LISTEN: How Michael Cohen Protects Trump By Making Legal Threats Michael Cohen is facing legal peril. But he's usually the one using legal pressure to fix issues for Donald Trump before they become problems. NPR has audio of Cohen making threats in 2015.

LISTEN: How Michael Cohen Protects Trump By Making Legal Threats

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We have some exclusive reporting now on Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen and his history of making legal threats to solve problems for his boss. For the first time, you're about to hear Cohen makes such threats on tape. Cohen is facing legal peril of his own now. This has included an FBI raid of his home, his office - also a civil lawsuit brought by porn star Stormy Daniels. And that is where NPR's Tim Mak begins this story.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: In October, 2016, weeks before election day, Michael Cohen arranged for Stormy Daniels to sign a nondisclosure agreement. The deal - in exchange for a $130,000, she wouldn't talk about the allegation that she had a sexual relationship with Donald Trump in 2006. The president denies this allegation. But Trump has admitted there was a nondisclosure agreement to buy Daniels's silence. Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, tells NPR that she was coerced into signing the agreement.

MICHAEL AVENATTI: In October of 2016, Michael Cohen made threats against my client Stormy Daniels as it related to pressuring her to enter into the NDA and accept the $130,000 payment.

MAK: But Avenatti offered NPR no further details when pressed. He has said before she was not physically threatened by Cohen, but serious consequences were raised. In a court filing aimed at invalidating the NDA, Avenatti also said that in January 2018, as details emerged about the agreement in the press, Cohen used, quote, "intimidation and coercive tactics" to force Daniels into signing a statement denying she ever had sex with Trump. Cohen's attorneys declined multiple requests for comments from NPR. Making legal threats on Trump's behalf has been typical for Cohen. He's a lawyer. But Cohen is often called a fixer, who cleans up issues for his boss before they become problems. Sam Nunberg was a political adviser close to Trump in the earliest days of the campaign. He says Trump cultivated an aggressive environment within The Trump Organization, where Cohen worked under the title of special counsel.

SAM NUNBERG: He was supposed to say and act the way Donald wanted him to act. Michael had even expressed sometimes regret that he did certain things or had to send nasty emails or give nasty phone calls to certain reporters that he personally liked because it was at the direction of Donald.

MAK: Michael Caputo is another former Trump campaign aide.

MICHAEL CAPUTO: He's an attorney. And he knows what he's talking about. And I think while he might push the bounds of propriety in some people's eyes, Michael sees the line and doesn't cross it. He's a high-wire walker, in that kind of respect. I mean, he's out there dealing with the porn star in a very difficult situation. I think, I would run away from that myself. But Michael Cohen has great courage.

MAK: No target was too big. Former Fox News host Megyn Kelly put tough questions to Trump at a Republican presidential debate. Cohen later retweeted someone who had written, quote, "we can gut her." Kelly discussed the incident nearly two years later on NBC News with Cohen attorney David Schwartz.


MEGYN KELLY: I'm telling you, in response to that allegation, that I received death threats, that I had security guards following me around and that my old boss called Michael Cohen directly to say, if Megyn Kelly gets killed, it's not going to help your client Donald Trump get elected.

DAVID SCHWARTZ: But he was trying...

KELLY: And Michael Cohen didn't care.

MAK: No target was too small either - like a college student who pranked the presidential candidate and says Cohen threatened to sue him and get him expelled. Cohen's legal threats have generally been done in private and stayed that way. But in 2015, when I was reporting for The Daily Beast, an online news outlet, Trump's campaign was in ascendancy. I started writing about a 1993 biography of Trump written by a former Newsweek reporter. According to the book, the president's first wife Ivana claimed in a sworn deposition during divorce proceedings that Trump had raped her. As the book was coming out, she said she didn't mean rape in a criminal or literal sense and has since praised the president. Trump has called the claim false. When I reached out to campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks on this matter, I got an angry call back from Cohen. His first tactic was to try and convince me not to run the story. But he did so by falsely claiming that spousal rape was not a crime. This is the first time that audio is being aired.


MICHAEL COHEN: You're talking about Donald Trump. You're talking about the front-runner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as private individual, who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that, by the very definition, you can't rape your spouse.

MAK: Cohen's effort to prevent the story from being written didn't end with that false claim.


COHEN: Mark my words for it. I will make sure that you and I meet one day over in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don't have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. Do not even think about going where I know you're planning on going. And that's my warning for the day.

MAK: Michael, besides the warning, do you have a substantive comment that I can include in my piece that reflects your views on this?

COHEN: I have no views because there's no story.

MAK: The legal threats continued.


COHEN: So I'm warning you. Tread very [expletive] lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be [expletive] disgusting. Do you understand me? Don't think you can hide behind your pen because it's not going to happen.

MAK: Look. I'm...

COHEN: I'm more than happy to discuss it with your attorney and with your legal counsel because, [expletive], you're going to need it.

MAK: He also talked about past lawsuits, like one against Univision. The Spanish-language network dropped Trump's Miss USA pageant because of his disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants.


COHEN: I think you should go ahead, and you should write the story that you plan on writing. I think you should do it because I think you're an idiot, alright. And I think your paper is a joke. And it's going to be my absolute pleasure to serve you with a $500 million lawsuit, like I told I did to Univision.

MAK: Cohen never filed a lawsuit against me or The Daily Beast. But after The Daily Beast published the story, Cohen's remarks caused internal tension among Trump's team. Here's Sam Nunberg.

NUNBERG: Corey Lewandowski and Hope Hicks were pushing for Michael to be fired. And Trump was seriously considering it.

MAK: Cohen later apologized publicly for the spousal rape remark. Then once Trump was elected, Cohen found himself on the outside looking in. Here's Nunberg.

NUNBERG: Nobody was screwed over more by Donald than Michael Cohen. Michael has been extremely loyal to Donald. He was there from the very beginning. And Donald treated him like garbage at the end.

MAK: Now Cohen is at a crossroads. Does he flip and protect himself by discussing with prosecutors the private information he has from working with Trump for so many years? Or does he remain silent? Here's Michael Caputo again.

CAPUTO: First of all, the president values loyalty. He's quite famous for it now. Michael Cohen exhibited that loyalty long before I arrived on the scene in Trump Tower. He was always defending the president, always looking out for his best interests. And I saw that in some of the most remarkable loyalty that I've ever seen in the workplace.

MAK: The strength of that loyalty will determine the next chapter in the saga between the president of the United States and his personal lawyer. Tim Mak, NPR News.


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