The Trump-Cohen Battle Is Going to Be Epic

The big story on Friday came from Buzzfeed News.

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

This means that the president suborned perjury in order to cover up the fact that he had a massive business venture underway with Russia while he was running for president.

But it is interesting to note the context in which this news was leaked. As you might recall, Michael Cohen is scheduled to testify publicly before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on February 7th. Trump is obviously worried about that because, during an interview on Fox News with Jeanine Pirro last Saturday, he said this when asked about it:

But he [Cohen] should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that’s the one that people want to look at. Because where does that money — that’s the money in the family. And I guess he didn’t want to talk about his father — he’s trying to get his sentence reduced.

Rudy Giuliani responded similarly when asked about the Buzzfeed story.

So obviously the plan is to smear Cohen by sending reporters to investigate stories about his father-in-law. There are a lot of skeletons in Cohen’s closet and we don’t know the whole story about the case prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have built. But here is what Seth Hettena reported about Cohen’s father-in-law in his book, Trump/Russia: A Definitive History

I spoke to two former federal investigators who told me Cohen was introduced to Donald Trump by his father-in-law, Fima Shusterman, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ukraine who arrived in the U.S. in 1975. Shusterman was in the garment business and owned a fleet of taxicabs with his partners, Shalva Botier and Edward Zubok – all three men were convicted of a money-laundering related offense in 1993. “Fima may have been a (possibly silent) business partner with Trump, perhaps even used as a conduit for Russian investors in Trump properties and other ventures,” a former federal investigator told me. “Cohen, who married into the family, was given the job with the Trump Org as a favor to Shusterman.” (“Untrue,” Cohen told me. “Your source is creating fake news.”)

Shusterman, who owned at least four New York taxi companies, also set his son-in-law up in the yellow cab business. Cohen once ran 260 yellow cabs with his Ukrainian-born partner, the “taxi king” Simon V. Garber, until their partnership ended acrimoniously in 2012. Glenn Simpson, the private investigator who was independently hired to examine Trump’s Russia connections during the real estate mogul’s presidential run, testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Cohen “had a lot of connections to the former Soviet Union, and that he seemed to have associations with organized crime figures in New York and Florida – Russian organized crime figures,” including Garber.

If true, Cohen was originally hired, not because he did Trump a favor, as the president has suggested, but because Trump was already in business with Fima Shusterman when Cohen married his daughter.

The attempt by the president and his legal team to intimidate Cohen via these attacks on his father-in-law could be having its intended effect.

President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen is reconsidering his plan to testify publicly to the U.S. Congress next month because of intimidation by the president, an adviser to Cohen said on Thursday.

Lanny Davis, an attorney who has been advising Cohen on his media strategy, said in an interview with MSNBC that some remarks made by the Republican president about Cohen amounted to witness tampering and deserved to be criminally investigated.

“There is genuine fear and it has caused Michael Cohen to consider whether he should go forward or not, and he has not made a final decision,” Davis said…

In a Fox News interview on Saturday, Trump suggested he had damaging information on Cohen’s father-in-law. “That’s the one that people want to look at,” Trump said in the interview.

Davis said: “There is no question that his threatening and calling out his father-in-law, who – quote – has all the money, is not only improper and unseemly for a bully using the bully pulpit of the presidency, but the very definition of intimidation and witness tampering.”

That is the context in which we should view the recent news that Trump suborned perjury to cover up the fact that he was involved in a business deal with the Russians during the presidential campaign.

For Michael Cohen, Trump’s latest attacks are about family. We know that prosecutors in the Southern District of New York were convinced that Cohen wasn’t being forthcoming on some of the issues they have been investigating. It is very possible that protecting family members like Shusterman could be the heart of their objections to his testimony. These accusations from Trump and Giuliani reignite all of that, so the Buzzfeed story gets the focus back on the president.

But if Hettena’s reporting is accurate, looking more deeply into Shusterman and his dealings with the Trump organization could also be damaging to the president. I doubt that either party really wants to go there.

What we have is two men who know all of each other’s secrets and have deep ties to the Russian mafia in the United Sates engaged in a duel that resembles the way that mobsters tend to handle things like this when they’re not resorting to violence. The battle could be epic.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.