Donald Trump didn’t need another brutal legal setback, but yesterday afternoon, the former president received one anyway. A New York judge concluded that the Republican’s business committed repeated acts of fraud over the course of several years, deceiving lenders, and both overvaluing and undervaluing his assets to Trump’s benefit.
As the news reached the public, law professor Jen Taub used social media to thank Michael Cohen, the former president’s former fixer, for the developments. Soon after, the lawyer replied, simply, “You’re welcome.”
This might’ve seemed like a bit of bravado, but Cohen was touching on an underappreciated point that’s entirely true.
Revisiting our earlier coverage, exactly one year ago this week, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a sweeping lawsuit against the former president and the Trump Organization. The civil case was rather devastating: The state attorney general’s office, pointing to more than 200 instances of fraud over 10 years, announced that it was seeking roughly $250 million in civil penalties.
After the case was unveiled, The New York Times noted in passing:
The investigation started after Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, testified to Congress that Mr. Trump and his employees had manipulated his net worth to suit his interests.
That was true, but the match that lit the flame was struck before Cohen’s congressional testimony.
Around this time seven years ago, then-candidate Trump agreed to pay hush money to a porn star named Stormy Daniels, in the hopes of keeping secret before the 2016 election an alleged extra-marital affair. Cohen took the lead in orchestrating the illegal payment.
As has been well documented, this did not go unnoticed. Cohen was ultimately charged, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to prison, even as his former client was rewarded with the presidency.
It was around this time that the lawyer turned on Trump. In early 2019, as part of an apparent payback campaign, Cohen delivered dramatic congressional testimony on Trump’s alleged financial crimes — including asset value inflation and systemic fraud at the Trump Organization.
Cohen’s testimony was a political bombshell, but just as importantly, it was watched with great interest by officials in the New York attorney general’s office.
Indeed, James specifically told reporters when unveiling the civil case, “I will remind everyone that this investigation only started after Michael Cohen, the former lawyer, [Trump's] former lawyer testified before Congress [and] shed light on this misconduct.”
In other words, had it not been for the hush-money payment, Cohen wouldn’t have been criminally charged. And if he hadn’t been charged, Cohen might not have turned against Trump. And if the lawyer hadn’t turned on the former president, Cohen might not have exposed financial irregularities inside Trump’s operation, which in turn wouldn’t have led to the state attorney’s general’s case, which in turn wouldn’t have led to the court ruling.
After the shout-out from James, Cohen added online, “I want to personally thank [the New York attorney general] for acknowledging my participation and assistance in bringing accountability to the Mandarin Mussolini! My journey to the truth has been filled with sadness, pain and anger. Today’s announcement makes it all worth it!”
I have a hunch he said something similar yesterday afternoon.
This post updates our related earlier coverage.