AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Adult film star Stormy Daniels' allegations against President Trump are shining a light on his longtime personal lawyer, a man who's been called Trump's fixer and attack dog. Michael Cohen has admitted that just before the 2016 election, he paid Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, $130,000 of his own money to keep her quiet about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump. But Cohen denies ever intimidating the actress. Last night on CBS' "60 Minutes," Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, described Cohen's behavior this way.
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MICHAEL AVENATTI: This is about the cover-up. This is about the extent that Mr. Cohen and the president have gone to intimidate this woman, to silence her, to threaten her and to put her under their thumb. It is thuggish behavior from people in power, and it has no place in American democracy.
CHANG: With us now to give us a little more insight into Michael Cohen's role throughout President Trump's life is Timothy O'Brien. He's the executive editor of Bloomberg View and the author of "TrumpNation." Welcome to the show.
TIMOTHY O'BRIEN: Hi. It's great to be here.
CHANG: So can we just first zoom out a little bit? And just tell us, how did the relationship begin between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen?
O'BRIEN: Michael Cohen was the treasurer on the board at Trump World Tower, which was a Trump-branded building on the East Side of New York. Trump was in a dispute with the tenants there in around 2006 or so. And Michael Cohen took Trump's side essentially in the battle. Trump was impressed by Cohen's bulldog tactics and brought him into Trump Tower and gave him an office there, essentially.
CHANG: Yeah. Cohen and Trump seem to share the same attitude or frame of mind when it comes to doing battle. Can you tell us a little more about that?
O'BRIEN: Well, Michael Cohen is the latest version of a perennial character in Donald Trump's life, which is the attorney who is both a fixer and an attack dog. Trump likes macho guys who go to battle for him, who typically are fairly foulmouthed, who like to either convey or actually be physical with people they perceive to be the president's opponents. And they earn their stripes with him by basically knocking heads together.
CHANG: And how does Cohen's role as Trump's personal lawyer fit into the workings of the White House?
O'BRIEN: Well, the one thing to remember, too, about Michael Cohen is people often refer to him as Trump's right-hand man or his personal lawyer. The actual lawyer in the Trump Organization who always played that role was Jason Greenblatt. So it was something of a mystery as to what Michael Cohen did other than warn people on the president's behalf. He keeps appearing on the periphery or directly involved in some of the thorniest things that are hanging over the president right now.
CHANG: Right. So this payoff of $130,000, at least according to Michael Cohen's own account - it kind of fits into the pattern of how he's helped Trump throughout their relationship.
O'BRIEN: And, I might add, helped him ineptly because the way he's handled the Stormy Daniels matter actually hasn't done any favors for the president. He first denied that there ever was a relationship. And then The Wall Street Journal of course broke the story that not only did she claim there was a relationship, but they had paid her $130,000 in hush money. He used an LLC in Delaware that I think he thought would provide a cloak of anonymity around the whole transaction and actually didn't.
And it's now gone beyond whether or not he just had a sexual relationship with her. It's now into whether campaign finance laws were violated. And I think the cover's being pulled away as well on how Trump and some of his advisers go about doing their business.
CHANG: And to what extent do we know special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Michael Cohen as part of the Russia probe?
O'BRIEN: Well, we do know that he's investigating business transactions that Michael Cohen was involved with. And I wouldn't be surprised now - we don't know it for sure. But if the Stormy Daniels payments become part of that targeting by Mueller, I think it gives him license potentially to examine other LLCs for revenue streams or payments or debts that may be revelatory about the president's relationship with Russia, Russian agents, et cetera, et cetera, as part of a collusion or a quid pro quo investigation.
CHANG: Timothy O'Brien is executive editor of Bloomberg View. Thank you very much for joining us.
O'BRIEN: Thanks for having me.
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