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Michael Cohen on What Trump Wants Now

The president’s longtime lawyer, still serving out his federal sentence, explains his former boss’s post-election maneuvering.
December 4, 2020
Michael Cohen on What Trump Wants Now
Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump prepares to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill February 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. Last year Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful excessive campaign contributions and lying to Congress as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is Captain Chaos.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, pinned that label on him and it has stuck.

Now, with less than seven weeks to go before he is escorted from the White House, Captain Chaos is still trampling norms and harming institutions. He is a dangerous con man and is all about the grift. He probably doesn’t want to burn it all down, because that could damage his income—but he’s too incompetent and stupid to see that his actions risk that very outcome.

His latest speech, recorded in the White House and transmitted on Wednesday via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, served as another trigger for his rabid, emotional base. He began by saying, “This may be the most important speech I’ve ever made” before again spewing tepid conspiracy theories and lying incessantly about the election results.

But he wasn’t alone. Wednesday in Michigan, Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani asked state lawmakers to deliver the state’s 16 electoral votes to Donald Trump though he lost the election in that state by 154,000 popular votes.

Reporting in the Detroit Free Press, Dave Boucher said that when the four and a half hour hearing, commandeered by Giuliani, ended, “The testimony did not show any evidence of widespread fraud.”

Democrats were indifferent to Giuliani’s pleas, and a Republican state representative, Steve Johnson, questioned why the Trump campaign did not request a recount of votes: “Instead, what we hear is a lot of talk, a lot of thoughts, a lot of allegations. But we had one opportunity to actually do this [a recount] and the Trump campaign did not make that request.”

During the hearing, Melissa Carone, Trump’s “star witness” to supposed campaign irregularities in Michigan, made a series of baffling and ridiculous claims—including smuggling ballots inside food vans—that drew criticism from the assembled lawmakers. They said she was “not credible.” Even Giuliani, the king of bad hair dye and forced theatrics, tried to silence her to no avail. Her critics say she’s a self-written Saturday Night Live sketch—all that is needed is Kate McKinnon in the appropriate wig and glasses.

Thus Donald Trump’s continued efforts to win an election by hook or by crook that he couldn’t win at the ballot box are playing out like the cheap carnival sideshow we always knew Trump was. He could never make the midway. He will forever be relegated to the rigged games of ring toss, near where the carnies who guess your weight troll the easy marks and the ground is littered with the sticky remains of half-eaten cheap cotton candy.

In all the talk about which Trump cronies might receive pardons in his final lame-duck weeks, there is one name that never comes up: Michael Cohen. After a dozen years as Trump’s lawyer and fixer, Cohen famously broke with his boss in 2018. He pleaded guilty to tax fraud, bank fraud, campaign finance violations, and lying to Congress. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison, although because of the pandemic he was released this past May to serve out his sentence under house arrest.

Reflecting on Trump and the end of his presidency, Cohen told me this week that Trump is the ultimate grifter and, as many have speculated, merely wishes to whip his supporters into a frenzy. “I want him to leave and keep his mouth shut for the next four years, the guy is so ignorant and arrogant,” Cohen said. “He billed himself as a builder and he’s done nothing. He couldn’t even get an infrastructure bill passed.”

It is true that wherever Trump and his minions go, chaos, corruption, and destruction follow.

But these days Trump is limiting his exposure because he cannot face the press, the truth, or any question that would challenge the warped, delusional view that he continues to sell to his base.

Cohen believes Trump has “done the math” and figures that, of his 74 million voters, he could successfully con about 20 million of them to continue donating money to him. “He’s very bright when it comes to figuring out angles and money,” Cohen explained in an interview for my podcast Just Ask the Question. “But he knows he can’t go back to real estate and he knows he has to leave the White House in January. But if he can get a large enough number of his supporters to send him money—then he’s set. That’s what he wants.”

It is the collateral damage that Trump continues to inflict on the country in the last seven weeks of his demented administration that should have us all concerned.

The anger that Trump displayed in his first few months in office translated to a wide variety of threats to those in the public who opposed him—entertainers, reporters, athletes: anyone who had a voice and questioned his legitimacy.

That faded after the first year—but has come back with a vengeance in the last few weeks.

Trump’s feverish, delusional, insane, and perhaps seditious denial of his loss, coupled with his ability to twist people into a knot and partnered with idiots like Giuliani and most of the White House senior staff have produced an environment ripe for violence.

Trump doesn’t care—as long as it doesn’t get too violent.

He wants to protect his bottom line, but he’s never been able to contain the Frankenstein monster he’s created—triggered racists, sycophants, and marginalized Americans who believe Trump has given them permission to access the very worst versions of themselves and threaten the world around them for perceived and often erroneous indiscretions.

So the irony is that Trump, in his frenzied delusional anger, is not only a hypocrite, but a vile, dangerous lunatic who threatens his own post-White House existence.

Will he face prosecution for federal or state crimes? Will he launch a new phase of a career in politics or the media? Or will he merely go away, financially and morally bankrupt, slinking into the night muttering to himself and wondering why everyone seems to despise him?

“I wish him nothing for Christmas,” Cohen said. “Except what he deserves.”

Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy magazine. He successfully sued Donald Trump to keep his press pass after Trump tried to suspend it. He has also gone to jail to defend a reporter's right to keep confidential sources.