If Donald Trump gave Michael Cohen a dime for his 2003 New York City Council campaign, there’s no record of it. There are no records at all on campaign finance databases, curiously, of Cohen’s receipts from that race.
But from the day Cohen stepped into the storied Metropolitan Republican Club on East 83rd Street in Manhattan that year, where I had recently stepped down as president, Cohen presented himself as Trump’s man.
This was three years before Cohen, who once lived in Lawrence, officially began working for the vainglorious real estate magnate, but when GOP volunteers began asking why they had to endure the arrogance and unpleasantness of this unknown Democrat-turned-Republican council candidate, the name “Trump” was whispered, eliciting groans and paltry understanding.
Cohen, who returned to being a Democrat after getting trounced by incumbent Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz that November, had played signature hardball to receive the Republican nomination. Out of nowhere, he had threatened local GOP leaders a year before to primary Republican State Assembly hopeful Gail Hilson. Hilson’s race, on which I worked, ended in a recount. Cohen’s demand for not mucking things up was the inside track to the council candidacy a year hence.
His was a pathetically weak effort in the end — woefully underfunded, despite the candidate’s bravado, and repellent to volunteers. Cohen was as unknowledgeable and uninterested in local affairs as he was unsmiling. And Trump never materialized. Cohen ended up with about 22 percent of the vote in a district held by a Republican four years earlier. Even I voted for Moskowitz — after serving as a spokesman against her twice. A campaign consultant on the race told me he was stiffed.
Fifteen years later, Cohen, now 51, is in the stew. FBI agents have seized materials proving him more generous to Trump’s 2016 political endeavor than Trump was to his. Cohen, a self-proclaimed fixer nicknamed “Tom” in Trump circles after 1972 “Godfather” consigliere Tom Hagen, says he laid out $130,000 just weeks before the 2016 election to quiet a woman who says she paddled Trump’s derrière with a folded-up Forbes magazine with his face on the cover. Trump says he knows nothing about that — or the payment. If Trump did know about the payment, it could be considered acceptance of an illegal campaign donation.
The swagger now gone, Cohen admitted being scared this week in a CNN interview. There were even hints at possible regret at the godfather he chose to serve all those years ago.
“Do I need this in my life? No,” he said. “Do I want to be involved in this? No.”
Trump watchers and “Godfather” aficionados can only guess how Cohen’s long loyalty will be repaid: “You’re out, Tom,” the former council aspirant should soon hear. “It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.”
Such is the code of hustlers.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.