|© RICHARD CODOR
Pick one: Will the end of the Donald Trump presidency have more to do with a special counsel who has dug deeply into the campaign of then-candidate Trump's collusion with Kremlin lowlifes, a rampantly corrupt fixer with a reputation for making Trump's problems go away, or a porn star whom Trump bedded with a streak so stubborn and a lawyer so clever that one particular problem not only didn't go away, it now poses a potentially greater threat to his presidency than do Robert Mueller or Michael "Misha" Cohen.
l myself don't care, just so Trump goes away.
Trump hired Cohen as his attorney in 2006 because he viewed him as a new conduit for money -- much of it laundered -- from Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union that had kept Trump's impressively mismanaged business empire from going under in the late 1990s and in subsequent years. This was because of Cohen's extensive "cash-intensive" business contacts, including taxi medallion businesses in New York, Chicago and elsewhere that have piqued investigators' interest, hence Dick Codor's great cartoon atop this post. And because Cohen could help make Trump's "problems" evaporate, whether through legal sleight of hand, lawsuits or outright intimidation.
Cohen and Donald Jr. and Ivanka, Trump's two eldest children, basically ran the Trump Organization while Daddy-O starred in a reality TV show and chased porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, among many other women with impressive bosoms and rounded heels. It was Cohen and the kids who did most of the deal making with an astonishing array of bad people from whom other businesses fled in horror. (Okay, perhaps feigned horror.)
While all that rot has indeed been hiding in plain view for years, it did not escape the notice of the elite Public Corruption Unit of the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, which has an impressive record of bringing down politicians and businesspeople, Democrats and Republicans alike.
Lawyers for Cohen and Trump were back in court on Wednesday in yet another hearing following April 9 raids by FBI agents on Cohen's Manhattan office, apartment and hotel room based in part on a referral from Special Prosecutor Mueller. They seized a passel of cellphones, a computer hard drive or three, the contents of a shredding machine and 10 boxes of records related to the Public Corruption Unit's investigation into possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations as part of its examination of Cohen's efforts to suppress damaging stories about Trump just before the 2016 election.
Cohen attended the hour-long hearing but did not speak.
Because Cohen was the key intermediary between the Trump family and its sleazy global partners and presumably kept records of it all, these records should provide prosecutors with an invaluable window into Trump's relationship with Cohen, including his role in helping to arrange payments during the 2016 campaign for women who had sex with Trump and him lying about it.
Anyhow, lawyers for Cohen and Trump threw a fit after the raids, claiming that many of the documents and communications were off-limits to prosecutors because they might be protected by attorney-client privilege. District Judge Kimba Wood then appointed retired judge Barbara Jones, a former organized-crime prosecutor, as a special master to arbitrate what would be released in an effort to balance the interests of all parties.
In their initial request for a special master, Cohen's attorneys said thousands of the seized documents might be covered by attorney-client privilege, but they have flagged only 252 items as privileged. (Recall also that Cohen's lawyers said he had too many clients to name, but when forced by Wood to name them, only came up with Trump; Elliott Broidy, who is a Trump mega-fundraiser and was a Republican National Committee finance chair, and Sean Hannity, the Fox News anchor and Trump sycophant and apologist.)
Long story short, Jones on Wednesday approved prosecutors getting a million (okay, 1,025,063) files from three of Cohen's cellphones seized last month. Prosecutors already been given access to nearly 300,000 (okay, 292,006) pieces of potential evidence seized in the raids.
Lawyers for Cohen and Trump told Wood it would take them until mid-July to finish their review of the materials because they were only a third of the way through them. Wood said that was too long and gave them until June 15. She said that if they fail to meet that deadline, she will allow prosecutors to take control of the review.
When it rains in MishaLand, it pours, and Cohen is up to his Bulgari necktie in storm clouds.
For openers, Evgeny Freidman, known as the New York Taxi King and a longtime business associate of Cohen's in the once-lucrative medallion trade, has agreed to cooperate with federal and New York state prosecutors in a massive tax fraud case. He will avoid doing any jail time by testifying against Cohen.
Then there is Daniels, who fired lawyer Keith Davidson and replaced him with Hollywood go-getter Michael Avenatti, and has sued to be released from a $130,000 nondisclosure agreement engineered by Cohen two weeks before the election requiring her to remain silent about a year-long affair with Trump that began in 2006 when The Big White Hat (who has not been seen in public since May 10) was caring for four-month-old baby Barron.
Trump and Cohen have filed a $20 million countersuit against Daniels, while she has amended her own suit to include an allegation that Cohen defamed her by insinuating that she lied about her affair with Trump.
Avenatti also attended the Wednesday hearing and did speak.
He had said he wanted a role in the case so he could ensure that any confidential records or recordings related to Daniels weren't improperly disclosed, but withdrew the request after Wood told him in a sarcasm-drenched rejoinder that while he was free to speak in her courtroom, he would have to end his "publicity tour on TV and elsewhere" if he entered the case, a reference to his frequent appearances on CNN and elsewhere.
Cohen had paid Daniels the $130,000 through a Delaware shell company called Essential Consultants LLC, which he used to arrange another hush agreement for Broidy (yes, that Broidy) who knocked up Playboy bunny Shera Bechard.
Cohen and Davidson apparently were operating in concert in the Bechard affair, according to the Wall Street Journal. When Bechard found out she was pregnant by Broidy, she contacted Davidson, who then brought in Cohen to contact Broidy. Cohen was Broidy's lawyer in negotiations that resulted in a $1.6 million settlement and confidentiality agreement, for which the Journal says Davidson bagged a $640,000 fee and Cohen a paltry $250,000.
It gets better. A lot better.
Financial documents obtained by Avenatti from a Treasury Department whistleblower show that Cohen's Essential Consultants has all the earmarks of being a classic slush fund.
It was the recipient of a cool $500,000 from Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire industrialist who is one of the richest men in Russia, a member of Vladimir Putin's inner circle and guest of honor at Trump's inauguration, as well as several Fortune 500 companies looking for access to Trump by making off-the-books payments to Cohen.
Beyond Cohen, Vekselberg and Broidy are persons of considerable interest to Mueller.
Vekselberg was stopped by FBI agents working for the special counsel when his private jet landed at a New York area airport in early March and his electronic devices were searched. He is among the seven Russian billionaires and 17 top government officials sanctioned by the Trump administration on April 6 in the most aggressive effort to punish Putin's inner circle for interference in the 2016 election and other Russian aggressions.
Broidy, meanwhile, secretively lobbyied the Trump administration to isolate Qatar and undermine the Pentagon's longstanding relationship with the Gulf country, a longtime U.S. ally in that troubled region. Broidy's security firm, Circinus LLC, has secured at least $800 million in foreign defense contracts since Trump took office and Broidy began advocating for outcomes favorable to the countries Circinus lists as clients, which does not include Qatar.
If this seems like one big happy family, you'd be right except for the happy part.
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and related developments.