Spotlight On Michael Cohen Michael Cohen was Donald Trump's loyal lawyer for years. That has changed. NPR's Scott Simon talks with New York Times reporter William Rashbaum, who has profiled Cohen.
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Spotlight On Michael Cohen

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Spotlight On Michael Cohen

Spotlight On Michael Cohen

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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So who is Michael Cohen? How has he gone from being Donald Trump's devoted wingman to his accuser? We turn now to William Rashbaum, senior writer for The New York Times, who's part of the team that profiled Mr. Cohen for that newspaper. Willie (ph), thanks so much for being with us.

WILLIAM RASHBAUM: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Any doubt in your mind that Michael Cohen is flipping on Donald Trump?

RASHBAUM: Well, you know, I can't put myself inside his mind, but it does - all indications seem to point towards the fact that he's very keen on cooperating.

SIMON: What are his legal and PR teams trying to achieve by releasing audio conversations or snippets of them with Donald trump and apparently claiming that Trump knew in advance of that Trump Tower meeting with a group of Russians?

RASHBAUM: Well, I have to say, Scott, I think that's pretty much a mystery to a lot of people. Most criminal defense lawyers and former prosecutors can't...


RASHBAUM: ...That I've spoken to can't make sense of it. It's a very, very unusual situation.

SIMON: We're getting some bad audio - either that or a Martian craft has landed over your shoulder, so you might want to take a look, in which case we really got a big story to work on.

RASHBAUM: Yeah - no - no, Martians here.

SIMON: OK. You've - is it fair - you've gone into Michael Cohen's background extensively. Is it fair to call him a fixer?

RASHBAUM: You know, I think that he handled a lot of matters for Donald Trump before he was - before he became the president that were difficult and sensitive issues. Michael's role at the Trump Organization was not really that of a lawyer. One Trump Organization - senior Trump Organization official pointed out that when the legal department at the company had a meeting, Michael was not included. He was not part of the legal department. He didn't really practice law there.

In fact, when the government was arguing with Mr. Cohen's lawyers over issues of whether or not material seized by the government in a search warrant were privileged, the government indicated that an examination of his emails - they previously had a search warrant for his emails that had been secret until it was revealed in the course of that litigation. But that an examination of his emails indicated both that he conducted little to no legal work for President Trump or for The Trump Organization. And it also pointed out that he never emailed with Mr. Trump. But I think Mr. Trump is not a big - not a big emailer.

SIMON: And Mr. Cohen has had his brushes with the criminal justice system before, hasn't he?

RASHBAUM: Well, I don't think it's fair to say that he has. I think that there are many people around him who have, ranging from members of his family to myriad business associates - associates of his in the taxi business. When he first got out of law school and started working as a personal injury lawyer in, I think, 1992 or 1993, the first job he took was with a personal injury law firm where the named partner was arrested on bribery charges within a year or two of Michael having arrived there. Now, Michael was a junior associate. You know, I wouldn't want to imply that somehow that related to him, but that was the first known instance of many that followed of Mr. Cohen being around or being involved with people that got into a lot of legal trouble - other lawyers, business associates and so forth.

SIMON: In the 30 seconds we have left, is he - is Michael Cohen in a position to know a lot about Donald Trump and The Trump Organization that they might rather not have the public know?

RASHBAUM: I think that's right. But I think we have to make a distinction between knowing a lot that they might not want the public to know to having information that represents evidence that can be used in a criminal prosecution, whether it's of people at The Trump Organization, Mr. Trump's family or Mr. Trump himself, who likely wouldn't be indicted under any circumstances because he's the sitting president.

SIMON: William Rashbaum from The New York Times, thanks so much.

RASHBAUM: Thank you, Scott.

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