotel residence early Monday morning.
Cohen grew up on Nassau’s South Shore, the son of Sondra, a nurse, and Dr. Maurice Cohen, a surgeon who survived the Holocaust and fled his native Poland.
Before leaving Long Island to attend American University in Washington, D.C., and Cooley Law School in Michigan, Cohen attended the Hillel School in Lawrence, which eventually was renamed the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaways, according to an interview he gave the Jewish Chronicle in March 2016.
He graduated from the Lawrence Woodmere Academy in 1984, according to the school’s alumni newsletter, and has since contributed financially to the private school located on 7 acres in Woodmere.
In 2012, when the school celebrated its centennial anniversary, Cohen was among the 100 alumni featured in the school’s annual alumni magazine. He appeared alongside other notable graduates including New York City real estate developer Richard LeFrak, and the late sports broadcaster Bob Wolff.
Cohen, who eventually settled in Manhattan’s Upper East Side with his wife, Laura, and two children and rose from a personal injury attorney to an executive vice president of the Trump Organization, continues to view himself “an outer borough guy” who prides himself in his Nassau roots, said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who said he got to know Cohen during the 2016 campaign.
“It’s a main part of who he is,” said King, who endorsed Trump in 2016. “He talks about it. He likes to play up the fact that he’s a guy who was not raised in Manhattan . . . ‘I’m from Long Island, we don’t take crap from anyone.’ ”
King said Cohen considers that “his Long Island upbringing sort of toughened him up,” and is part of the reason he and Trump, who was born in Queens, relate so well to one another.
“Donald Trump considers himself to be an outerborough guy because he grew up in Queens,” King said. “ . . . Michael Cohen has that almost doubled — not only did he not grow up in Manhattan, he didn’t grow up in New York City. He grew up in Nassau County . . . so he has sort of the style, the irreverence, the not taking himself so seriously persona, which is identified more with Nassau than it would be with Manhattan, that’s for sure.”
Cohen, who was hired by Trump in 2006 to serve as his general counsel, is part of a cadre of Long Islanders who have been at Trump’s side as he made the transition from Trump Tower to the Oval Office. Southampton billionaire Wilbur Ross, who held campaign fundraisers for Trump, now serves as Commerce secretary. Anthony Scaramucci of Manhasset was a fixture at Trump Tower during the campaign season and presidential transition before his short-lived stint as White House communications director last year.
Scaramucci has publicly defended his fellow native Long Islander after the FBI raid. He dubbed Cohen #SecretaryofLoyalty in a recent tweet, and in an interview with Sirius XM on Wednesday described Cohen as a “very close, personal friend,” who he has an “enormous amount of respect for.”
“I want Michael to be exonerated,” Scaramucci said. “I hope Michael didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t know what he did . . . even if he did something wrong I’d be there for him . . . he’s my friend.”
Cohen started his legal career as a personal injury attorney in New York City, before entering the city’s taxi business with his Ukrainian-born father-in-law, amassing a fleet of more than 200 taxis. He also pursued other side ventures including real estate, served as the CEO of a since-failed casino cruise company based in Florida, and ran unsuccessfully for New York City Council in 2003.
In 2001, he purchased an apartment at the Trump World Tower in midtown Manhattan, which would become the first in a series of Trump-branded apartments that Cohen and his in-laws would purchase in New York and South Florida. Cohen’s investment in Trump properties caught the attention of the real estate mogul himself, who in 2006 invited Cohen to join the Trump Organization as a general counsel.
“Michael Cohen has a great insight into the real-estate market,” Trump said in a 2007 New York Post article. “He has invested in my buildings because he likes to make money — and he does . . . In short, he’s a very smart person.”
In 2011, Cohen launched an online effort to build support for a possible Trump presidential run, setting up the website “Should Trump Run?” Although he never officially joined Trump’s 2016 campaign staff, he served as a surrogate, defending Trump in televised appearances.
“If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like, I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit,” Cohen said in an interview with ABC News in 2011. “If you do something wrong, I’m going to come at you, grab you by the neck and I’m not going to let you go until I’m finished.”
Cohen now finds himself in the crosshairs of a federal investigation looking into bank fraud, wire fraud, and whether he violated federal election laws by allegedly attempting to suppress negative information about Trump in the days and weeks leading up to the election.
Cohen has admitted to reporters that he paid $130,000 to porn actress Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about her allegations of an affair with Trump. Cohen has said he did not notify Trump he was making the payments, and paid Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, out of his own pocket, not from Trump’s business or campaign coffers.
Federal investigators, according to media reports based on sources who have viewed the search warrants used to execute the raid, are also seeking records related to any exchanges Trump and Cohen may have had over an “Access Hollywood” tape in which the president is heard boasting about groping women without their consent. The tape was eventually leaked days before the election, but investigators are reportedly looking to determine if Cohen made any efforts to conceal the tape from airing.
On Friday, Cohen’s attorneys asked a federal court judge in Manhattan to block federal prosecutors from reviewing any of the seized documents, arguing that Cohen’s legal team should have the first shot at reviewing the records, which they argue are protected by attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors agreed to suspend their review until a follow-up court hearing is held on Monday.
Prosecutors said in a court filing Friday that a criminal probe is focused on Cohen’s “personal business dealings.”
Cohen did not return a request for comment placed through his attorney David Schwartz.
Despite his mounting legal woes Cohen will “undoubtedly remain unequivocally loyal” to Trump, said JuanPablo Andrade, a Smithtown resident who served on the National Diversity Coalition that Cohen assembled for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“He’s been fighting for President Trump since day one,” Andrade said.
Andrade, who now serves as a policy adviser for the pro-Trump group America First Policies, first met Cohen at his Trump Tower office in 2016 as the fiery lawyer recruited him to join Trump’s fledgling campaign. Andrade, who was born and raised in Suffolk, said their Long Island upbringing helped break the ice.
“He told me Long Island has always been home to him,” Andrade said.