Michael Cohen was Trump’s consummate inside man. Now, friends say he’s on the stand and at risk

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Michael Cohen was once so close to Donald Trump that he “would take a bullet for” him, he said.

In the seven years since professing this unwavering loyalty, the former lawyer and “fixer” has suffered his own very public downfall and criminal conviction, and is now recast as star witness in the Manhattan district attorney’s hush money case against the former president.

It is a role that Cohen both relishes — as reformed “truth-teller” who enthusiastically pulls back the curtain on the alleged murky dealings of Trump world — and reviles.

Some of those close to Cohen recently told The Independent that he faces significant risks by taking the stand against his former boss. He is expected to begin his testimony in Mr Trump’s criminal trial in lower Manhattan on Monday May 13.

“His family and Michael are still under risk because of Mr Trump’s hateful attacks and what he does on social media,” said Lanny Davis, Mr Cohen’s friend and legal advisor, who is not involved in the hush money trial.

Cohen is “a wounded human being who fears for his family,” Mr Davis added.

Michael Cohen pictured with Donald Trump at a campaign stop in Ohio ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The pair will soon come face to face at Mr Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan (REUTERS)

The former lawyer will testify for the prosecution against Mr Trump at the first criminal trial of a US president, which could see him spend four years in prison.

He is accused of 34 counts of falsifying business records over payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about their alleged affair ahead of the 2016 election. Cohen, who at that point had been Mr Trump’s attorney and “fixer” for a decade, said that he delivered the payments, totalling $130,000, to Ms Daniels - and did so “at the direction of” the former president.

Mr Trump has repeatedly denied the affair but admitted on Twitter in May 2018 that he had reimbursed Cohen for the sum.

These are the series of events that Cohen is expected to lay out when he takes the stand. When he does so, he will come face-to-face with the man he now describes as a “cheat”, “con man” — and more recently, “Von S***zInPantz.”

Since their relationship imploded in 2018, Mr Trump has verbally attacked his one-time confidant again and again. He disparaged Cohen from the White House and has continued ever since on social media, branding him a liar, sleazebag and “rat” to his nearly 7 million Truth Social followers.

Stormy Daniels, pictured in 2018. Mr Trump allegedly paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about an affair ahead of the 2016 election. Mr Trump has denied the affair (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

Mr Trump has assailed Cohen’s credibility, pointing out that his former lawyer pleaded guilty in federal court to lying to Congress about a Trump Tower project in Russia. The former president also highlighted that Cohen’s bid to reduce his court-ordered supervised release was rejected by a judge, who suggested that the disbarred lawyer had perjured himself over tax evasion claims.

But Mr Trump’s posts about Cohen have also attracted the attention of prosecutors at the hush money trial who used the evidence to bolster accusations that the former president is violating his gag order.

Cohen declined to discuss specifics of the trial with The Independent. But in a text message in April, he wrote that, in the face of Mr Trump’s attacks, he was feeling “stronger than I ever imagined”, adding that “the truth will prevail.” (He has since issued a self-imposed “gag” order on himself ahead of his testimony.)

But despite this show of bravado, Cohen previously confessed that he doesn’t want to testify in the hush money case but has been compelled to by subpoena. His decision to tell the truth has taken a toll, he claimed.

Cohen said that he has received emails, social media posts, and texts from “Trump-supporting haters”.

Lanny Davis, Cohen’s former legal adviser and friend, pictured in 2018. He is not involved in the ongoing criminal case in Manhattan but told The Independent that Cohen is ‘under risk’ (AFP via Getty)

“I just got one,” he said on a March episode of Mea Culpa, the regular podcast he started in 2020. “F*** you, traitor, snitch and all-around c*** sucker.”

Cohen also brought up the disturbing messages on Political Beatdown, another podcast that he co-hosts. Earlier this month, Cohen accused Mr Trump of “blowing the dog whistle” which is “igniting the MAGA, right-wing group”.

“Why does my life need to be threatened…on a daily basis?” he wondered aloud on the show.

Public property records show that Cohen has a home in a Trump-branded building in Manhattan. In December, he acknowledged owning property in the luxury residence — despite his fractious relationship with the former president — and tweeted that he would move from the building “when I’m ready”.

A source with knowledge of the matter told The Independent that he is not currently living in that apartment.

Mr Davis (left) speaks with Cohen after he testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill February 26, 2019 in Washington, DC, where he unveiled some information that is now being used in the hush money case (Getty)

Cohen is married to Laura Shusterman and has two adult children, Samantha and Jake. Samantha Cohen, a Penn graduate-turned-digital creator with a podcast of her own, has spoken about how their lives were upended by her father’s exile from Trump world.

“The level of hatred and vitriol thrown at us terrifies me,” Samantha Cohen told Vanity Fair in 2020. “I get that people are angry. I get that people hate Trump. But think about the effect that has on a person, on their family, on the people who love them.”

And it’s not just immediate family. Mr Davis, who joined the former fixer’s legal team in 2018 after meeting him through a mutual friend, is “under a security risk and threats just like everybody else who was involved with Michael Cohen,” he said.

Mr Davis, former special counsel to president Bill Clinton, emphasized just how serious the situation is for Cohen and his family but declined to discuss specific threats, fearing that to do so would exacerbate the problem.

Mr Trump at the Manhattan criminal courthouse on April 26, 2024. He has pleaded not guilty and has denied any wrongdoing in the hush money case, the first ever criminal trial of a US president (AP)

“He decided to tell the truth after lying for Donald Trump for 10 years,” Mr Davis told The Independent. He recalled Cohen’s explosive testimony to Congress where he displayed the checks he had written to Stormy Daniels, a moment which arguably lit the match that has ended up in Mr Trump’s hush money trial five years later.

Cohen himself pleaded guilty to tax evasion, lying to Congress, and campaign finance violations in August 2018 and served three years, largely in home confinement. To this day, he is on supervised release.

“He paid his price,” Mr Davis said. “Michael is fearful to this day. But he’s standing up and telling the truth.”

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