Michael Cohen is no saint. Aside from the obvious, Donald Trump’s former fixer has never entered into a formal cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors, a fact duly noted by the US attorneys’ office for the southern district of New York in its sentencing memorandum. Because of that, the “inability to fully vet his criminal history and reliability impact his utility as a witness”.
On top of that, Cohen boasts in his memoir of his exposure to the mob as a teenager, and even compares his reception in federal prison to that accorded to Al Capone and El Chapo.
Yes, it’s easy to distrust Cohen. On that score, Disloyal should be taken with more than a grain of salt. Its author is no hero.
But that doesn’t make the book any less interesting. For all its black-hearted opportunism and self-aggrandizement, it delivers a readable and bile-filled take on Trump and his minions.
What the book lacks in genuine contrition is made up for with score-settling and name-calling. Like Omarosa Manigault Newman before him, Cohen entertains, albeit at the expense of others: Don Jr, Jared Kushner, Roger Stone and Steve Bannon, for starters.
Right off the bat, Cohen shares that the president lacks respect for his namesake. According to Cohen, Trump Sr would repeatedly tell him Donnie possessed the “worst fucking judgment” of anyone he had ever met. That’s saying something.
Likewise, asked by his oldest son if he is nervous about appearing in a televised wrestling match with the WWE impresario Vince McMahon, Trump Sr banishes him and comments: “What kind of stupid fucking question is that?”
Humiliation is central to Trump and Cohen’s MOs – and it doesn’t end there.
Shown a photo of his sons’ hunting escapades, Trump is angered, and again tears into his hapless offspring: “You think you’re a fucking big man? Get the fuck out of my office.” He sounds a lot like Tony Soprano. More important, he shared Melania’s displeasure over junior’s penchant for big-game hunting.
As it happens, an earlier book by Ivana Trump recorded that it was she who wanted to call their son Donald Jr, to which Donald Sr replied: “You can’t do that!”
His explanation: “What if he’s a loser?”
Ivanka Trump is immune from the president’s derision. After all, Donald once told Howard Stern that if he weren’t her father, he’d have dated her. Cohen is not her dad, though, so is less hesitant in tattling on the favorite child.
After writing about how Ivanka once joined him and his wife for lasagne dinners, Cohen recalls a brush with the law in connection with Trump Soho, an ill-fated condominium hotel in Manhattan, and Ivanka’s elaborate plans for Trump Moscow. Once again, the Trumps are caught in the headlights of the Manhattan district attorney.
In Cohen’s telling, after first adopting a “hands-off policy” to the Russia project, Ivanka became enthusiastic when she learned the building would contain a health and wellness center named for her. She was prepared to hire the architect Zaha Hadid, discarding drawings supplied by Cohen.
In the end, Cohen laments, “all three kids were starved for their father’s love”.
Jared Kushner also emerges worse for wear. Words like “inexperienced” and “unqualified” tumble on to the page. Cohen observes that “Kushner was supremely arrogant, a real snob” with an “exaggerated sense of his importance and intelligence”.
Elsewhere, however, Cohen expresses admiration for macho swagger and strut. So confusing.
Speaking of which, Disloyal offers a window into the president’s views of Vladimir Putin. Cohen records that on numerous occasions Trump told him the Russian president was “the richest man in the world by a multiple”.
Trump is quoted explaining: “If you think about it, Putin controls 25% of the Russian economy … imagine controlling 25% of the wealth of a country. Wouldn’t that be fucking amazing.”
Consistent with that take, Trump muses that a Russian oligarch who bought property from him was actually doing Putin’s bidding.
“The oligarchs are just fronts for Putin,” Trump purportedly said. “That’s all they are doing – investing Putin’s money.”
Disloyal contains three references to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, doffs its hat to The Godfather and The Valachi Papers, and gives shout-outs to John Gotti and Henry Hill. Organized crime pervades the book, and Cohen does not sound at all disapproving. Said differently, Trump’s world was the crew the author always dreamed of joining.
As expected, Cohen goes granular in narrating his efforts to buy the silence of the adult film star Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, a Playboy model. As for Trump’s roving eye and priapism, Cohen captures him dissing Melania in the face of her purported threats to leave their marriage.
“I can always get another wife,” Trump says. “That’s no problem for me, if she wants to go, so be it.” According to Cohen, the “relationship was just another deal, plain and simple”.
Four years into Trump’s presidency, though, such detail matters less and less. The American public knows about the dysfunction.
Oddly, the most significant portion of the book is its epilogue. It describes the efforts of William Barr, Trump’s second attorney general, to stifle publication of Disloyal even if it meant trampling Cohen’s first amendment rights and sending him back to prison.
For once, Cohen really was a victim. Barr’s efforts to be Roy Cohn 2.0 – Trump’s consigliere, in corridors of power Cohen could never reach – are real, not imagined. As the president has repeatedly attested, the attorney general has succeeded in bending the law and the constitution.
In the din caused by Trump’s comments regarding the military, Disloyalty still cut through. Whether it changes any minds before 3 November remains open to debate.