For the past seven years, Michael D. Cohen, Donald Trump’s former fixer, has been the bane of my online existence.
Rarely does a day go by when I don’t receive an email, tweet or direct message from fans and enemies of the other Michael Cohen (as I like to call him). One person even asked me for legal advice (unlike the other Cohen, I’m not a lawyer). For years, a local New York City car service has sent me text messages to let me know my driver is pulling up to my apartment, when in reality, it’s outside of his.
But then, last week, my editor asked me if I’d review Cohen’s new book “Revenge,” which chronicles the former Trump lawyer’s legal troubles and his claims that the Justice Department has been hopelessly politicized by Donald Trump. No longer do I view Cohen as a nuisance, with whom I have the misfortune to share the same last name. Rather, after leeching on to Donald Trump for fame and fortune, the other Cohen has now positioned himself firmly within the anti-Trump resistance, but with the same old cynical aspirations.
Rarely does a day go by when I don’t receive an email, tweet, or direct message from fans and enemies of the other Michael Cohen (as I like to call him).
Cohen has publicly rehabilitated himself by making a complete 180: from close Trump associate to seething Trump hater. His contempt is palpable. Among the epithets he hurls at his former boss are “the Mandarin Mussolini,” “Frankenstein’s monster,” a truly horrible human being,” “bloviating asshole, ”the poster boy for fascism,” “an orange-faced piece of shit,” and in perhaps the book’s most vivid turn of phrase, “the largest piece of shit ever to be dropped on the American public.” This is catnip for the anti-Trump crowd.
But what has helped Cohen stand out from the coterie of Trump acolytes who have sought to cash in on their public change of heart about the former president is a tale of redemption and repentance. Cohen paid a significant price for his association with Trump — a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to eight felonies. Having truly hit rock bottom, and owning up to his mistakes in enabling Trump, Cohen now seeks forgiveness through self-flagellation.
In Cohen’s telling, he had blinders on his eyes when it came to the former president. He was seduced by power and Trump’s charisma, only to finally realize that it was all a charade. Now his commitment is to stop Trumpism dead in its tracks.
“Making amends” for siding with a man he calls “the slime of humanity” is, says Cohen, “one of the driving forces of my life.” It’s a small wonder that he named his popular podcast “Mea Culpa.”
Many in the anti-MAGA world have taken pity on Cohen. I know because I regularly receive their messages intended for him in which they lavish praise on his about-face and wish him godspeed in his pursuit of redemption.
But it’s hard to square Cohen’s claims with the fact that he willingly spent years working for a man who he suggests has committed numerous crimes and is a veritable blight on humanity.
On the surface, Cohen’s road to Damascus awakening appears refreshing. But “Revenge” is the story of a man who can’t stop feeling sorry for himself, and who is far more focused on retribution than personal rehabilitation. Cohen has some legitimate beefs. After nearly a year in prison, he was furloughed as part of an effort by the Bureau of Prisons to reduce prison populations during the Covid pandemic. But when he refused to sign a document pledging not to publish a book about Trump, he was returned to Otisville and held in solitary confinement. Cohen says the move was orchestrated by Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr to silence him. That the former president politicized the Justice Department and, under Barr’s tenure, the agency, in effect, became Trump’s personal law firm has been well-established.
I’m sympathetic to Cohen’s plight. But only up to a point.
Cohen spends much of “Revenge” assuring readers that he actually did nothing wrong. Everyone involved in his case is corrupt or incompetent — and he is a victim. He pleaded guilty, he says, to spare his wife and kids — and only after intense pressure from the Department of Justice, which he calls the Department of Injustice. His tax problems were the result of his bumbling accountant. The presiding judge in his case “failed miserably” to be “fair and impartial.” The FBI agents who went after him were “corrupt, vindictive, and intellectually lazy.” Federal prosecutors, he whines, “have done very well for themselves” after bringing his case to court. The media “had it in for him.” The warden at the minimum security prison in Otisville where he served his sentence reminds him of a Nazi commandant. (One of the few people Cohen has kind words for is, hilariously, his fellow inmate at Otisville, former reality star Michael “The Situation" Sorrentino. “Of all the miserable time I spent in Otisville,” writes Cohen, “spending time with ‘The Sitch’ was among some of the best. If ever there was a reality show that needs to happen, it would be the adventures of Sitch and Fixer.”)
Cohen’s chosen narrative creates a mass of contradictions. Early on, he defends his tenure with Trump by reminding readers that he hadn’t even worked for his presidential campaign. Yet, five pages later, Cohen boasts, “I helped get him elected president.” He says the FBI agents who raided his home in 2017 “were very cordial, very professional” — and in the next paragraph, complains that they took photographs of his “college-aged daughter’s underwear.” The raid was undertaken, he says to destroy his reputation, with the Justice Department's interest “in protecting Donald Trump.” Yet, on the next page, he writes, “the investigative zealots who came after me did so to punish Donald Trump.”
The racket was too good, and Cohen was more than happy to toil for Trump so long as he could turn a profit.
For chapter after chapter, Cohen takes the absolute bare minimum responsibility for his actions, claims he is genuinely remorseful … and then quickly paints elaborate, evidence-free, often-indecipherable conspiracy theories that portray him as the victim of government persecution, somehow orchestrated by Trump.
At the root of all of Cohen’s problems, or so he claims, is Trump’s vindictive and corrupt efforts to target him. It’s no wonder that the anti-MAGA crowd has been quick to take him under its wing. He’s telling them what they want to hear about the man they despise.
But it’s hard to square Cohen’s claims with the fact that he willingly spent years working for a man who he suggests has committed numerous crimes and is a veritable blight on humanity. He wants us to believe that only after his life fell apart did he come to understand Trump’s truly awful nature as a threat to the country. I don’t buy it. Cohen’s acid, whiny, self-serving tone in “Revenge” belies his oft-stated assertion that he has seen the proverbial light. True introspection would mean focusing on the errors made by Michael Cohen and acknowledging that he brought misfortune on himself, not a nearly 300-page jeremiad against all those who allegedly did him wrong. Cohen wants all the credit for his path toward redemption without truly making amends.
Perhaps the most telling moment in “Revenge” comes when Cohen asks himself, “Would I still be in the Donald Trump cult if I hadn’t paid for my experience with time in prison?” In a rare moment of candor, he admits, “Had I not been thrown under the bus, I cannot, with any honesty, say that I would be out of the cult of Trump.”
But in his indomitable one-step forward, two-steps back approach to penance, Cohen writes, “what I can emphatically state is that I would not be touting the bulk of the statements Donald Trump has spewed. I wouldn’t be touting his agenda of racist, sexist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic crap that has further divided this country. This I am certain of and I hope that’s explanation enough.”
We know this is not true. Did Cohen leave Trump’s orbit after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape? Did he protest when Trump’s campaign ran a closing ad in November 2016, widely criticized for its antisemitic tone? Did he complain when Trump proposed banning Muslims from entering the country or push back on his boss’s incessant calls to “build the wall”?
Of course not. The racket was too good, and Cohen was more than happy to toil for Trump so long as he could turn a profit.
After the former president threw him out of the cult, Cohen needed a new path to fame and notoriety — and he has clearly found it. “Revenge” is not a redemptive tale of a man who has learned his lesson. It’s simply another grift — by a man who learned from the best.