Donald Trump is more than my boss, he is a patriarch

Interview: Michael Cohen


By Sandy Rashty, March 17, 2016
Dominant: Donald Trump is set to be the Republicans' Presidential candidate (Photo: Getty Images)

Dominant: Donald Trump is set to be the Republicans' Presidential candidate (Photo: Getty Images)

Michael Cohen doesn’t sleep much. As Donald Trump’s right-hand man, there’s no time to do so at the moment.

In his own words, as Trump’s Special Counsel and Executive Vice President of the Trump Organisation, he handles “everything” that personally affects the Republican candidate, who is currently the frontrunner for the US presidency.

It’s a wide job description but one to which he has grown accustomed. Speaking from his plush New York office, the 49-year-old answers the phone call with a strong, emphatically American: “Mike Cohen”.

He’s firm, brusque and refreshingly free of insipid lines. It’s clear he’s got a long list of things to do today. “I’m really busy,” he says. “I don’t really sleep much. I am used to living this life, with only a few hours’ of sleep.”

Yet he’s reluctant to describe his environment as a tough one in which to work. “Like Mr Trump, I do not require much sleep,” he says. “This affords me the opportunity to tackle issues early while most people are still asleep.’’

So with no clear job description, what has Cohen, personally, done to boost Trump’s profile?

In response to the question, Cohen does what any seasoned politico (or perhaps any rabbi) would do. He answers my question, with a question. “How do you raise the profile of an individual who is already the most famous person on the planet?” he asks.

“My job is to protect him from all those who seek to malign him, the company or any of his vast corporate entities. As to the campaign, I only take a role when it affects Mr Trump personally.”

For the past decade, Cohen has worked closely with the American billionaire. Formerly a partner at top New York law firm Phillips Nizer, he counted the businessman as one of his many high-profile wealthy clients. He was then offered a job by Trump, because: “I suspect he was impressed with both my handling of matters as well as the results.”

Since then, he has watched his boss turn his attention from conquering the business world to attempting to lead the free one. And he has witnessed the rise of so-called Trump Mania, with a mob of baying fans flocking to support the presidential hopeful in everything from mass rallies to social media campaigns.

On Tuesday night, Trump won the Republican Florida primary by a storm – and dashed the hopes of Marco Rubio.

The Hispanic senator had condemned his opponent “for jumping on people’s anxieties,” adding that Trump had voiced “the politics of resentment”. During his campaign, the frontrunner has been condemned for a series of racist remarks about Muslims and Mexicans.

Rubio’s departure has narrowed the party’s race to three contenders: Trump, Texas senator Ted Cruz and John Kasich, the Ohio governor. But it is Trump who is the bookies’ favourite to take on the Democrats’ likely candidate Hillary Clinton.

And though Cohen is still a registered Democrat who voted to elect Barack Obama in 2008, he’s confident in his belief that the next inhabitant of the White House will be the brash, uncompromising, worryingly unpredictable property tycoon.

“I was hoodwinked by Obama’s mantra of ‘change’,” he says, explaining his disappointment with the current president. But nothing compares to the reaction of Cohen’s boss when he suffers disappointments. “The toughest challenge is that Mr Trump demands 100 per cent perfection all the time. Mr Trump is a results-orientated boss – someone you do not want to disappoint.”

It cannot be an easy environment to work in, so has he ever considered quitting? “Never,” he says.

Intense: The pressure on Michael Cohen to charm the media has been huge

Intense: The pressure on Michael Cohen to charm the media has been huge

“Over the years I have been offered very lucrative employment opportunities, which I summarily dismissed. To those of us who are close to Mr Trump, he is more than our boss. He is our patriarch.”

Cohen steadfastly believes that the best part of his job is the chance “to be front and centre with not only the most recognised individual on the planet, but an individual who is regarded as the greatest deal-maker of this century.”

However, his close connection to Trump has sparked a torrent of conspiracy theories about Jewish control of power.

The New York native is the son of a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who fled Europe as a child. A graduate of the Hillel Yeshiva (now known as The Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns), he now describes himself as an “agnostic Jew”, but has still been targeted by antisemites, especially on social media.

“I have a very difficult time understanding the mentality of racists. I grew up in a home where racism was not tolerated. I had friends from early on of many races and religions... Why anyone would hate for the sole purpose of hating, with no basis other than because you pray to a different God, baffles me.

“I have experienced antisemitism while working and travelling with Mr Trump over the years. But mostly, antisemitism comes via the internet. It never ends. I’ve been called every derogatory term ever used against someone of the Jewish faith, but I pay it no mind. I have not spoken to Mr Trump about it but I think he would certainly be angered to hear about it.”

Trump has long spoken about his ability to broker great deals. Indeed, he believes he’s the only person who could one day negotiate a deal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and although his planned trip to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indefinitely delayed, Cohen believes it is a meeting that will take place in the future.

But perhaps, I suggest, Trump isn’t the kind of person the Jewish state, or community, want as an ally. Especially given his endorsement by notorious antisemite Louis Farrakhan, who reportedly praised Trump for refusing to take Jewish money. There’s also Trump’s decision to belatedly disavow support from former KKK leader David Duke, who was reported as praising him for supposedly breaking up “Jewish lobbies”. How can the Jewish community support a candidate who has been endorsed by such notorious figures?

Cohen is quick to dismiss such questions as “ignorant and ill-informed”.

He says: “You can’t have half a brain and believe that Donald Trump supports the KKK or any hate group, whether it’s an antisemite like Louis Farrakhan or David Duke. There are stupid people in this world. There are antisemites, there are bigots, there are racists.

“But to me, comparisons between Mr Trump and Hitler are hurtful and they are misleading. Mr Trump has always had a special place in his heart for both Israel and the Jewish people. Many of his closest friends and staff are Jewish.” He goes on to say that Trump’s daughter Ivanka converted to Orthodox Judaism to marry Jared Kushner.

And Cohen, a father-of-two, who is a close friend of the family, says: “There’s an expression.You can tell the quality of a man by the children he raises. Mr Trump does not get enough credit for raising five fantastic children.”

And what of the community, if Trump were elected president? “Mr. Trump’s history and support for the Jewish community goes back to his early childhood and mirrored that of his father Fred. The Trump family had so many Jewish friends that people believed that they were part Jewish themselves.

“Mr Trump would not just be fantastic for the Jewish community, but every community,” he says. “Mr Trump’s mantra, ‘Make America Great Again’, is a non-denominational message.

‘‘He wants to see every man and woman; every race, religion, creed and colour achieve their maximum potential in life. It is why he, when elected President of the United States, will go down in history as the Great Unifier”.

Last updated: 11:29am, March 21 2016